Fighting Phillies Look Like N.L. Champs

Phillies Finally Right Their Ship

It’s not like the Atlanta Braves have staged a complete collapse.

This has been no Dog Days swoon, no Shades of ‘82, when a Joe Torre-managed club went 2-19 to go from nine games ahead to four behind, only to rally late.

It’s more that the two-time National League champion Philadelphia Phillies have simply returned to form.

On July 22, the Braves were 56-39 and owned a fat seven-game lead in the NL East. Since then, however, the Braves have gone 27-25 to fall three games behind the Phillies.

That 10-game swing is more due to the fact the Phillies have gone 38-15 since scraping out a 2-0 win at the Cardinals in 11 innings on that same July 22 turning point. That win, which helped them avoid a four-game sweep at the hands of Tony La Russa’s club, set the Phils off on a 13-2 run and they’ve hardly slowed down since.

Adding Roy Oswalt in a deadline deal with Houston didn’t hurt. Since losing his Phillies debut at Washington on July 30, Oswalt’s new team has gone 8-0 in his starts. He is 6-1 with a 1.98 ERA for the Phillies, who are pushing back Oswalt’s next start so he can kick off the huge home series against the Braves on Monday.

Even with their recent starting pitching woes, the Braves, it should be pointed out, still have the league’s best run differential (plus 115) and are still clinging to a half-game lead over the Giants in the wild-card standings. That’s a playoff path they’ve never taken in their decorated history under retiring manager Bobby Cox.

For years the Braves were the NL East champions who lost to the wildcard in the playoffs. Team President John Schuerholz used to joke about wanting to try the wildcard path some year, just to shake things up.

This might be the year.

 

FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES

Keep an eye on the surging Rockies, winners of 10 straight until the Padres cooled them off this week.

While the Padres and Giants face off by McCovey Cove on the season’s final weekend, the Rockies will finish up with four games at St. Louis, where the Cardinals probably won’t have anything to play for.

In fact, 13 of the Rockies’ final 16 games are against teams out of the playoff hunt. The only exception is a three-game weekend set against the Giants at Coors Field (Sept. 24-26).

 

AROUND THE HORN

• The poor-drawing Marlins have been known to sacrifice home games to San Juan, Puerto Rico, as they did again this year, but in 2011 they will step aside for Bono’s sake. Rock legends U2 have a June 29 concert scheduled for Sun Life Stadium, and the massive preparations for such an event have set the Mariners-Marlins interleague series adrift. Early talk has centered around Puerto Rico and a second contender, Vancouver, B.C., which has a domed stadium at BC Place. The Triple-A Vancouver Canadians played in the Pacific Coast League from 1978-99.

• When former Marlins first-rounder Brett Sinkbeil made his big-league debut this week at age 25, he became their franchise-record 29th different pitcher this year. The former record was 28 different arms used, set in 2007, the first for former skipper Fredi Gonzalez. The Marlins have used 54 players this year, another franchise mark. The former record was 50 in 2007 as well.

• Southern Belle Farm in McDonough, Ga., came up with a pretty memorable idea this year for its annual fall cornfield maze: a sprawling image of Bobby Cox in his Braves cap with a “Thanks, Bobby” message cut right into the corn. The agricultural art exhibit, if that’s what you call it, is open to the public on weekends from Sept. 18 through Nov. 14. Maybe they can get James Earl Jones to conduct the audio tours.

• Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval isn’t just a switch-hitter, he’s a switch-thrower too, at least to a limited extent. Unfortunately, from the looks of the Kung-Fu Panda of late, it appears he’s a switch-eater as well.

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