Of course, the Phillies are going to win the wild card and go on to the National League playoffs. They have no choice. It's their destiny.
It's the Law of the 3.
As far back as anybody can remember -- as long as the anybodys in question can't remember back to the 1970s -- the Phillies always go to the playoffs in years ending in a "3." They're required to, by law. The Law of the 3.
In 1993, they went from last place the year before to the World Series. In 1983, they were only two games over .500 on Labor Day, then rallied improbably to go to the World Series. And now it's 2003. So what choice do they have? They have to win. It's the law. But just for the heck of it, here are five other reasons:
True, the Phillies have made a lot more visits to Pat's Steaks over the last 20 years than they've made to the playoffs. Nevertheless, 12 current Phillies have appeared in a postseason series, vs. eight Marlins. And of those 12 Phillies, 10 play a prominent role of some kind or other.
Jim Thome and Placido Polanco are regulars. So is David Bell, who could be back for the final week. Kevin Millwood fronts the rotation. And five Phillies relievers have postseason experience. Only the backup catchers -- Todd Pratt and Kelly Stinnett -- are irregulars. And Pratt, who is available to pinch-hit, once hit an extra-inning home run that won a playoff series, for the 1999 Mets.
The Marlins, on the other hand, have just two everyday players who have batted in a postseason game -- Ivan Rodriguez and Jeff Conine. Of the other six, only Todd Hollandworth has more than 101 at-bats or a dozen innings pitched as a Marlin. And isn't it supposed to be that big-game experience that shows up at times like this?
2. Jim Thome
What Barry Bonds is to the Giants, Thome is to the Phillies ... except Thome's teammates actually like him.
Thome is already the first Phillie in two decades to hit 40 homers in a season. He's about to become the third Phillie in the last 48 years to drive in 120 runs (joining only Mike Schmidt and Greg Luzinski). He owns 17 postseason home runs -- which are 17 more than all the Marlins combined (and tied with Bernie Williams for the most among active players). Thome's career postseason home run ratio (one every 12.5 plate appearances) is second only to Babe Ruth (10.8).
But most important, says one scout, "he's a big-game player. He'll be the best player on the field every night. Players like him rise to the occasion in these games." If he does, that'll be OK with the Phillies. They're 27-8 when he homers. And the Marlins' rotation and bullpen are both heavily right-handed.
3. Left-right offensive balance
Speaking of Thome, he has hit 35 more home runs this year than all of the Marlins' left-handed hitters combined. Yep, the Fish have hit exactly five left-handed homers all season -- and one of them was by Dontrelle Willis. (Three were by Hollandsworth and one by Juan Pierre.)
So it's no surprise that the Phillies are 16 games over .500 (70-54) in games started by a right-hander, while the Marlins are only four games over (59-55). The Phillies bat .262 against right-handers and .264 against left-handers, while the Marlins' splits are .260-.288.
And guess which hand all three Phillies starting pitchers will throw the baseball with in their three games in Philadelphia this week? That would be the right hand. And best we can tell, the Marlins will face only three left-handed starters (against whom they're 24-11) the rest of the season.
4. The Vet
The not-exactly-beloved Veterans Stadium doesn't have long to live now: Two more weeks, unless the playoffs stop by. Well, Camden Yards, it isn't. Pac Bell, it isn't. Heck, Stade Olympique, it isn't. There's a good chance nobody in baseball, football or any other activity known to man will miss it. But the Phillies will.
They just finished their most torturous schedule stretch of the year: 27 games in 27 days in seven different cities. Only a week of that marathon was spent at home. But now, of their remaining 13 games, the Phillies play 10 of them at the Vet. And at the Vet, the Phillies are 16-4 since July 29, and 11-1 since Aug. 13.
Since their only loss was to the Red Sox on Labor Day, they haven't lost to a National League team at home in more than a month. After the Marlins leave, the Cincinnati/Louisville Reds visit for three. After a day off, the Phillies play three in Florida, then close up the Vet with three emotional games against Atlanta.
As the Vet's life span dwindles, the crowds will grow, the memories will flow, and the passion will reverberate. And the Phillies have fed off that all year. Since their home-opener loss to the Pirates, they're 13-4 at home in front of crowds over 35,000. Of course, Florida swept them at home in July. But the Marlins haven't won in Pennsylvania since. OK, so they haven't played in Philadelphia since, either. But they did get swept in Pittsburgh last month.
5. The Eagles
In some cities, maybe it wouldn't be a good thing for the local baseball team to have the local football team start its season playing more like Louisiana-Lafayette than like the next Super Bowl champ. But in Philadelphia, life is different.
In Philadelphia, the Eagles' crummy start just means people get nastier and angrier and more frantic than usual. So they can either spend the next two weeks snarling at the Eagles, or they can turn to other stuff.
The Phillies could very well be that other stuff, especially if they keep winning, and the entire city isn't washed into the sea by a hurricane. In a city desperate to win something, anything, the Phillies have a chance to capture the hearts of a wounded public, replace that Eagle-induced pain with a road-to-October joy and send the Vet to the dynamite crew with a special triumphant glow.
Then again, they could also go 0-12, finish fourth in the NL East and force all the suicide hotlines to go to 24-hour operation. But this is supposed to be the Why-Good-Stuff-Will-Happen-to-the-Phillies section of this package. So forget you just read that last sentence. Or else.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.