On the heels of a three game sweep of the first place Nationals, the Phillies have fans feeling the magic again. Roy Halladay recaptured his dominance of the Nationals, and the Phillies figured out Gio Gonzalez. Cliff Lee outdueled Jordan Zimmerman. The Phillies outplayed the Nationals in every phase of the game and sent them to their fourth straight loss.
While many were quick to put the brakes on the Phillies season and pine over the so called “fire sale” that went down from late July to early August, the Fightins didn’t get the memo. Suddenly, the Phillies are beginning to look like a team in all phases of the game.
While no one could really believe that the division is within their grasp, the Phillies are quietly creeping up in the Wild Card standings and could be a player come September. The Phillies will have to make up 9.5 games, and jump the Pirates, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and the revamped Dodgers, but stranger things have happened. For the Phillies to simply get to 90 wins, they can only lose 5 more times the rest of the way.
A tall task indeed. But isn’t that “Rocky” mentality what many Philadelphians hold so dear? Is it too farfetched to believe that Cliff Lee, Doc, and Cole Hamels will go on a tear for at least a month? Is it unreasonable to believe that Ryan Howard is getting primed for a big September? Will the inexperience of the Dodgers, Pirates, Diamondbacks, Nationals finally catch up with them? Does anyone really believe that the Braves forgot about last year?
There are a lot of questions that will be answer3ed definitively in the next month, and how much heart the Phillies have will be one of them. For a team only 2 years removed from its last NLCS appearance there is a lot of experience on this Philadelphia Phillies roster. By going 5-2 against the first place Reds and the first place Nationals right in the middle of a pennant race, the Phillies have proven that they are still an elite team.
The Pirates have fallen out of the Wild Card lead with the race heating up. The Cardinals see their season end with several meetings against the Nationals, Pirates, Dodgers, and the Reds. The reason the Dodgers loaded their team with talent is because the Red Sox proved for two straight seasons that a large payroll doesn’t equal large successes on the diamond. The Diamondbacks still have to contend with the Dodgers and the Giants out west.
With a fully healthy line-up and reinforcements coming in September the race is far from over.
Surprisingly enough, the sweep of the Nationals was only their second three game sweep of the year. The Phillies must start stringing together wins, something that has been lacking all year long and has cost them in the standings. The Phillies will have to go on the road for 19 of their final 34 games, but leaving the comfort of home to make their push may not be all that bad. Cliff Lee only has one home win all year, and their winning percentage on the road is slightly better than it is at Citizens Bank Park.
Championships are won with luck more times than not. Just ask the 2011 Cardinals. They began their final month of the season in very similar circumstances to the Phillies. The key to their 2011 postseason magic was a bullpen that became invincible all of a sudden. The Phillies have all of the pieces to duplicate this success. A strong lineup, a great pitching staff, and a battle tested manager. The Achilles’ heel of this team has been inconsistent defense and a shaky bullpen. Both things that were always considered strengths of this team, but when the bounces go their way, anything can happen.
After a season that has been one disappointment after another, many fans are having trouble finding reasons to keep watching and believing. It’s fair to not believe until you see, but what will it take to make fans get to that point? Will another series sweep and a few more games up the Wild Card ladder heading into September be enough, or will the Phillies go out and lay a giant egg against the Mets?
The story is coming to it’s climax and for those who haven’t given up hope for bonus baseball. the time has come to define the 2012 season. The story of the 2012 Phillies hasn’t ended, and many fans are hoping the final chapter has yet to begin.