Opinion

The Phillies’ Wild Card Chances: Never Say Never

I bet the Phillies wish they could have kept playing games through the All Star break. Coming off an emphatic 10-3 drubbing of the Colorado Rockies last Sunday, the Phillies entered the break with a 42-48 record. It’s been a roller coaster of a season so far, one that can be broken down into three chapters. With the marathon more than half over, the Phillies still have at least one, or multiple, chapters yet to be written.

Chapter 1 – The Good

odubelThe Phils were off to a roaring 24-17 start, which feels like ages ago. Both the starters and bullpen were on their A-game, to say the least. The one-two punch of Aaron Nola and Vincent Velasquez and the back end combo of Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez were a force to be reckoned with in the National League. Still, those four pitchers and the rest of the staff took on a heavy burden due to a lack of offense.

Standings as of May 19th:

Division: 2nd place, 1 GB of Nationals
Wildcard: 1st place, 1.5+ of Mets for top wildcard spot

Chapter 2 – The Bad

The title of chapter two could have easily skipped “The Bad” and went straight to “The Ugly.” The Bad/Ugly chapter started on May 20th with a home series against the pitiful Atlanta Braves. At worse, everyone in Philadelphia thought the Phils would keep rolling against the Braves by taking two of three. Instead, the Braves flipped the script, taking two of three themselves and that was the beginning was a massive tailspin that resulted in just 9 wins in 37 games. The offensive woes that were glossed over during the first part of season, became much more glaring when the pitching staff faltered. At times, the team was unwatchable.

Standings as of June 20th:

Division: 4th place, 7.5 GB
Wildcard: – 7th place, 7.5 GB

Chapter 3 – The Rebound
The Phils caught wind that it’s summer time and you know what that means? It’s hittin’ season! The Phillies bats finally woke up on their nine game road trip toward the end of June. It started with a 14-10 loss in Minnesota, but that was the beginning of their hitting spree. In the final three games of the road trip, the Phils avenged their home sweep at the hands of the D’Backs a week prior with one of their own in Phoenix. Returning home, the Phils took two of three from KC, swept Atlanta, and earned a split in the thin air of Coors Field to close the unofficial first half with a 10-3 record in the final thirteen games. Just about every positional player contributed in some kind of way.

Standings entering the All Star Break:

Division: 4th place, 12 GB
Wildcard: 4th place, 6 GB

Chapter four begins tonight against the New York Mets to start a seven game home stand coming out of the break.

On June 26th, the Phillies saw their largest wildcard deficit at 9.5 games back, staring them right in the face. Amazingly, after their latest run, the Phils made up three and a half games to position themselves just six out. Here are the teams ahead of the Phillies in the wildcard chase, in order: Marlins and Mets tied for the last playoff spot, St. Louis, and then Pittsburgh.

The good thing for the Phillies, is that they still have games against every team ahead of them. Even better, they play seven or more games against the listed teams except St. Louis, in which they only have three games left. The first four series out of the break are:  New York, Miami (4), in Pittsburgh, and in Miami. This is a perfect opportunity to pick up where they left off against teams that are ahead of them in the chase.

Let me remind you that a six game deficit out of the All Star break is not too hard to climb out.

Flashback to the 2007 Phillies. Against the disliked New York Mets, the Phillies woke up on September 13th to find themselves down 7 games with 17 to play. Combined with 13-4 record in the final 17 games and a Mets meltdown, the Phillies stole the division right out from under New York on the last day of the season.

The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals found themselves in a similar position. Down 8.5 games to the Atlanta Braves on September 5th, St. Louis ferociously came back to overtake the Braves for the wildcard. We all remember how that season ended for the Cardinals…

Same year, different league, the Tampa Bay Rays also displayed a little magic of their own. On September 3rd, the Rays were nine out of the wildcard. Like the Cardinals, Joe Maddon and the Rays marched all the way back to send Boston home on the last day of the season.

In these three scenarios, the trailing team needed to go on a tear down the stretch, obviously, and also for an epic collapse of the first place team. For the Phillies situation, they don’t need an epic collapse. They just need to play good baseball against the teams ahead of them and with how the upcoming schedule is laid out, the Phils could be right in the mix.

The injury bug bit the Mets in a big way as they limped their way into the break. They already received news that David Wright and Matt Harvey are shelved for the rest of 2016 with season ending injuries. Noah Syndergaard, another prized righty, left his July 8th start with arm fatigue. He is expected to make be the fifth starter coming out of the break, missing the upcoming series. Mets manager Terry Collins must be cautious with the hard throwing righty moving forward, possibly limiting his innings down the stretch. Yoenis Cespedes is dealing with a strained quad and first baseman Lucas Duda is not expected to return until August with a stress fracture in his back. The Mets are beat up and vulnerable.

rallyMany of us still don’t believe the Marlins are real contenders. The Phillies won both series against the Marlins so far this season. Any pitcher other than Jose Fernandez is average, at best.

The Pirates and Cardinals are by no means “world beaters.” For the Pirates, every starter has an ERA over 5.00, excluding Gerritt Cole, who currently resides on the DL. Other than Carlos Martinez of the Cardinals, every starter has an ERA over 4.00.

Does this sound like I’m making a case for a wildcard run? It absolutely does. Although, my expectations don’t support a meaningful September, history and the current state of the ball clubs atop the Phillies leaves the door open for a potential run. For the city’s sake, I sure hope I can say “I told you so” for a meaningful September. I mean, who doesn’t love seeing The Bank in late September and October with rally towels waving? One can only hope.

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