Thursday, July 16, 2009

Crucial NL East Matchup to Set Tone for Second Half in the NL

When the Philadelphia Phillies arrive at Land Shark Stadium for tonight’s game against NL East foe Florida Marlins, it will effectively begin the fight to the finish, divisional melees that are sure to ensue as we inch ever closer to the MLB postseason.

Although there are four other divisional matchups taking place tonight, the Florida-Philadelphia game is the only matchup where both teams have real shots at making the postseason. The Marlins currently trail the Phillies by four games in the East and sit four games out of the Wild Card spot in the NL. A series win for the Marlins would not only weight in on the standings, but it would give confidence to a young Marlins team eager to prove their valor among the game’s elite.

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On the other hand, a Phillies series win would do wonders for the Phillies. Such a large divisional lead to start of the second half would leave the Phillies in a prime position to get to the postseason and defend their World Series crown. That’s not mentioning the impact they are hoping Pedro Martinez will have on the team. His presence should provide a spark for the World Champs and his play- they’re hoping- will bolster their pitching staff down the stretch.

Yes, this is without question a season-defining matchup for both teams. A series win has the potential to set the tone for the rest of the season. It’s something intangible and does not have a place in the box score. But the momentum such a win would bring would be huge for either the Phillies or the Marlins. Then again, they could just split the four game series.

The Marlins got off to a hot start only to fizzle in May. They have been off and on ever since, taking advantage of a horrid Mets team, a sub-par Braves squad and the Washington Nationals (who they have not yet lost to in nine games this season) to stay within four games of the division leading Phillies.

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The Phillies have been steadier. They too have taken advantage of their weaker divisional opponents; except the Braves, who they are 2-7 against this year. The Phillies currently own the season series lead against the Marlins, winning four and losing two, including a three game series sweep at Land Shark Stadium in April.

Of course, the Braves are only 6 games behind the Phillies for the division lead and the Mets sit only 6.5 games out of first place in the NL East. Even with a series win this weekend, the Phillies will not find themselves coasting comfortably towards the postseason.

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The consequences of this series extend beyond the obvious impact it will have on the NL East divisional race. Currently, San Francisco holds the NL Wild Card lead. Colorado is two games behind the Giants and Milwaukee and Florida sit four games back. Houston is five games back. A series win for Florida would not only move them to first place in the NL East, but secure them as serious contenders for the NL Wild Card should they lose the NL East to the Phillies down the road.

This series is only the beginning. There will be dozens of series and games with serious impacts on the postseason landscape. As the second half begins, the postseason becomes visible on the horizon. It’s still a ways away and anything could happen. That’s the beauty of professional sports. In baseball, every game counts: all 162 of them. There’s still August and September. And that’s why we watch this game.

Written By Danny Hobrock