Dust off those clichés about marbles, tomorrows and monkeys on backs, ladies and gentlemen, this is what we’ve all been waiting for: meaningful games as the calendar strikes autumn.
The Phillies begin a three game series tonight against the Florida Marlins and find themselves a half game behind the Dodgers in the Wild Card chase with ten games remaining.
It is only fitting in this season of youth movements and passing of the torch that the Phils hand the ball to 22-year old rookie Cole Hamels to get things started. Like all supremely confident athletes who believe in themselves, Hamels wants the ball with the season on the line.
This year marks the second straight season the Phillies have relied heavily on the younger generation to get them to the Promise Land. Last year, Ryan Howard arrived in June and took up the power slack when Jim Thome was sidelined for the remainder of the season. Though Howard would eventually win the Rookie of Year award, the Phils fell one game short of Houston in their bid for the Wild Card. This year, Hamels arrived in May and immediately drew raves from opposing managers and players as he showed the kind of poise normally associated with veterans and in the process began his ascent toward the top of the Phillies starting rotation.
If it all seems like déjà vu all over again, it is. Nearly every year in recent memory the Phils square off against the Marlins with so much on the line. And for the second year in a row, the Astros, who spoiled the Phils’ run last year by sweeping them in Philadelphia and Houston, figure in the stretch run when they fly into town Monday for a makeup game.
The Phils may have drawn a huge break by avoiding the Marlins’ Dontrelle Willis for this series. There have also been reports that slugger Miguel Cabrera may miss some time with a shoulder injury. The Phillies are also banged up at this stage of the campaign, especially in the outfield where Shane Victorino appears to be nursing a bruised wrist and Pat Burrell continues to limp along with assorted nagging injuries. The chief concern remains the bullpen, which is overworked and erratic and which is short on experienced hands. On balance, however, the Phils are in good shape with an offense that scores runs in bunches and a starting rotation that may be peaking at just the right time.
You have to like their chances. Cole Hamels does.