YOU CAN LOOK up and down the lineups, and pore through the pitching rotations, and strain your eyes in search of that one magic element that separates contender from pretender.
But the simple truth is this: Over the last 2 days, one team has looked like a team that should finish the season with its fourth straight division title, and the other has looked like anything but. One team has made timely hits. The other has made untimely outs. One team has used its defense as a weapon of destruction. The other has just self-destructed.
If there is any doubt about the identity of the best team in the National League East – and for most of this topsy-turvy season, there has been – it is on the verge of being eliminated.
“You look around the clubhouse at the guys we’ve got, we’ve got a bunch of guys that rise to the occasion, play good in big situations,” said Jayson Werth, whose three-run homer off Mike Minor in the third inning last night helped propel the Phillies to a 5-3 win over the Braves that improved their division lead to five games with 10 remaining. “We’ve got a whole team of guys like that. So it’s no surprise to me that here we are again in middle-to-late September, we’re surging, we’re making a run at it. We’re going for the best record in baseball. Make no mistake about it. Everyone in here feels like we’re the best team in baseball, and we’re going to go out and prove it.”
Two months to the day on which they fell seven games behind Atlanta with a loss in St. Louis, they are now one victory away from a three-game sweep and a six-game lead with nine to play.
Even before it ended, you could hear Charlie Manuel preparing his postgame dampening of enthusiasm.