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10/01/09 12:02 AM EST

Phillies eyeing historic playoff run

Club aiming to be first back-to-back NL champ since '76

PHILADELPHIA -- It is a good time to be a Phillies fan.

The Phillies clinched their third consecutive National League East championship Wednesday after the Braves lost to the Marlins, 5-4. Moments later, the Phils defeated the Astros, 10-3, at Citizens Bank Park.

It is just the second time in franchise history the Phillies have made the postseason three consecutive years, and it guarantees them a chance to become the first National League team to win consecutive World Series since the 1975-76 Reds.

Yes, it is a good time to be a Phillies fan.

They are 618-512 (.547) since they finished 80-81 in 2002 -- the franchise's last losing season -- which is the fifth-best record in baseball in the past seven years. The Phillies are 446-360 (.553) since Charlie Manuel became manager before the 2005 season, which is the fourth-best record in baseball. Only the Yankees, Angels and Red Sox have been better since Manuel took the job.

This could be considered the second-greatest era in Phillies history, and certainly would become the greatest should they win another World Series this year or in the near future. The Phils were 705-536 (.568) from 1976-83, when they won one World Series, one National League championship and reached the postseason four other times in an eight-year span. Only the Orioles and Yankees had better regular-season records in that span.

"I hope this group has an opportunity to do something that they didn't do: win it all more than once," team president David Montgomery said. "But at the same time, I've said time and again, I think that with 162 games, winning the division is quite an accomplishment. I don't think there should be anything but satisfaction. Every year is a little different. Look at the starting rotation today compare to a year ago. I think right now the focus is on 2009. We'll see where it leads.

"Hopefully, we have the group together under [general manager] Ruben [Amaro Jr.'s] leadership to continue to contend. If we're one of those eight [teams in the playoffs], anything can happen."

The Phillies seem likely to face the Rockies next week in the National League Division Series, although that remains to be determined.

But they also have a couple issues to resolve before the playoffs begin:

Home-field advantage: If the season ended Wednesday, the Phillies would have the second-best record in the National League. Manuel has to walk a line in the next four games between getting his everyday players some much needed rest while still putting a good enough team on the field to at least hold home-field advantage through the first round. "There are some guys that need to get some time off," Manuel said. "But we'd like to win home-field advantage, too. I think the guys that I want to rest I can rest. It's not like I'm going to take three or four out of the lineup at the same time." The Phillies witnessed the benefits of home-field advantage last season, when they won all seven games played at Citizens Bank Park.

The pitching staff: Manuel is leaning toward taking 12 pitchers, which makes sense because there are so many health concerns at the moment. Does Pedro Martinez or J.A. Happ remain in the rotation? Who goes in the bullpen? Brett Myers, Chan Ho Park, J.C. Romero and Scott Eyre have health issues. Manuel hopes to get a better idea about them before rosters have to be finalized by 10 a.m. ET on the day of Game 1 of the NLDS. "There's no question we have concerns about our bullpen," Amaro said. "It hasn't been as consistent as it was last year. It's not as healthy as it was last year. We're going to have to be creative and hopefully get these guys back healthy and hopefully effective."

"I'm glad we clinched with a few days to go," Amaro said. "It gives us a chance to give a few guys a breather. But again, the record means something. We'd like home-field advantage. This is a great moment, but we've still got a lot of work to do."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.