Phillies aren't guaranteed anything come the postseason

At the beginning of the season, the - Star outfielder Hunter Pence and a comfortable lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, not much has changed.

But as trendy a pick as the Phillies may be to reach the World Series for the third time in four years, nothing is guaranteed. The Phillies will most certainly be in tough come October, despite sporting a MLB-best .656 winning percentage and regardless of if they win 105 games, which looks entirely possible, if not likely, at this point.

The Phillies have all the ingredients needed to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy at season's end, including the most important one of all -- dominant starting pitching. The biggest obstacle the Phillies will have to overcome is not something they lack, rather, what other teams possess.

The Phillies aren't the only team to get the memo that good pitching will beat a good offense more often than not, but they did assemble a Miami Heat-like starting rotation by surrounding lefty Cole Hamels with Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cliff Lee in just over a calendar year. And although Philadelphia might have the best rotation in the big leagues, there are many other rotations that are top-heavy, especially in the NL.

We all know the San Francisco Giants didn't beat the Braves, Phillies and Texas Rangers en route to a World Series title with a strong offensive lineup. The Giants did it with strong starting pitching, good defense and timely hitting. And if the Giants can overcome a recent slide -- and some key injuries -- they will likely join the Braves and Milwaukee Brewers in the playoffs, providing for a trio of teams with the pitching to put an end to the Phillies' remarkable season.

Not only are the three teams deep in starting pitching, they all have lockdown options for the late innings.

Milwaukee has Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo to go along with one of the most dominant closers in the game in John Axford.

Don't be fooled by Greinke's surface stats -- he has lowered his ERA by almost two runs in less than two months and would be the MLB-leader in strikeouts- per-nine-innings (11.17) if qualified, by a wide margin. Greinke is the ace the Brewers thought they were getting when they invested in him this off-season, and Marcum and Gallardo are no slouches either.

Milwaukee also boasts one of the best three-four tandems in baseball in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, who pace an offense that has the team playing its best ball of the season, winning 19 of its past 22 games.

San Francisco, on the other hand, is struggling and may not get the chance to defend its title if the Arizona Diamondbacks have anything to say about it. Arizona has opened up a small lead over the Giants in the West (2.5 games), but come playoff time, the Giants are the bigger threat based on a superior starting rotation.

Although Arizona has a very underrated one-two punch in Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson, the Diamondbacks don't possess the depth the Giants do in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Jonathan Sanchez, who proved what a strong staff is capable of last season. They carved up the Phillies hitters then, and there is no reason to believe they can't do it again. And like the rest of the NL playoff hopefuls, they have a pretty good closer in Brian Wilson, to go along with a quality bullpen.

Then there are the Braves.

Not long ago, it looked like Atlanta was engaged in a real battle for the East, but the Phillies are not going to relinquish a near double-digit lead, so the Braves will have to settle for the wild-card. That would allow them to miss the Phillies in the NL Division Series -- since MLB rules disallow the wild-card team from playing the division winner from its division in the first round.

The Braves have a very deep staff led by Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens, in addition to veterans Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe. Based on Lowe's postseason experience, he would likely squeeze youngster Brandon Beachy out of the playoff rotation.

Hanson has struggled post All-Star game-snub, and is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury, but he is capable of shutting down any opponent. Jurrjens has not been as dominant as his numbers may indicate, but it doesn't mean he's someone to take lightly either. It doesn't get much easier for opponents when they get to the Braves bullpen -- especially late in games, as Atlanta has the lights-out combo of Jonny Venters and closer Craig Kimbrel at its disposal.

This isn't about proving that the Phillies aren't good enough -- they clearly are -- or that they won't reach the World Series. It's about the quality of the NL. Come the postseason, the regular season stats go out the window and, in a short series, the Phillies aren't guaranteed anything more than three games.