The Philadelphia Phillies clinched their third straight NL East pennant tonight, which begs the question, do they now run the division, much as the Braves did through the 90s into the early part of this decade? I don’t see many changes to their nucleus coming any time soon. The one glaring question mark I see is the age of Raul Ibanez. However, there are two things that alleviate that. First, the Phillies won their last two division titles without him. Second, the guy just seems to keep getting better with age. Meanwhile, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth are all in or entering their primes. On the pitching side, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee have and will continue to be dominant forces. Since the Phillies don’t appear to be going anywhere soon, it’ll all hinge on whether any other team in the division can knock them off. Let’s take a look at our candidates…
The Mets would be the obvious threat, since they’re a perennial favorite to win the division outright. However, the morale, momentum, and the clock, all seem to be in a downward spiral. Until the Mets make some major moves, one has no reason to believe they’ll threaten the Phils.
The Braves have worked their way back into contention recently, but the cornerstone of the franchise, Chipper Jones, is in the twilight of his career and has even started the discussion about retirement. Odds are 2010 will be his last year. The Braves still have some key pieces in Nate McLouth, Brian McCann, and Yunel Escobar. However, their pitching isn’t getting younger, at least as far as Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez go. The key question for Atlanta, with the imminent departure of Chipper, will not be if, but when to blow the team up and rebuild. They have the pieces.
The Marlins are always a threat to put together one solid season and dethrone the Phillies. Based on their history – 1997 and 2003 – they’re about due to make their traditional World Series run. Something tells me even if and when they’re able to do that, it’ll be as the Wild Card team.
The Nationals are the Nationals.