The Phillies find themselves in a rather unusual — and potentially sticky — situation at the moment.
With 48 games left to play, following their series win over the San Francisco Giants this past weekend, the Phillies sit atop the National League East standings with a 74-40 record.
That’s good enough for an 8.5 game lead on the Atlanta Braves, the next best team in the division, and a comfortable lead over the next best team in all of baseball.
So … how do you approach the next seven weeks?
True, there are injuries that could be given time to heal.
There are both pitchers and position players that could probably benefit from some extra time off as well.
But … why?
Why take the foot off the gas now?
After all, these guys are supposed to be built to handle a full season of baseball — that’s what they are getting paid to do. And once they are in the playoffs, every team is basically running on pure adrenaline at that point anyway.
So why give them time off now and potentially disrupt their flow both individually and as a unit?
Wouldn’t it be better to just keep pressing and pressing until that “Magic Number” — the combined number of Phillies wins and Braves losses needed for the Phillies to mathematically make the playoffs — rests at zero?
Epic collapses do happen, after all.
But, if you can get your guys some extra rest without losing their intensity or performance level, then you can really hit the ground running when October comes around.
See why this can develop into such a sticky situation?
That’s the major issue facing manager Charlie Manuel and his staff at the moment.
True, they do have some injuries.
Placido Polanco is banged up and Chase Utley has looked great but has been getting extra time off since his return from the disabled list.
Roy Oswalt finally made it back on Sunday but the Phils are still without Jose Contreras in the bullpen as well as Joe Blanton in the starting rotation.
Then you also have the addition of Hunter Pence and getting him into a rhythm with the rest of his teammates.
He has looked solid in his first few weeks here, but he is playing in a new ballpark, so the more work he gets now, the better off he will be when it comes time to play under those playoff spotlights.
It will be interesting to see what Manuel and his inner circle decide to do over the next few weeks, because it is definitely a difficult balancing act to perform.
The Phillies have not had such a big lead to rest on in any of the last few seasons either. The last two seasons they finished with a six-game division lead and back in 2008, when they won the World Series, they had just a three-game division lead when the regular season wrapped up.
With teams that close, there was no option of taking time off.
Whatever Manuel’s decision might be, the intention is the same: Get this team ready to win when the playoffs begin, because regular-season standings mean nothing at that point.
Something tells me that guys like Utley, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels are not looking for time off at this point, either. ••
Columnist Matt Godfrey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org