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The Playoff Chase

Going into the Marlins series, many thought the Phils would be lucky to go 2-2.  After taking the first two games, the Phillies let the final two opportunities slip away and scored no more than three runs in the final three games.  This week, the club will continue their Wild Card push through Atlanta and Houston and meet up with the likes of Tim Hudson, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte – as they did last week in Philly.  They will be without the services of Arthur Rhodes who is out the rest of the season with an elbow strain in his pitching arm.  Rhodes was unable to fulfill the role of closer while Tom Gordon was injured and it is likely that he was overused.  He first complained about this injury after pitching three straight games.  If not overused, then he was at least used in a role in which he feels uncomfortable.  Ryan Madson will assume setup duties as he’s done in the past, and this may force Charlie Manuel to use some of his more inexperienced arms in key situations.  This is something he has been reluctant to do, but is ultimately necessary if they are ever going to learn what it’s like to pitch in big games.

If the Phils are going to return from this road trip with a winning record, Chase Utley will have to improve at the plate.  In the last seven days, Chase is batting .240, which is around his average for August and September.  While it’s unlikely he can repeat his torrid July which featured a 35-game hitting streak, he must return to form and help Ryan Howard lead this lineup into the playoffs.   His hit totals over the course of the season may offer a reason to be optimistic; he’s about due for another peak:

Utley's hits by month

The team as a whole will have to find a way to improve on the embarrassing inability to drive in runs which plagued them this weekend.  Despite leading the lead in runs scored, the Phils were unable to score more than three runs in six of their last seven games.

On the pitching front, the Phillies rotation cannot be blamed for the recent close loses.  Although early-inning runs continue to be a problem, they have surrendered less of them lately.  For those with an ESPN Insider account check out Jerry Crasnick’s piece today on the father and son dynamic developing between Jamie Moyer and Cole Hamels.  For those without, here are a few choice quotes:

Hamels on having a mentor…"This is the top level," Hamels says, "but there’s a level beyond it where you have the Cy Young winners and MVPs. Jamie’s mental approach to the game is absolutely phenomenal. If I can learn from him and better my mental approach, it will help me in the long run so I can get to that next level."

After Hamel’s 11-2 beat down in Wrigley…"I’m thinking, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be interesting,’" Moyer says. "I want to say something, but he’s a young kid and I don’t know how he’s going to react. So he comes in and he’s standing there and I say, ‘You know Cole, regardless of how you did today, the biggest thing you can do is take something positive from this game and move forward.’"

On Moyer’s return next season…Will Hamels and Moyer get a chance to tee it up together as teammates in 2007? No one can say. Moyer’s contract includes a $4.75 million mutual option for next year. His wife and kids are back in Seattle, he just moved out of a hotel in New Jersey, and the Phillies are still scrapping for a postseason berth, so he’s willing to wait until his head is clear to contemplate his future.   One teammate, for sure, is hoping he will return.  "I can’t say much because I’m so young," Hamels says. "It’s up to the guys upstairs. But I would definitely like that."

Hamels definitely can learn a lot from Moyer, but Moyer shows signs of breakdown, I don’t think the Phillies can afford a $4.75 million pitching coach. 

Finally, to keep your Phillies knowledge sharp and expansive, check out the new crossword puzzle at Phillies Nation Games.  It’s a new page that will feature Phillies related puzzles and an occasional trivia contest.  Happy gaming and Go Phils!

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