With the sweet smell of fall in the air on the East coast, the Philadelphia Phillies are trying to make something out of what was considered a lost season. With a victory tonight against the Miami Marlins, the Phillies can get back to .500 and possibly (with some help from the San Diego Padres) move to within less than five games of the final wildcard spot. To be honest, it’s unlikely the Phillies can make up the necessary five games in the 22 games remaining on the schedule, but if they do manage get in, who knows what could happen.
What’s interesting about the Phillies resurgence is not the return of stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. The recent success is a product of an influx of young minor league talent, such as pitcher Tyler Cloyd and third baseman Kevin Frandsen, and veterans who have performed beyond expectations, such as Kyle Kendrick. The addition of Kendrick to the starting rotation, after Joe Blanton was traded to the Dodgers, has been an unexpected boost for the Phillies. He has gone 5-1 with a 1.49 ERA in his last six starts, and adding him to the consistency of Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee has fueled the Phillies improbable run.
I’m sure having Howard and Utley in the lineup has made some difference, but the major reason for the success may be the health of Halladay. Knowing that he is pitching every fifth day makes a huge difference, and if you look back on this season, the Phillies were still hanging around the .500 mark until Halladay went down in mid-June with an injury. Since then, the Phillies have been climbing up hill. Finally, this week, they may get to .500 again, and being within five games is a huge accomplishment, but it’s not the end of the climb.
Five games out is still a long way from being into the playoff race. Still, it’s great to see the Phillies have not given up, despite spending a majority of the season in the National League East basement. Many considered Philadelphia on par with the Red Sox and Tigers as the most underperforming teams this season. That is not the case anymore. The Phillies still have the pitching to compete if they manage to find a way to squeak in, and in recent years, the hot team at the end of the season is the team to watch out for come playoff time.
There’s no guarantee the Phillies will have the same success over the next 22 games, but we may be looking at something nobody was expecting this September: the chance to be in the mix at the end.