The Phillies find themselves in an interesting situation this week, their spot in the postseason secured for over a full week now, they can still directly affect the National League Wild Card race.
The Phillies play the Atlanta Braves, once a shoo-in for the Wild Card spot, but struggling of late and now just a single game ahead of the surging St. Louis Cardinals, who play the atrocious-against-everyone-but-Philadelphia Houston Astros.
At first glance, it seems like it may be advantageous to see the banged-up Braves in the playoffs, rather than the healthy and hot Cardinals. Some people have even discussed "laying down" for the Braves this week to allow them to enter the playoffs. This strategy stinks, here's why:
1. For all practical purposes, the Phillies are unlikely to play the Braves. Based on the assumption that the Braves will be a pushover in the playoffs (a point I am not conceding, for the same reason I don't think the Phillies' recent eight-game losing streak portends bad things), won't the Diamondbacks or Brewers knock them out first? Then the Phillies just get the hotter team in the NLCS.
2. In-season matchups don't say a whole lot. The 1999 Red Sox were 12-8 against the Yankees, who thrashed them in the ALCS in five games. The 1983 Phillies were an appalling 1-11 against the NL West Champion Dodgers, and beat them in four games in the then-best-of-five NLCS. And so on. While the Phillies were 3-6 against the Cardinals in 2011, it's worth noting that only three of those games happened after Chase Utley's return and before the Phillies had clinched a playoff berth -- and the Phillies won two of those three games.
3. Historical significance. 100 wins is really awesome. 102 wins -- the franchise single season record -- would be even more sweet. I try not to get wrapped up in arbitrary numbers, but either of these benchmarks would be pretty special.
4. Integrity of the game. This is a loose standard, I know, but there's something kinda wormy about doing anything but trying to win, especially against a team fighting for its life.
In other words, this is your assignment. Be like Conan: