MLB playoffs: Don’t count out the Phillies just yet
BY BRANDON J. SMITH, Couchsideshow.com blogger
Dare I say I believe in the Philadelphia Phillies?
Philadelphia does too, apparently. Despite the NFL season starting up and many Philly fans shifting their fandom into the usual griping about Andy Reid’s atrocious play calling and Michael Vick, the Phightin Phils are staying relevant.
Expectations in March were nothing short of contending in the East while Ryan Howard and Chase Utley rehabbed their way back into the lineup, and they’d let the pitching staff carry the load. Much to the surprise of everyone, the offense was nothing short of awful for much of the season, Cliff Lee couldn’t buy a win, and Roy Halladay was struggling.
By the All-Star break, this team was dead and buried, they had traded popular Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, the pitching staff was up and down, and the investment in Jonathan Papelbon wasn’t quite working out.
With a 3-1 win earlier Wednesday over the Miami Marlins led by embattled ace Lee, the Phillies are a game over .500 at 72-71 and seemingly have new life. Is this surge the result of the players putting their foot down and deciding to play like the team that led baseball with 102 victories, or the convenience of having a healthy Howard, Utley, and Halladay healthy at the time?
The answer likely shifts toward the ladder, but that big three alone don’t determine the success of this team. Catcher Carlos Ruiz spent some time on the DL and has returned to keep up his hitting pace of a .340 average and a .563 slugging percentage. Howard and Utley have combined for 20 home runs since their return to the lineup, and the more of them you have, the less of Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix you see.
Depending on the results of the next two days, the Phillies should be 3 or 4 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild card spot. They only have to leapfrog declining a Pittsburgh Pirates squad and overrated L.A. Dodgers to catch up to the Cardinals.
If you recall last season, the Cardinals came back from an improbable 11.5 game deficit in September to make the playoffs in that fateful game 162 You will also recall that they needed the Phillies to beat the Braves in Atlanta in order to secure the final playoff spot, to which then they defeated Philadelphia in the National League Division Series.
My how fates can be intertwined.