Could Be a Clincher: Phillies close in on division, face Astros

Posted by Kevin Durso

Philliedelphia/Kevin Durso

The Phillies’ magic number is down to six to clinch their fifth straight division title, a quest that started at the beginning of the season. So, with the possible clincher taking place this week, it seems fitting that the Phillies face the team that started it all. The Phillies have 94 wins. The first three came against the Houston Astros. Who could forget the dramatic Opening Day win that jumpstarted the Phillies to the start of their historic season? Now, the Phillies are in Houston, facing the team that started it all, and marking the homecoming for their big trade acquisition, Hunter Pence.

In order for the Phillies to clinch, two things must happen. First, the Phillies have to knock that magic number down themselves, which they could do by sweeping the Astros. The Braves would also have to be swept in a three-game series against the Marlins. Ok, so a clincher on the road doesn’t seem all that likely, but the Phillies could end up right on the doorstep for a clincher on Thursday or Friday.

First things first, the Phillies have their series with the Astros. Houston still has big-name bat Carlos Lee, but really sold the farm by dealing Pence to the Phillies and Michael Bourn to the Braves. With that, they are left with minimal threats in the lineup. On the mound, a few former Phillies could get a chance against their former club.

Here are the pitching matchups for the series.

In the opener, Roy Oswalt (7-8, 3.72 ERA) takes on Brett Myers (4-13, 4.66 ERA).

Oswalt took a no-decision in his last start against the Braves, allowing two runs over seven innings. He took a no-hitter into the sixth in a game the Phillies came back to win, 3-2. Oswalt won a start against the Astros on April 3rd, allowing two runs over six innings in his season debut.

Myers went 7 2/3 innings allowing one run in a win over the Pirates. He pitched seven innings, allowing two runs to the Phillies on Opening Day, before the Astros’ bullpen gave up three runs in the ninth inning of the Phillies’ Opening Day win. Myers’ win in his last start was his only win in the last ten strts he’s made. He is 1-3 in his last ten starts.

In the middle game, Cole Hamels (14-7, 2.60 ERA) gets the start for the Phillies. The Astros have yet to announce a starter for this game.

Hamels picked up his 14th win of the season in his last start, pitching a complete game and allowing two runs against the Brewers. Hamels has only won two of his last five starts, but has just three losses in his last ten starts.

In the finale, Roy Halladay (17-5, 2.44 ERA) gets the start against J.A. Happ (5-15, 5.77 ERA).

Halladay allowed one run over eight innings to get the win in his last start against the Brewers. Halladay allowed one run over six innings on Opening Day against the Astros, taking a no-decision in the Phillies’ comeback win. Halladay has only two wins in his last five starts, but has lost two of his last ten, and hasn’t taken a loss since August 16th.

Happ allowed four runs over five innings in his last start, taking a no-decision against the Pirates. Happ has not faced the Phillies this season. Happ has won two of his last ten starts, a stretch that featured four straight losses. Happ’s 15 losses lead the National League this season.

Prediction:
September 12 – Phillies 4, Astros 2
September 13 – Phillies 6, Astros 1
September 14 – Phillies 6, Astros 2

This series should be easy, but I wouldn’t hesitate to think the Astros have a chance in at least one of these games. The Astros were just as lowly a team last August, when they entered Citizens Bank Park for a four-game series, and swept the Phillies. Still, with so many weapons gone, with the Astros in clear rebuilding mode, the Phillies should be able to take this series with ease.

Roy Oswalt has been solid in most of his starts since the return from the DL, but has been in position to lose as much as he has to win. If there’s any game the Astros have a good chance of taking, it’s this one. Still, the Phillies prevail behind just enough offense, and quality pitching in such a large park.

In the last two games, the Phillies have to pitchers for the job, and the Phillies take advantage of some weak Astros pitching to take the final two games much more easily that they did the first.

The Phillies return home after this series for a ten-game homestand, so if the division is not clinched here, it will happen at home. The Phillies have a day/night doubleheader against the Marlins on Thursday before hosting the St. Louis Cardinals over the weekend in a four-game series, followed by a four-game series with the Washington Nationals, which includes a doubleheader next Tuesday. They play six road games to follow, three against the New York Mets, and three against the Atlanta Braves to close the 2011 regular season.