By STEPHEN WILDMAN Senior Baseball Insider — firstname.lastname@example.org
Ladies and Gentlemen, your 2010 National League East Division Champions, the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies defeated the Washington Nationals 8-0 on Monday night to clinch their 4th straight division title. It seemed to be just a formality, being six games up on the second place Atlanta Braves with six games to play in the regular season, however, it’s no less sweet. It also seems amazing to think that at the beginning of September, the Phils were three games behind the Braves for first in the division. Since the first of September, the Phillies record is sitting at 20-5, while the Braves have gone 10-14 over the same span. Phillies fans have come to learn that there are few certainties in life, among them being death, taxes, and this Phillies team plays their best baseball when it matters most.
And who better to pitch a clinching game than Roy Halladay? Halladay (21-10) dominated all year long, as he had in while in Toronto with the Blue Jays for the previous nine seasons, and most believe is the current front-runner for the NL Cy Young Award. Some important statistical rankings for Roy going into Monday’s game are as follows: Wins – 1st (20), ERA – 3rd (2.53), Strike outs – 2nd (213), Complete Games – 1st (8), Shutouts – 1st (3), Innings Pitched – 1st (241.2). It’s safe to say that the most important stat to Halladay is the team wins and losses, and he would trade every one of his individual accomplishments to be able to pitch for a World Series Championship. For the first time in his Major League career, he will get the chance to do just that.
On Monday, Halladay was his usual dominant self. He pitched a complete game two-hitter, and faced the minimum number of Nationals batters up until the 8th inning. He also struck out six and walked none. He struck out Danny Espinosa for the final out of the game.
Jayson Werth blasted a deep home run to left field off of Nationals’ starter John Lannan (8-8) to begin the top of the second inning. In the top of the 6th, Werth doubled to deep right center field to drive home Placido Polanco and Chase Utley. Werth has it seven homers and has driven in 19 RBIs in the month of September to this point. After Raul Ibanez reached 1st on an infield single, moving Werth to third, Carlos Ruiz lined a double to the left field corner to score Werth to give the Phillies a 4-0 lead. Lannan lasted 5.2 innings, giving up four runs on seven hits while walking one and striking out three. In the top of ninth, Placido Polanco singled home Wilson Valdez from third base. Utley provided two more with a double to center which scored Shane Victorino and Polanco. Werth capped off the scoring for the Phillies with an infield single which scored Utley.
Now that it’s official, many of the Phillies regulars will begin to receive some well earned days off in the remaining regular season games. At the same time, the bench players will get to take some much needed hacks at the plate over the next five games to ramp them up for the upcoming playoffs. The question of the final week will be what to do with Jimmy Rollins? Manager Charlie Manuel said that Rollins would have made his first start since September 8th against the Florida Marlins, a game in which he injured his hamstring. However, he didn’t want to risk re-aggravate the injury on a rain-soaked field. Manuel said that he would like to have Jimmy on the field as much as possible to give him playing time during the final week of the regular season. Whether or not that takes form is to be determined.
No other Phillies team in history has won four straight division titles. You have to believe that the players on this team feel that this was the hardest one to clinch, not because of the current standings, but because of the number of injuries they’ve had to endure during the 2010 campaign. The fact that so many of the bench players filled key spots in the field and in the lineup this year has to bode well during October, as role players are so important this time of year (see Eric Bruntlett and Geoff Jenkins in 2008).
The Phils still do have a reason to win games, however. They sit atop the National League by 5.5 games over the San Francisco Giants and the San Diego Padres, and are still looking to clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
This season provided more ups and downs than the faint of heart Phillies fan would like. But in the end, they have earned their right to play baseball in October once again.
A means to an end, ladies and gentlemen, a means to an end.