In the middle of June, the Phillies were rolling, having drawn within four games of the first place Braves. After the brawl in Cincinnati on June 13th until the romp over the Cubs on July 3rd, the Phils had won 13 of 16 games. Wild card? Phillies fans were talking division title, not that stinkin' wild card! Then the bottom fell out. The Phillies were swept at home by the Marlins over the 4th of July weekend, and it hasn't been the same since. The Phils have gone 26-25 since beating the Cubs on July 3rd; not a way a team destined for the playoffs performs.
We have seen dust-ups between players and the pitching coach; disagreements between the manager and a key "bench dawg" (Tyler Houston), and his subsequent release; a perceived snub from the slumping star left fielder towards the manager, and a "no comment" from the staff's ace when asked whether he'd be coming back next year. We've seen the closer get benched for a week, only to gain his job back in time to blow a lead against the Red Sox in the ninth inning. We've seen the bullpen, the team's rock for the entire year, virtually revert to 2002 form in August, with a combined ERA of over 7. And we've seen a team, struggling for offense, go through the trading deadline without strengthening themselves.
In that time, the division title has fallen by the wayside, and five other teams have entered the wild card chase. Sitting one game behind the Marlins, who are without their star, Mike Lowell, one would like the Phillies chances this month. But inconsistency has plagued this team all season. The Phillies lead the league in runners left on base, a glaring statistic showing that they are not getting the clutch hits. Randy Wolf, one of the stars of the rotation, had given up 16 earned runs over his last two appearances against Milwaukee and Montreal, until his performance against the Mets last weekend. Add to that the uncertainty at second and third bases for the past month, and you have the makings of a team in turmoil.
In this season's final month, the Phillies will be tested. Of the final 25 games, 15 will be against division foes Atlanta, Montreal, and Florida. The crucial test will be a nine-game stretch during which the Phillies will play the Marlins six times. Winning four out of those six games is almost a "must". Bowa's bunch also needs to win at least seven of the ten games they play against the Mets, Reds, and Pirates; anything less, and the games against Florida may not matter. That leaves the Braves. The optimal way to close out the Vet would be for the three games against Atlanta to matter. The stadium will be packed, the air electric. If the Phillies do what I have proposed, the Vet may live yet another month after the series against Atlanta.
First things first, though; a two-game series at home against the Expos awaits. The first of those two games ended with a win and the Phillies need to repeat that on Wednesday. The fans in Montreal brought out the brooms last week; can the fans at the Vet reciprocate?