The Phillies have gotten close before -- moving to 41 games over .500 twice in 1976 -- but they haven't gotten the opportunity to do it in a generation. Icons Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton are long gone, but the unit led by Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard can make history.
Halladay won't get to go in the series opener, but he won't be far removed from the discussion. Roy Oswalt will take the ball for Philadelphia on Friday, and he'll be followed by Cole Hamels and Halladay on Saturday and Sunday. Philadelphia is 9-4 against the Marlins this season.
The Marlins are coming off a five-game set against the Mets, and they'll face Philadelphia five more times this season. Three of those will come this weekend -- Philadelphia's final trip to Sun Life Stadium -- and the two teams will play a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park on Sept. 15.
Brad Hand, who's 1-4 with a 4.08 ERA in eight starts for the Marlins, will be recalled from Double-A Jacksonville to start Friday's game. The 22-year-old is 11-4 with a 3.40 ERA in 19 appearances for Jupiter, and the Marlins want him to concentrate on attacking the strike zone.
"Throwing strikes, no question, is the key," said Florida manager Jack McKeon. "He's facing big league hitters, and he's giving them a whole lot more credit than they deserve. He's trying to nibble a little bit, and he doesn't want them to hit the ball. ... When Hand has pitched good games for us, he's generally gotten the ball over and got ahead of the hitters. He's got to pitch to contact, and hope the defense can catch it. But he's getting hurt on the bases on balls."
The Phillies, who have been in first place on the first day of May, June, July, August and September, will play 29 games over the season's final 27 days. And they won't get to cruise into the postseason, as 18 games will be against division rivals and 10 will involve potential playoff teams.
Philadelphia has one interesting thing in its favor, though: the road. The Phillies have gone a franchise record 36 straight road games without back-to-back losses, and they'll play 17 more road games this year. Philadelphia is 26-10 on the road since June 5, when the streak began.
Oswalt got knocked around in his last start, and he's 2-2 with a 3.71 ERA in four starts since returning from a stint on the disabled list due to a back ailment. The veteran is 0-1 with a 5.40 ERA in two starts against Florida this year, and he's 6-5 with a 3.96 career mark against the Marlins. "I felt pretty good," Oswalt said after his last start. "My other pitches weren't where they needed to be. Chanegup was OK. I threw a lot more sliders than normal. I've been working on [the slider] a little bit. It felt pretty decent in the 'pen. In the game it started getting flat."
Phillies: Howard hits milestone
Slugging first baseman Ryan Howard drilled a home run to left-center field in Thursday's victory, a shot that gave him his sixth consecutive season of 30 homers and 100 RBIs. Howard has homered 12 times in his last 33 games, and 20 of his last 33 hits have gone for extra bases.
Despite his surge, Howard is on pace for career lows in batting average (.250), on-base (.336) and slugging percentage (.484). Howard has been fairly productive against right-handed pitchers this year, but he's batting .231 with a .286 on-base and a .365 slugging mark against lefties. For his career, Howard is a .232 hitter with a .311 on-base and .442 slugging against southpaws.
Phillies third baseman Placido Polanco got a chance to rest in Thursday's series finale against the Cincinnati Reds.
He is hitting .290 (9-for-31) with one RBI, three walks and five strikeouts since returning on Aug. 22 from a sports hernia injury.
Marlins: Infante swinging hot bat
While Omar Infante's nine-game hit streak was snapped Thursday against the Mets, a recent surge has allowed him to lift his batting average (.277) to one of its highest points since Opening Day. Infante, who went 0-for-4 with a strikeout in Thursday's game, has hit .300 in each of the last two years.
Acquired from Atlanta in the offseason trade for Dan Uggla, Infante is hitting .353 (42-for-115) with 11 extra-base hits in 31 games since the All-Star break. All three of his home runs this year have come against left-handed pitchers, and he's made just five errors in 119 games at second base.
Mike Cameron was given Thursday off at New York, as Bryan Petersen started in center field, but Cameron will likely get the nod Friday thanks to his numbers against Oswalt. Cameron is 10-for-33 (.303) in his career against the right-hander, with one home run and one RBI. Infante is 2-for-11 (.182) vs. Oswalt.
The Phillies have notched at least 40 road wins in each of the last eight seasons. ... Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez, respectively, will pitch for Florida on Saturday and Sunday. ... The Sept. 15 doubleheader between Florida and Philadelphia was necessitated by the inclement weather of Hurricane Irene. ... The Marlins recalled right-hander Sandy Rosario from Triple-A New Orleans on Thursday. He'll wear No. 53. ... Mike Stanton hit seven home runs in August, tied for third most in Marlins history in that month.