Can anyone beat the Phillies?

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The Phillies have won ten in a row. Fourteen of their last 15. Twenty-two of 26.  It’s getting a bit difficult to find appropriate superlatives, so let’s just throw out some stuff and try to grok how great things are going for this team at the moment:

  • The Phillies used only two relievers — Madson and Lidge — in their three games against the Braves, for a total of five innings.
  • Roy Oswalt, who turned in the best performance of all of the big three in the series, has allowed one run in his last 22 innings. In 11 starts since the trade which brought him over, he is 7-1 with a 1.76 ERA. The Phillies have now
    won 10 straight Oswalt starts.
  • Cole Hamels is 5-0 with a 0.49 ERA and is holding batters to a .173 batting average over his last five starts.
  • As Todd Zolecki notes over at MLB.com, while the Phillies offense hasn’t been hanging eight or nine runs a game on guys lately, they have been knocking opposing starters out of games early lately, and getting into the bullpen.  This is less sexy than high scores, but it’s proved to be an effective means of winning via a war of attrition.

Any reason for concern? It’s hard to find one that gets you animated.

  • They bumped Roy Halladay back a day for his next start. He could very well be tired at the moment — he gave up a whopping three runs in seven innings against the Braves, the sad sack — so it makes sense that they need to rest him, what with him not having done this pitch-in-October thing before.
  • Jimmy Rollins is still hurt — he’s expected to play before the regular season is over — but they survived much of the year without him, and are thriving without him at present.
  • I also suppose the Phillies would have liked to seen the offense put up more runs on Brandon Beachy and Mike Minor, the two rookie starters the Braves thew at them on Monday and Tuesday, but hey, who needs runs when you got the Big Three?  I think they’ll sort it out.

I’m not one to make bold, confident predictions — baseball just doesn’t lend itself to that sort of thing — so I won’t make one now. I will say, however, that I have a hard time seeing anyone go toe-to-toe with Philadelphia once the playoffs come.  If they get the best record in the NL — which is highly likely – they’ll be able to pick a division series schedule that allows them to use only three starters.  After that, they can just go for broke with Hamels, Halladay and Oswalt and plan on resting them up all winter.

The only thing that can derail them? The very nature of baseball itself. Strange things can happen in the playoffs. For years people said that no one could match Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz in the playoffs and — on paper anyway — that was true. With the exception of 1995, however, someone always managed to find a way.  The NFL has the “any given Sunday” reputation, but it’s in baseball where anything can truly happen.

But yeah: if you put a gun to my head right now, I say it’s the Phillies title to lose.  Does anyone really think otherwise?

Marlins, Giants get into heated beanball war

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You may have heard that Giants closer Hunter Strickland broke his hand punching a door in frustration after Monday night’s subpar performance. He’ll miss six to eight weeks as a result. Strickland came in to protect a 4-2 lead but ended up giving up three runs. The tying run was knocked in by Lewis Brinson on a single to right field. Brinson moved to third base on a go-ahead single by Miguel Rojas, which prompted manager Bruce Bochy to take Strickland out of the game.

On his way to the dugout, Strickland started chirping at Brinson. Much like Bryce Harper and Strickland, Brinson and Strickland have a bit of a history. Last Thursday, Brinson handed Strickland a blown save with a sacrifice fly to deep center field. Brinson was happy to help his team tie the game, pumping his fast and saying, “Let’s go” at no one in particular. That rubbed Strickland the wrong way. Everything seems to rub Strickland the wrong way.

During Tuesday night’s game, Giants starter Dereck Rodriguez threw at Brinson with the first pitch, a 92 MPH fastball. Home plate umpire Andy Fletcher issued warnings to both benches. Manager Don Mattingly came out to argue, suggesting that his team hadn’t done anything wrong so it was unfair to essentially take the inside part of the plate away from his pitchers. On his way back to the dugout, Mattingly could be seen saying, “You’re next” to catcher Buster Posey.

The Giants scored twice in the bottom of the second against Dan Straily to extend their lead to 3-0. Posey came to the plate with a runner on first base and one out. Straily hit Posey with a 91 MPH fastball on the first pitch, prompting ejections of both Straily and Mattingly. Posey was hit on the arm. If the pitch had come in a bit lower and hit Posey on the wrist or hand, Posey might have had to go on the disabled list for a couple months. Or if the pitch had hit Posey a couple of inches higher, in the head, then who knows what would have happened.

Things calmed down from there, thankfully. The two clubs have one more game against each other in San Francisco on Wednesday and that will be the final time they meet this season. If anything further is going to happen — and hopefully, nothing happens — then it will come tomorrow.

Straily will almost certainly be facing a suspension and a fine, as will Mattingly. It’s less clear if Rodriguez and/or Bochy will be reprimanded for throwing at Brinson, even though it was fairly obvious the pitch was intentional. Regardless, the punishments amount to just one missed start for the pitchers, which isn’t nearly enough of a detriment to deter beanball wars.