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After Everything, Now This: Marlins at Phils, Sept. 9-11

Sept. 9: Marlins 5, Phillies 12 WP: Cory Lidle (10-10) LP: A.J. Burnett (12-10)
Sept. 10: Marlins 7, Phillies 6 WP: Chris Resop (1-0) LP: Ryan Madson (6-5)
Sept. 11: Marlins 1, Phillies 11 WP: Jon Lieber (14-12) LP: Ismael Valdez (2-2)

So sorry, Jack McKeon, but you've been replaced; Phil Garner is now the manager who prowls our nightmares. Jeff Conine, you're no longer the walking symbol of ultimate Phutility; that job has been claimed by one Craig Biggio. Even you, former leadoff gnome formerly known as Juan F. Pierre, have to cede that middle initial to Willy F. Tavares. That whole Marlins-voodoo-mojo thing is so 2003-2004. We're over it, and we might be over it even if we hadn't won three out of four the last time the teams met, right after the all-star break.

Stripped of their Phillies-killing mystique, what we're left with is a very talented team that seems to be peaking at the right time and has the recent experience of winning in September (and October). The Marlins have won three in a row and 9 of their last 14, including series victories over the Mets and Nationals, charging past the Phils in the process. They've got one of the game's few bona fide aces in 20-game winner Dontrelle Willis, whom the Phils will miss this weekend. They've got a second-tier MVP candidate in Miguel Cabrera (.333, 30 HR, 103 RBI, .977 OPS), ably backed up by slugging first baseman Carlos Delgado (.290, 28, 100, .947).

And they've got a manager in Jack McKeon who's willing to do what Charlie Manuel won't: demote his leadoff man, Pierre, for his serial failures to get on base, and bench his horrible third baseman, Mike Lowell for his all-encompassing ineptitude. Jimmy Rollins and--I struggle even to write the name--David Bell, both probably will have that "there but for the grace of Wade" thought over the weekend.

A confession: after the Phils dropped Florida to the .500 mark by winning that post-break series, I thought we wouldn't have to worry about the Fish again this year. I figured that Larry Beinfast--arguably the most underrated GM in the game--would deal A.J. Burnett, and possibly others; I thought they'd fire McKeon and look to next year. Instead, after losing the next night to Arizona, the Marlins ran off eight wins in ten games, ending talk of a fire sale and announcing their presence in the playoff hunt to stay. If the Phillies retain any hope in the race after this weekend, they'll have earned it.