Inside the Phillies: As Nationals prepare for postseason, Phillies look to 2013

Posted: September 26, 2012

Next year has become the Phillies' primary focus now that their postseason dreams have become less likely than an ice-block roll to home plate by Ted Williams.

That's why Darin Ruf finally got a start in left field Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. That's why Roy Halladay should only remain in the rotation if he feels absolutely no abnormalities in his right shoulder during his bullpen session Wednesday, and even then it would seem senseless to almost everyone but him.

That's also why Cole Hamels' outing Wednesday night ended after five innings and 99 pitches. No sense in overworking your ace when you are no longer in a race.

Next month is the primary focus for the Washington Nationals, who arrived in Philadelphia with the best record in baseball and on the brink of the franchise's first National League East title since 1981. The Nationals have already become the first team from Washington to clinch a postseason berth since the 1933 Senators.

This isn't the first time the Phillies and Nationals have met late in the season with one team focused on next season and the other focused on the postseason. During the Phillies' run of five straight division titles, they celebrated winning the division three times in front of the Nationals.

With their 6-3 win Wednesday, the Phillies made sure the Nationals would not be cracking open any champagne bottles in Philadelphia this week.

Where the procedural celebration takes place is not nearly as important to the Phillies as preventing it from happening again in 2013.

"Obviously they're going to do something pretty special, and our goal is to just go out and win ballgames," Hamels said. "We want to shift the momentum for the way we want to play for games, months and obviously next year. We want to open eyes to what we have and what we can create."

Ending the Nationals' run at one will not be easy.

You could make an argument that the Nationals had the best player in the league at first base (Adam LaRoche), shortstop (Ian Desmond) and third base (Ryan Zimmerman) this season. You could argue that they have the best young player in the league in Bryce Harper, who is still 20 days away from turning 20. You could argue that they have the best starting rotation in baseball, and it consists of nothing but guys in their 20s.

The Phillies are a more accomplished and more mature team, which is a nice way of saying they are getting old.

Ruf's presence in the lineup Tuesday night injected some young blood for the Phillies, and we immediately saw why they love his bat but worry about his defense. The 26-year-old rookie waited more than two weeks for his first big-league start, but he picked up right where he left off at double-A Reading, blasting a 3-2 pitch from lefthander Ross Detwiler into the left-field seats in the second inning.

"I knew it had a shot [off the bat], yeah," Ruf said. "But you never know 100 percent, so I just ran like it wasn't going to go and then what it did I slowed down a little bit even though I was already slow."

It was his first major-league hit and his 40th home run this season. It was great entertainment, especially when his teammates iced him upon his return to the dugout, ignoring the rookie until the inning was over.

After the game, Randy Johnson was waiting to talk to Ruf. Johnson, a Phillies fan from Toms River, N.J., caught the home run and agreed to give it to Ruf in exchange for a meeting and autographed baseball.

Ruf later added a single and in between the two hits bounced a one-hop throw to the relay man from left field as Harper scored from second base.

Domonic Brown, who is more than a year younger than Ruf, also homered, his fourth this month after he hit just one in August and five at triple-A Lehigh Valley earlier this season.

If the Phillies are going to keep pace with the youthful Nationals and the Braves in years to come, they need young players such as Ruf and Brown to become productive big-leaguers.

Narrow the focus to just next season, and the Phillies need to do a lot more than that. They need rejuvenated full seasons from Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. They need Jimmy Rollins to have more months like June and September and fewer like July and August. They need a healthy Halladay, an improved bullpen and some successful free-agent signings.

Even then the challenge of overtaking the Nationals will not be easy.


Contact Bob Brookover at bbrookover@phillynews.com or @brookob on Twitter.

 

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