While I have been focused on soccer for the last month, my beloved Philadelphia Phillies have slipped further and further behind the Atlanta Braves in the standings. After last night’s dispiriting loss, the Phils are 6 games behind the Braves with 4 games left to play before the All-Star Break. Many might blame this lackluster performance on the myriad injuries the Phillies have suffered. I don’t buy this because one needs look no further than my other team, the Red Sox, to see a team that has continued to play well despite injuries (discounting their recent sweep by the Rays). In addition, the offense has been impotent. The Phils currently stand 11th in homers, runs and RBI. This from the team that finished last season 4th in runs/RBI and 2nd in homers. The absence of Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins for parts of the season certainly hasn’t helped. Rollins is back and Utley is targeting a return in 6 weeks, which would put his return sometime around August 16.
Could the loss last night signal the end of the Phils’ chances to win the division? They play Braves only 6 more times this season, all of them coming in the final couple weeks of the season. As of last night, the Phils stand 3 games above .500, one of their poorest performances in recent years before the All-Star Break. You have to go back to the 2007 season to find them sitting in with a worse record (they were 44-44 that year). The Phils still have time to add wins (and losses) to their record before the Break, starting a 4 game series against the Cincinnati Reds. If the Phillies want to contend, they need to win the series against Cincy and play like they have in past after the Break. As mentioned in a previous post the Phillies have a .599 winning percentage over the last 5 seasons after the Break. If the Phillies won at that rate for the rest of the season (including the series against Cincy) that would give them 90-91 wins. That might not be enough to win the division or the Wild Card. In addition to better play from themselves, the Phillies need the Braves to play poorly. If Braves keep winning at their current rate (.588) they would have 95 wins, and the Phillies would fall short of the division title. In addition, the Phillies would have to leap over the Mets who currently occupy second in the division. That doesn’t concern me, as we know the Mets have a history of choking down the stretch. I am concerned with the number of teams that currently have better records with the Phillies. In addition to the Braves, the Reds, Padres, Cardinals, Dodgers, Rockies, Mets and Giants all have better records than the Phils. Leapfrogging that many teams for the Wild Card could be a tough task.
Do I think the Phils are done? The short answer is no. I hope that Amaro makes a trade to bring in reinforcements. The Phils need pitching help and offensive help. The Phillies should get some of the help they need from returning players. J.A. Happ is back and pitching at triple A, Ryan Madson should return soon, as should Chad Durbin, Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz. Even with the return of these players, the Phils cannot stand pat and expect to win this division. The Braves have excellent pitching and have been getting a great deal of production from unlikely sources on offense (see Omar Infante, Martin Prado and a healthy Troy Glaus). I suspect it will be tough for the Braves to continue to play at such a high level, but stranger things have happened. If the Braves falter, the Phils need to be playing well to take advantage. The Wild Card competition could be even more difficult, with at least 5 teams ahead of them in the Wild Card standings.
Can the Phillies repeat their amazing run from 2007 and make the playoffs despite a mediocre record at the All-Star Break? Time will tell, but I sure hope they can.