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Looking to October for postseason showdowns

Three more weeks.

There are just three more weeks until the regular season comes to an end and postseason baseball is upon us.

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So far, the Phillies’ path to yet another National League East title has been anything but tortuous; it seems as if they’ve been the best team in all of baseball since spring.

Yet, there are always obstacles that leap up between now and the Fall Classic: Hitters famous for hot Septembers, and infamous for cold Octobers.

Pitchers whose lightning-rod arms turn to meatloaf at the worst possible times. And, perhaps most troubling, mediocre spoiler teams who get lucky late in the season, appalling the fans of respectable ballclubs by dashing postseason dreams.

Still, with the sizable lead they hold in the division, the Phillies — while undoubtedly still playing to win every game — can start to break down their potential postseason matchups without guilt.

In fact, they’ve faced two of the three likely teams in back-to-back series this week, with the series against the Atlanta Braves wrapping up yesterday and the four-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers starting today, Sept. 8.

The third potential matchup would be the Arizona Diamondbacks, who look sure to take the NL West crown.

The Brewers probably will be representing the NL Central while the Braves, who trail the Phillies in the East, are likely going to win the Wild Card spot.

Of those three teams, the Diamondbacks would be the Phils’ most probable first-round opponent because, even though the Braves are the Wild Card team, rules state that you cannot face a team in your own division in the first round.

Because the Diamondbacks’ record isn’t as good as the Brewers’, Arizona would face the Phillies in the first round.

The Diamondbacks are having a Cinderella season, out-dueling the defending champion San Francisco Giants in the West Division.

In the shorter five-game series, each team probably would utilize four starting pitchers. Obviously, that would be a good thing for the Phillies.

Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt could be expected to face Arizona’s Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Joe Saunders and Josh Collmenter.

While Kennedy is being mentioned in the Cy Young race, the advantage here definitely goes to the Phillies.

The Phillies should hold the advantage offensively as well, with pure output and veteran experience heading into the post-season.

The Diamondbacks were widely considered to be a few years out of contention with Kirk Gibson entering his first full season as manager this year, but they have been able to realize a considerable level of success. The D-Backs definitely should not be taken lightly, but the Phillies hold the advantage.

If the Phillies end up playing the Brewers, however, things could turn out a lot differently.

The Phillies’ pitching staff still should outshine that of the Brewers, but offensively, arguments could be made for both sides having the superior lineup.

You know what the Phillies can do, but the Brewers have two legitimate candidates for the NL’s Most Valuable Player trophy this year in first baseman Prince Fielder and leftfielder Ryan Braun.

They also have a solid supporting cast, much like the Phillies, that could put some runs together.

Should the Phillies get to the second round, they could run into the toughest pitching staff aside from their own in the Atlanta Braves.

We know what the Braves have; we have seen them more than a dozen times this season already.

The key for the Phillies in a series against Atlanta would be whether their bullpen can stand up, because runs will be hard to come by in each of these games.

Offensively, the Phillies and Braves are eerily similar as well, but Chipper Jones is not the same powerhouse anymore and the Braves are relying heavily on some young guys.

However the matchups break down, the Phillies have a good shot at making another World Series appearance. ••

In the Batter’s Box ends with today’s column. This is a result of editorial content changes at the Times.

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