Big League Stew - MLB

The Philadelphia Phillies ended their quest for another NL East championship just as they started it: In Washington, in front of a partisan Fightins' crowd of day trippers, with Roy Halladay(notes) dominating on the mound and their high-powered offense firing on all cylinders. The Phils' 8-0 victory on Monday night was as symmetric as the circle of life, but it was also business as usual. Three of the Phillies' team-record four straight division titles were clinched with the Washington Nationals watching from the opposing dugout.

But as much as you'd like to say that the Phillies easily became only the fifth franchise* to win four or more straight division titles, that was far from the case. The Atlanta Braves mounted a strong challenge and a bevy of injuries to Philly's key players kept the team out of first place for much of the summer. It wasn't until the team surged in September — they're 20-5 for the month now — that they reclaimed what has rightfully been theirs. 

So now the Phillies will enter the postseason as the No. 1-seeded team in the National League and poised to make up for the World Series disappointment in 2009. Much of the team has been there before, but it's the new guy — Halladay, who threw a complete game shutout on Monday — who could be inspiring the most confidence. After 13 seasons, he's finally in the postseason and there isn't a better No. 1 starter who's guaranteed to open his team's playoff campaign. There are a lot of reasons to tab this team as World Series favorites, but none are bigger than Halladay. 

*The other teams to win four straight or more are: Atlanta Braves (1995-2005), Cleveland Indians (1995-99), New York Yankees (1998-06) and Oakland A's (1971-75).

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