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Root for the Phils??? PH-M-L.

I can't believe I am about to say this…but I think it's time to start rooting for the Phillies.

I know what you are thinking. Apart from the Busch Stadium Whiner Brigade, the Phillies have been my Nemesis Numero Uno from the jump. Indeed, thanks to the yammering buffoons on Philly sports talk radio and the text-happy super-villain Jose, in the span of a few months the Phillies went from being a team I had no feelings for either way to Yankee status: overpaid, underachieving, old, and way too cocky. As insufferable as the call-in Phillies fans are, fluctuating week-to-week between calling for Charlie Manuel's head on a stake and ordering Word Series tickets, nothing is worse than Jose's nightly text messages. (Note to Jose: there is a finite number of times you can text "WE DA BESTTTT" before you stop sounding like DJ Khaled and start sounding like a moron.) Nevertheless, the time has come to put my personal bias aside and begin thinking seriously about what is best for Reds nation, even if that means (begrudgingly) rooting for the Phils.

I'll explain.

Assuming the Reds aren't reading Against All Odds: The Cubs' Guide to Losing When You Shouldn't, they are looking more and more like the odds-on favorite to win the National League Central crown, which would guarantee them their first playoff berth since 1995 (I was freakin' 12.) With that in mind, I think it is fair at this point (eight games up in the Central, ten games left) to at least take a peak at possible playoff opponents. Unless something incredible happens (and the Reds getting knocked out would qualify), it looks like there will be five teams vying for the remaining three NL playoff spots…

The Atlanta Braves – Straight from the "Giving Credit Where Credit is Due" department, Bobby Cox should be congratulated for the job he has done with this team. With a lineup of Brian McCann, Jason Heyward, and the cast of Seasme Street, Cox has managed to hold down the top spot in the NL East for much of the season. Sure, it didn't hurt that the Phillies' training staff has been doing voodoo just to try to field a team (superstars Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins and Shane Victorino have all missed extended time), but it is safe to say that Cox has managed his old, saggy ass off this year. Still, if I had to choose one team for the Reds to face in the first round, it would have to be these guys. In addition to the fact that we handled them pretty easily this summer, the saying "the cream rises to the top" is generally true in playoff baseball. Also, both Dusty Baker and Bobby Cox have experience managing in the playoffs, so I'm not sure managers would factor into this equation as much as the Reds' superior lineup and defense.

The San Diego Padres – One of three teams in a vicious cockfight out West (someone may need to call the Policia should it continue to escalate this quickly), the Pads have to be this season's biggest surprise. They started out the season en some serious fuego but everyone in the baseball universe just kind of smirked and assumed they would eventually remember they were the Padres and revert back to the Dodgers'/ Giants'/ Rockies'/ D-backs' whipping boy. Amazingly, the Padres have found a way to stick around and now sit a half-game behind the Giants. In a lot of ways, I kind of see the Braves and the Padres as Good Scenario 1 and Good Scenario 1A. They both have good pitching, yet they both have pretty weak lineups, so I think the Reds offense could win a short series against either of these teams. However, I separate San Diego from Atlanta on two important factors. First, San Diego has a nasty bullpen. If the Reds carry their current slump into the playoffs, it may be hard to scratch out late inning runs, a maneuver that has turned into their calling card. Second, the Reds would have to play the Padres on the West Coast at least once, which we all know has been a death wish to recent Reds teams.

The San Francisco Giants- The Baseball Giants of the Bay currently hold a half-game lead in the NL West, but that margin is precarious at best. Virtually every day the lead is swapped back and forth between the Giants and the Padres, so this one looks like it may come down to the final week, or even the final game of the season. I wouldn't HATE this match-up, but I wouldn't love it either. The Reds split with the Giants in their most recent series, but the Giants did enough damage to make me kind of fear their lineup. Buster Posey is a star in the making, Kung Fu Panda is a great hitter, and Aubrey Huff is having a career year. Also, as solid as the Reds rotation has been over the course of the season, we don't have a 1-2 to match up with Lincecum and Cain. We would need Good Cueto and Good Arroyo in those two games (never a guarantee), coupled with some clutch hitting and a nasty Volquez in game 3. A puzzling match-up to be sure, but I'd take it over the next two.

