'Round these parts, we've been preoccupied with who the Phillies will run out as a fifth starter on two more occasions between now and the end of the regular season: the self-destructing Kyle Kendrick and his painful collision with regression to the mean? Rookie J.A. Happ, who finished badly at Lehigh Valley and can struggle with command? The nightmare that lurks behind Door Number Three?
After this weekend's four-game sweep of the Brewers--in which none of the above took the mound--the concern has receded a bit. But the way the schedule lines up right now, Starter #5 will match up twice with Braves hurler Jair Jurrjens, probably the best starter the Phils will face in the last 12 games. If they lose those two, and run into bad fortune elsewhere along the line against the prideful Braves, resurgent Nationals or a Marlins team that has handled them all year, we could be sitting here in two weeks' time wondering what the hell happened.
Then again, it could be worse. The Phils' two primary rivals for the last two playoff spots, the Mets and Brewers, have arguably much bigger problems.
The Mets' biggest problem, of course, is their bullpen. New York has blown 11 saves in the ninth inning, 27 overall. They squandered two more late leads over the weekend, allowing the Phillies to gain back 2.5 games. The Nationals traded Luis Ayala, lugging a 1-8 record and a 5.77 ERA, to New York in mid-August. Thrown into the closer's role just days later, Ayala converted seven of his first eight save opportunities--but after failing to protect a 4-2 lead in the ninth on Sunday, he's now on a shorter leash, and rumor has it that he might be battling an injury. The question is where else Jerry Manuel can turn: Brian Stokes and Bobby Parnell are rookies (edit: Stokes is not a rookie), Aaron Heilman and Duaner Sanchez are struggling with their confidence, and Scott Schoeweis, Pedro Feliciano and Joe Smith all are better suited for situational duties. It wouldn't be a total shock to see Manuel give John Maine a try, if the righty can return from an injury within the next few days.
Milwaukee faces an even bigger uncertainty, after firing manager Ned Yost on Monday following their four-game sweep at the hands of the Phillies. As I wrote yesterday, it's a panic move, but maybe a justified one: the question is how the team will respond. Do they see it as a vote of confidence in the talent within the locker room, or just a blind throw of the dice? The Brewers do have the advantage of sending out their two co-aces, CC Sabathia and Ben Sheets, three times each over their remaining 12 games; the problem is that six of those games are against the Cubs, who have won six of the teams' previous ten meetings this season, including a huge four-game sweep in Milwaukee to end July.
Strap yourselves in for a crazy end to (this part of) the ride.