Nobody expected the Phillies to play like they did in the first half of the season and then nobody expected them to be where they are now, just a few games away from a playoff berth.
And that has been the theme of their rollercoaster of a season – expect the unexpected.
It started in spring training, when Chase Utley was sidelined for the first two months of the season with nagging knee problems. It continued when iron man Roy Halladay went on the disabled list with a back problem and the list of injured players goes on, including third baseman Placido Polanco and, of course, first baseman Ryan Howard, who also missed the first half of the season as he came back from a ruptured Achilles tendon.
The fill-in Phillies quickly sank to the bottom of NL East and stayed there and it seemed like they would never leave. And then, just when the Phillies were fading from peoples’ consciousness and the Eagles were dominating the headlines … they’re back. The Phillies are now just four games behind in the wild-card race with 18 games left to play after Thursday night’s 6-4 loss to the Houston Astros that snapped a seven-game winning streak.
Can they do it? Can they overcome that awful start and still make the playoffs?
Oh, they probably won’t. The gods of baseball have smiled on them lately, but that doesn’t last forever in this most fickle of sports. The Phillies still have to climb past four teams and make up four games and that means they have to win not just most of their games, but almost all of them.
It also makes you grit your teeth when you think about all those games that were frittered away over the course of the season, all the blown saves and men left on base and bad defense and bad base-running that pushed the Phillies into the basement of NL East and kept them there most of the year. If they had won just a few of those games they’d probably already be leading the wild-card race, and that includes Thursday night’s loss to the Astros, the worst team in baseball, when the Phils led 4-0 after three innings and 4-3 after seven innings and then watched their bullpen drag them down again.
So, now it’s scoreboard watching time as the Phillies hope to get some help. And they’ll need it, because they can’t help themselves too much, at least as far as bringing the other teams back to their level. The Phils have just one series left with one of the teams ahead of them in the wild-card race, a three-game set against the Atlanta Braves.
But half of their 18 remaining games are against teams with losing records – three each against the Astros, Mets and Marlins, which are a combined 91½ games out of first place in their respective divisions. Plus the Phillies have six games left against the Nationals, including the final three games of the season. By then, the Nats should have wrapped up NL East and could be coasting to the finish while they rest some of their veterans.
And the Phillies don’t have to worry about facing Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg anymore, since he’s been put on the shelf for the rest of the season.
So, the Phils could do it, providing they win, win, win. And that’s been the rub all season, as this team lost games it should have won even without Utley, Howard, Halladay and the other players who spent time on the disabled list.
If nothing else, at least the last couple weeks of the season should be fun and interesting, which is more than we can say about the first five months.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.