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Hunter Pence gives Phils lineup a spark

Editor's note: Throughout August, ESPN.com will take a close look at various teams in the hunt for a playoff spot to assess whether they have what it takes to survive the dog days of August and remain in contention come October.

At the bottom of the page, each team will receive a dog bone rating based on our overall analysis: five bones = serious postseason contender; four bones = good contender; three bones = average contender; two bones = poor contender; one bone = no contender.

Who's the big dog?

Hunter Pence

Pence

Hunter Pence will need to continue justifying general manager Ruben Amaro's trade deadline aggression with a strong finish to the regular season. In 15 games with the Phillies, he has already hit three homers and his OPS is just a shade under .900. Many attribute the Phillies' 12-3 record to the "lineup protection" Pence provides for Ryan Howard, but Pence is just a plain-old good hitter. And if he continues hitting, he can come up with many more catchphrases to go along with "Good game. Let's go eat."

-- Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley, an affiliate of the SweetSpot Network

Who needs to step up?

Raul Ibanez is a notoriously streaky hitter, but the streaks have usually been confined to the season's halves. This year is another story. Check out his month-by-month OPS starting with April: .466, .941, .569, .878, .369. Going by the trend, Ibanez should continue struggling through August, become red-hot in September, and return to frigid temperatures in October. While the Phillies will certainly take the supposed September version, they would prefer if Ibanez figured himself out in time for the postseason. Otherwise, Domonic Brown could come back into the picture.

-- Bill Baer, Crashburn Alley, an affiliate of the SweetSpot Network

Key stat: wins above replacement (WAR)

With the offseason acquisition of Cliff Lee, speculation was that the Phillies' rotation would be among the best in the league. There is nothing "replacement-level" about the Phillies' rotation, evidenced by their MLB-leading 20.2 WAR among starting pitchers. Those 20.2 wins are almost five wins better than the next best rotation (White Sox, 15.6 WAR). Phillies starters have combined to win 58 games (most in the majors) and have left the highest percentage of runners on base (76.3).

-- ESPN Stats & Info

Where are they going?

Thanks to a pitching staff that is even better than expected -- and expectations were high -- the Philadelphia Phillies are in the midst of an all-time great season. The Phils are currently on pace for 105 wins, which would tie them for ninth on the National League single-season wins list.

With a 7½-game lead in the NL East, the Phillies are in cruise control and can start looking ahead to the playoffs. While the Phils' offense is merely average (seventh in the NL in runs), their starting pitching, led by Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, makes them clear favorites to reach the World Series.

For more of Matt Meyers' analysis, click here.Insider