I am officially declaring this a Penn State-free column, not to be confused with a Penn State-Freeh column.
The Phillies are on a little mini-run, having won three in a row. Chase Utley is back. Ryan Howard is back. And, as I write this on Tuesday, Roy Halladay will be back tonight.
There are already stirrings about whether the Phillies can turn their season around and make the playoffs. This has immediate ramifications because, with the trade deadline just two weeks away, it raises the question whether the Phillies can transform themselves into buyers rather than sellers.
Ron Opher has done an excellent job of explaining all the variables that come into play in trades in his Phillies Notebook, so I won’t repeat all the same information. Instead, I’ll point out how improbable it is for the Phillies to pull off a second-half comeback to secure a playoff berth.
One positive for the Phillies is there is an extra wild-card berth available. The playoff expansion this year allows two wild cards from each league. That means the Phillies only have to pass seven teams in the standings instead of eight.
The Phillies enter Tuesday 10 games out of a wild-card berth. Making up a 10-game deficit is a daunting task, but it’s considerably easier if you only have to catch one team.
If you only have to catch one team, a losing streak by the team you’re trying to catch creates an opportunity. The problem when there are seven teams standing between you and a playoff berth is it’s unlikely they’ll all go into a tailspin at the same time. In fact, it’s almost impossible.
Let’s eliminate the four teams behind the Phillies in the standings – the Cubs, Padres, Rockies and Astros – from the conversation. That leaves 11 National League teams (the three division leaders, the 2 teams currently in the wild-card positions and six other contenders) ahead of the Phillies. When those teams play each other, one of them has to win. Consequently, it will be difficult for the Phillies to make up ground on the entire group, unless those teams lose consistently to the Cubs, Padres, Rockies and Astros.
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s assume there’s a perfect storm, with teams splitting their meetings down the middle, and none of the eight non-division leaders ahead of the Phillies plays above .500 the rest of the season. A .500 record would leave the second wild-card team, the Pirates with 85 wins. To reach 85 wins, the Phillies (40-51) would have to win games at a .611 clip the rest of the year.
If the Braves and Pirates maintain their current pace, the Phillies would need 90 wins to make the playoffs. They would have to play .700 baseball to get to 90 wins.
Is it possible for the Phillies to make the playoffs? Sure. If the starting pitchers make it to the ninth inning most nights and Jonathan Papelbon’s arm doesn’t fall off by September.
Even if that happens, the Phillies would have to count on almost all the teams ahead of them to be barely above .500 the rest of the season. Translation: Sell.
BIRDS ARE BACK: If my negative prognosis on the Phillies turns out to be correct, the Eagles are back just in time. Rookies and selected veterans report to Lehigh University on Sunday. Veterans must report to camp by next Wednesday.
C’mon, I know you can do it: E-A-G-L-E-S! EAGLES!
DEJA VU: If the Phillies make a strong push in the second half, only to fall short, their season would bear an unfortunate resemblance to last year’s Eagles season. And the late-season push would be just as meaningless.
UNION POWER: Don’t look now, but the Union have won three MLS games in a row and four of their last five. The team is playing with much more energy under interim head coach John Hackworth, a midseason replacement for Peter Nowak.
The downside for the Union is that, despite their surge, they’re still in ninth place in the Eastern Conference. The good news? They are within two points of sixth-place New England. If the Union are able to pass New England, Columbus and Montreal in the standings, the serious playoff talk can begin.
HEART AND SOUL: The Soul (14-3) will complete an outstanding regular season Sunday (6 p.m.) when they host Utah. The Eastern Division champions will open the playoffs on Sat., July 28 (7 p.m.) at Wells Fargo Center.
KASEY AT THE BAT: Kasey Kahne posted a huge win Sunday at the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 in Loudon, N.H. The top 10 drivers in the standings qualify for NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup, a 10-race showdown for the overall championship. The 11th and 12th berths in the Chase are awarded to the drivers outside the top 10 with the most victories.
With seven races remaining before the Chase begins, Kahne is the only driver outside the top 10 with more than one victory. Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano are the drivers outside the top 10 with one win apiece.
YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS! John McEnroe and Martina Hingis are scheduled to be in town Friday when the Philadelphia Freedoms host the New York Sportimes at Villanova University. I don’t know how much game McEnroe has left, but he’s almost guaranteed to be entertaining.
YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS II: Reports state that the NHL’s initial offer to its players union slashed the players’ share of revenue from 57 percent to 46 percent, as well as delaying free agency until a player has been in the league 10 years. Why bother? Wouldn’t it be better if both sides started with reasonable proposals instead of wasting time establishing their ground with ridiculous proposals they know the other side won’t accept?
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 23 years, will be very upset if there is an NHL lockout.