By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report
Don’t look now but the Phillies actually have a shot at one of the two wildcard berths despite all the reports of their imminent death and demise. The Phils are six games behind the St. Louis Cardinals with 22 games left.
Since the All-Star break, the Phillies are 32-21. They are 24-14 since the July 31st trade deadline when the team traded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants (more on that in a moment). Phils manager Charlie Manuel said he never thought his team was out of it.
“I’ve always thought that, it’s just a matter of us winning games and good things happen for us and other teams playing each other and beating up each other,” Manuel said after the Phillies 7-4 win over the Colorado Rockies Sunday night.
Granted, they would have to climb over three teams and get above the .500 mark to even come close. The good thing is that the Phillies schedule down the stretch will include some awful teams along with the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
“If you’re winning, you’re going to gain some ground on somebody,” Manuel said. “Those wildcards definitely make a difference when you think about it. It’s very important for us to get over .500. We get a couple of games over .500 and you’ll see that our chances will get better because some of those teams will filter back down to that mark.”
But even if the Phillies don’t get to the playoff promised land, the most important thing for them will be playing well down the stretch. In a season where injuries basically destroyed the first half of the season, finishing above .500 and making a charge down the stretch would be more than a moral victory.
“I’m definitely encouraged about that because that means that we’re staying with them and we still want to play and a lot of teams pack it in, but at the same time, I know a lot of our guys and they’re not going to pack it in because that’s who they are,” Manuel said “Just keep winning and see how many we can win and keep going.”
Here’s something to think about. Back in 2006 when the Phillies traded Bobby Abreu and the late Corey Lidle to the New York Yankees at the trade deadline, former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said after that trade that it would be “a stretch that we’re going to be there in 2007.” The Phillies made a late charge and almost made the playoffs and in 2007 they won the first of their five straight NL East titles.
Since the trade of Pence and Victorino, the Phillies are making that charge after many fans and media people thought the Phillies were writing off the 2012 season.
The Phillies sweep of a double-header from the Colorado Rockies moves them to just two games under .500 and gave them a three-game sweep of the weekend series. They have won eight of their last 10 games.
“I think we started to get some breaks that we didn’t get in the first 80 or 90 games,” said Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon. “Our pitching has kept us in ball games and I think anytime our pitching can keep us in ball games, we have a chance. Just having a chance to win in September goes a long way.”
The next three series on the Phillies schedule are the last-place Florida Marlins and the Houston Astros, the last place team in the National League Central and the New York Mets who are next to last in the NL East.
If anything, the Phillies should at the very least move above the .500 mark against teams that quite frankly aren’t very good. If somehow they inch closer in the wildcard race, the last two series of the season against the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals might actually mean something.
“If you stay around .500 you always have a chance, it’s a little bit later than I said around August,” said outfielder Juan Pierre. “Some teams if they lose, you can find yourself right back in it, but still it’s a long way to go and we’re still a long way out of it. But if you continue to play good baseball, you never know you give yourself a chance that’s for sure.”