Phils Playoff Hunt Will Be A Wild Race

Can the Phillies catch the Braves? It's certainly not out of the question, but as things stand right now, the Phillies are in the midst of a wild card race in the National League. It's a race that could be a tough one and there are some striking similarities and story lines that could play out through the rest of the season.

It looks like the Braves are up to their usual season, surging in the first half and cruising in the second. With this in mind, the Phillies look to the Wild Card for their playoff bid. It looks like the two other teams who present a problem are the Dodgers and D-backs. Montreal's in it too, but they never get anywhere after the all star break.

The Dodgers are very similar to us this year if you think about it. We both have offenses which have not contributed at all. In Los Angeles Shawn Green is having a Pat Burrell like year, batting .248 while his career average is .282, Beltre is batting .212 with a career average of .261. Similar to the Phillies, the Dodgers have a catcher who is producing better than career numbers. Lieby is batting .326 with a career average of .275. The Dodgers have stepped up before the Phils to correct this problem by acquiring Jeromy Burnitz from the Mets. The most glaring similarity is the pitching. The Dodgers and Phils are ranked one and two in the majors. The Phils with a 3.56 ERA and LA with a 3.00 ERA. Both teams will have to rely on pitching in the second half to compete in the Wild Card and hopefully, the playoffs.

The D-backs have had a lot of support from their Triple-A team in Tucson. Like the Phils and Dodgers, the D-backs have good pitching even without their one two punch of Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. They're ranked fifth in the majors with a 3.87 ERA and 671 strikeouts mostly coming from Triple-A contributors Brandon Webb and Oscar Villarreal. This is the team that the Phils have to watch out for because once the Big Unit and Schilling come back, Arizona has the deadliest pitching staff in the majors.

The thing that separates the D-backs and Phils is definitely the offense. One of the best moves this season was Shea Hillenbrand for Byung Hyun Kim. Arizona is ranked fifth in offense in the National League, hitting .272 with 437 runs. The Phils aren't far behind and you have to believe if, and when, Burrell and Bell get it back they can climb higher than their current eighth place ranking and their .252 average with 421 runs. The Phils and D-backs both are awaiting the return of key players, only the Phil's players aren't injured, just slumping.

There have been some surprises with all three teams this year. The most glaring is Arizona's rookies; both position players and pitchers. Webb is 6-2 with a 2.18 ERA and hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of his 13 starts. Talk about rookies stepping up!

A surprise in Los Angeles is Shawn Green. One of the toughest outs in the majors last season when he hit .285 with 42 homeruns and 114 RBI, putting him fourth in the league. This year he is almost an automatic out, with only 10 homers and 42 RBI. Dodgers fans certainly didn't expect those numbers from Green. Of course, on the other side of the country, Pat Burrell's .282 average with 37 homers and 137 RBI season of 2002, has fallen to .192 with only 11 bombs and 31 RBI.

A pleasant surprise for the Phils this year has been Mike Lieberthal. Not only has he been healthy, but his offense is finally catching up to his potential. This 31 year old, 10 year pro still hasn't reached his full potential in my mind. Wolf's battery mate and National League All-Star, Randy Wolf also has been developing into one of the premier pitchers in the league.

There are some differences in the teams which are the trade wants and needs of each. The Dodgers are looking to acquire offense which they did in the trade for Burnitz. and the D-backs are looking for the help at the closer position after dealing Kim to Boston. The Phils will look for some bullpen help, including a young reliever that they can become their closer of the future. There are a lot of young arms out there that can help the Phils, but until they can run a quality closer like Eric Gagne, John Smoltz or Billy Wagner out there, the Phillies may stay on the outside looking in come playoff time.

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