The Colorado Rockies – Though the Rockies are technically in third place in their division (2.5 games back from the lead), they are definitely the hottest team in the league not called the Phillies. The combination of Troy Tulowitzki (ridiculously good right now) and Carlos Gonzalez (will be ridiculously good for a long time) is enough to scare any team. Add Ubaldo Jimenez to that equation, as well as the prospect of playing at Coors Field for at least a game, and the Rockies suddenly become a team you don't want to mess with. Oh, by the way, they just swept the Reds in a four-game series so, ummm... yeah. I'll pass.

And finally…

The Philadelphia Phillies - During the dog days of summer, when seemingly every night a different Phillie came down with a new ailment of some kind, I tried to hold out hope that the defending National League Champions would continue to not earn their $142 million payroll by playing terribly, and eventually be edged out by the Braves. Unfortunately, they have gotten healthy and are peaking at the right time, so it seems they will, indeed, be playing in October. And, due to the trade deadline acquisition of Roy Oswalt (otherwise known as "kryptonite" to Reds fans) and the off-season signing of Roy Halladay, the Phillies have the most formidable 1-2-3 punch in baseball to go along with their resurgent offense. Despite their rash of injuries, late-night hijinks, and overall lackluster demeanor (see: Utley, Chase and Werth, Jayson), the Phils have gotten it together just in time to return to "the-team-no-one-in-their-right-mind-wants-to-face-in-the-playoffs" status.

So, that's that. Two light-weights, one enigma, one sleeping giant, and a bonafide powerhouse. With that being said, the last 12 days of the season could play out any number of ways, with the West teams having ample opportunity to beat up on one another and the Braves looking at a potential sweep at the hands of the Phillies, then resting for a week before they close the season against them. It's not often that with this little time left in a season the playoff picture can be so unclear, but for as muddled as things are, there is only one scenario I truly like. I give you:

The Domer-Shank Plan

Step 1: The Reds crush everything in their path – This is pretty much a must in any scenario, but especially in mine. The Reds stand to dodge a Philadelphia sized bullet if they can finish the season on a high note. Securing the #2 seed in the playoffs is essential should Atlanta earn the Wild Card, as two teams from the same division cannot face off in the first round. And, if the Braves keep getting pimp-slapped by the Phillies and end up missing the Dance, the Reds don't lose anything by being the #2 as opposed to the #3, so they might as well just win.

Step 2: The Rockies crap their pants – The way Tulo' and Cargo are playing, this may be outside the realm of possibility, but I hope not. For the reasons listed above, no one in their right mind should want to face Colorado right now, not with the way they are slugging and the way they have manufactured late-season miracles in the past. I need the Rox' to end the season on a losing streak and not even enter this whole equation. Did I mention the Rockies scare me???

Step 3: God strikes down the Giants, propels Pad's to victory – I could go either way on this one. IF the Braves lock up the wild card and IF the Reds lock up the 2 seed, I would like this to be reversed. The Giants definitely seem better suited to strike down the Phillies, so if all the other stars align, the Giants would be a better choice here. However, if the question is "who should we root for starting today?", the Padres would be preferable because the Braves could continue to let their wheels completely fall off, giving us the West division winner in Round 1.

Step 4: The Phillies continue to…(ugh)…win – In a perfect world, I'd strike the whole Phillies roster down with a nasty case of pink-eye and they would blindly lose the rest of their games in embarrassing fashion. I despise them that much. However, even if that DID happen they would end the season 20 games over .500, which still may be good enough for them to back into playoffs. If that were the case, there is a decent chance the Reds would be the National League's best team, strapping them with a first round match-up against the Fightin's. As much as I'd love to beat the Phils like the Pulp Fiction Gimp, it's the last match-up I would choose. They're 16-3 in September and currently on a nine-game win streak. (Not to mention they are the National League equivalent of the shameless-spending Yankees, so they'd probably find a way to add Albert Pujols before the playoffs started.)

There you have it: the surefire way to get the Reds to Round 2 of the playoffs, free of charge! I must admit, even as I sit here staring at what is, by all accounts, the most logical scenario to pull for, I can literally taste bile at the thought of rooting on the Phillies. I've spent the better part of five months hoping Charlie Manuel would trip down the dugout steps and Ryan Howard would choke on his chicken bacon ranch footlong , but those days must end for the sake of our Reds.

Magic number is four. Let's win this thing.

Reed Domer-Shank 9-22-2010

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