In my haste to get the Champions League previews written and posted before the games started, I neglected to write something about how the Philadelphia Phillies have stormed from 7 games behind on July 21 to take a 3 game lead on the Braves heading into today’s games.
So, how did the Phillies get here, and did anyone really see this coming?
How did the Phillies get here? – The Phillies reached their nadir in late July following a four game losing streak that put their record at 48-46 for the season. They were staring up at both the Mets and the Braves and even the Wild Card looked like a long shot. How could a team that stormed out of the gate, posting a 7-1 record through their first 8 games fall so far behind so quickly? Following the torrid start, the Phillies finished April 12-10. They followed that by going 16-12 in May, 13-13 in June, 15-13 in July. As I mentioned in a post just before the All-Star Break the Phillies have a history of success in the second half. This has been the case once again this season, as the Phillies have posted a 40-15 (.727) record since July 21.
Much of this success stems from the stellar pitching the team has received from the front half of the starting rotation. Cole Hamels has been outstanding since the end of July (lowering his ERA from 3.63 to 3.01 in that time) with the Phillies going 7-4 in games he has started since July 21. Roy Halladay has continued to pitch well, though he has seen his ERA rise of the past several games. Since July 21, the Phillies are 9-2 when Doc takes the mound. And then there is Roy Oswalt. Oswalt has been a revelation since arriving in South Philly. The Phillies are 9-1 in games Oswalt has started, while Oswalt has lowered his ERA from 3.53 to 2.90. By having three starting pitchers that are pitching this well, the Phillies have been able to get over offensive slumps and still win games.
Who saw this coming? – Maybe my wife’s optimism is rubbing off on me, but even though I thought the Phillies were in a tough spot, I didn’t think they were out of it. A couple of months ago, I asked in this very space if the Phillies chances of making the playoffs were toast? In that post, my answer at the time was that I thought the Phillies would make one of their patented 2nd half runs, but that they needed reinforcements (enter Roy Oswalt). I also stated my belief that the Braves would falter. I went a step further in my post wrapping up the first half by stating, “My bold prediction is that the Phillies will storm back to win the division, as the Braves fade down the stretch and the Mets remember they’re the Mets and choke sometime in September.” The latter part of that prediction has already come to pass. The Braves have faltered in September, going just 8-9, while the Phillies have gone 14-3 this month. As for the Mets, they choked earlier than expected and are 14 games behind the Phillies. We shall see if the first part of that prediction comes true, with the Phillies holding a 3 game lead over the Braves with 13 games let to play (6 of which are against the Braves).
What the Phillies need to do? – The Phillies have 13 games remaining, 7 at home and 6 on the road. All of the games are in the division, and as mentioned before 6 of those games are against the Braves (3 home, 3 away). The other remaining games are against the Nationals (4 games – 1 at home, 3 away) and Mets (3 home games). Their current home stand, which ends against the Mets next Sunday and includes 3 games against the Braves, could decide the division. If the Phillies head to Washington with a lead in the division, the Braves will be hard pressed to catch them. If the Phillies went 7-6 in their remaining games (and there is no reason to believe they can’t post that kind of record), the Braves would have to go 10-3 just to tie the Phillies. With the way the Braves have been playing that just doesn’t seem likely.
According to Baseball Prospectus, the Phillies currently have a 98.55% chance of making the playoffs (+23% over the last 7 days). With a 3 games lead over Atlanta, and what amounts to a 5 game lead in the Wild Card (if necessary), the Phillies look headed for their 4th consecutive postseason.