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make mine the phillies

baseball prospectus has st louis, atlanta, and san diego as locks for the playoffs, with only the wild card in doubt. and not by much: BP gives houston a 65 pct chance of winning that honor, with philadelphia at 24 percent and the marlins just 8 percent. why the pronounced houston lean in such a tight race? just a matter of scheduling; the astros play just 2 games vs winning teams down the stretch (at st louis next week), while the marlins have 9 (including 6 against the braves) and the phillies have 6. but not so fast: houston plays 9 of its final 13 on the road, where they have played .417 ball this season. the baseball prospectus computer has the astros going 7-6 down the stretch, with the phillies and marlins each going 6-6 . . . . . such is what passes for a "pennant race" in the wild-card era.

the cards' last chance to affect the outcome comes next tuesday and wednesday, when the astros make their final reg-season trip to busch stadium. the likely starting pitchers: morris and carpenter for the cards, roy oswalt and brandon backe for the 'stros. there's a persuasive case to be made that cardinal fans should be rooting for houston in the wild-card contest, but i'd just as soon see stl eliminate those guys before october. they have both a better rotation and a better bullpen than the cardinals; we have owned that team all year, but it will mean nothing come the nlcs.

so i am rooting for the phillies, who have been outhomered by their opponents this year 149-174. they rely heavily on the stolen base and the walk, both of which the cardinals lead the n.l. in preventing. and their top left-handed bat, bobby abreu, is 2 for 15 lifetime against ray king with 0 hr and 6 strikeouts . . . . for good measure he's 0 for 3 against randy flores with 2 ks. the phils' bullpen is weak, their rotation weaker. they're a tougher 1st-round opponent than san diego, but not drastically so -- and if facing them is the price of avoiding another confrontation w houston, i'll gladly pay it.