It was impossible to predict what all of it would mean come October. But the implications for the here and now were perfectly clear: Any team interested in making the postseason better be prepared to win consistently, and it most certainly better avoid the type of pothole that could have developed at Citizens Bank Park this weekend.
After another fine outing by Roy Oswalt resulted in a 6-0 victory over the Washington Nationals yesterday, the Phils look equipped to handle both challenges.
"I think that's what we were thinking about when we acquired Roy," manager Charlie Manuel said after Oswalt pitched seven scoreless innings to help the Phillies (70-53) remain 2 1/2 games behind Atlanta in the National League East. "That definitely gives us three starting pitchers that we feel like we have a chance to win those games when they pitch."
Since Aug. 1, the Phillies are 9-3 in games started by their triumvirate of aces: Oswalt and Roy Halladay are both 4-0, while Hamels is 1-3 despite allowing just one run in two of the three losses. Overall, they are 13-5 during that stretch, and 22-7 since July 22.
"I compare it to '04 and '05 with Roger and Andy," said Oswalt, who back then was the young gun in an Astros rotation that featured stars Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. "It seems like it pushes you more when you've got guys on the squad that go out there and seem like they throw seven every time out. Kind of an in-house competition against each other to push each other and see how good each other can be."
A pair of RBI from Placido Polanco - one in the first inning on a sacrifice fly and one in the third on a single - gave Oswalt a slim margin to work with for much of his start. Turned out, it was more than enough. Oswalt allowed a leadoff runner in each of his first four innings, but leaned heavily on a crisp fastball to avoid any serious damage. With a runner on third base in the first inning, he struck out Nationals stars Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman to end the frame. In the third, he struck out Ian Desmond and got Dunn to ground out to strand a runner on second. He ended the fifth with a strikeout of Desmond, then started the sixth by striking out Dunn on a high fastball.
"Most of his strikeouts came because he challenged righthanded hitters and got the ball up and in on them," Manuel said. "He was beating them."
Oswalt thinks Citizens Bank Park might have something to do with that. Since joining the Phils, he has said several times that when he stands on the rubber he feels like he is standing on top of the hitter. Yesterday, he added that the stature enables him to get high fastballs past hitters, which he did against Dunn.
"It feels easier," Oswalt said. "I don't know if it's just the surroundings or [being] back into a pennant race. Any time you have the adrenaline going and the team is playing well behind you, it just adds that much more when you are pitching."
The Phillies did not build on their lead until the sixth, when Wilson Valdez hit a two-out, two-run single to put them up, 4-0.
Oswalt struck out eight in seven scoreless innings before the rain delay ended his outing after 106 pitches. He allowed six base-runners - five on singles, and one on a walk.
After the delay, Raul Ibanez connected on a 3-2 pitch from Craig Stammen for a two-run homer to rightfield that gave the Phillies a 6-0 lead in the seventh. It was Ibanez' 12th homer of the season, and it sealed Oswalt's third victory with his new team. Since the Phillies acquired him from the Astros in late July, Oswalt is 3-1 with a 2.43 ERA. He has allowed just five earned runs in his last 27 1/3 innings (a 1.65 ERA).
In seven career starts at Citizens Bank Park, Oswalt is 7-0 with a 2.03 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings.
That should be a good omen for the postseason. If, of course, they get there.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at http://go.philly.com/highcheese. Follow him on Twitter at