What seemed hopeless a few short weeks ago has been transformed into a realistic possibility. Fading interest has made the transition to incessant scoreboard watching. “Wait ‘til next year” has been replaced with “You Gotta Believe!”
Entering a four-game series with the lowly Houston Astros, the Phillies are just three games behind the Cardinals in the chase for the National League’s second wild card berth. They have 19 games left to play.
Spoilsports will point out that in years past the Phillies’ season would be over. They have almost no chance of catching the Atlanta Braves, who are 8½ games ahead of the Phillies, for the first wild card spot.
But that doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this year there is a second wild card spot. And the Phillies have a chance to steal it.
The Phillies, of course, were supposed to be comfortably in playoff position by this point in the season. They weren’t supposed to be 17 games out of first place. They weren’t supposed to be barely above .500, having finally stuck their head above water earlier this week. But none of that matters now, either.
All that matters is that the Phillies and their fans have hope again. For some, hope never faded. This fearless columnist, however, admits that his postseason hopes for the Phillies faded long ago. To paraphrase Mark Twain, rumors of the Phillies’ death were greatly exaggerated — but not by much. The Phillies have risen from the near-dead to take us on a thrill ride for the final month of the season.
The impossible has, at the very least, become improbable.
The Phillies are the hottest team in the playoff chase, having won seven straight games. Yes, six of those wins occurred during sweeps of the cellar-dwelling Rockies and Marlins. But the Phillies need not apologize for beating up on weaker teams, any more than they need to apologize for this being the first season with a second wild card berth.
The Phillies complete the circuit of last-place teams with the Astros. If they sweep that series, again, there’s no need to apologize.
Having run out of last-place teams, the Phillies will follow the Astros series with three games against the Mets, who are sinking as if tied to an anvil in deep water. The Mets have lost six straight games. Again, no apologies are necessary for the Phillies’ schedule.
Suddenly, the improbable seems entirely plausible.
With the little-sisters-of-the-poor schedule, the Phillies could be in prime position to capture the second wild card berth on Sept. 21 when they begin their final homestand of the season – against the Braves and first-place Nationals. But even facing the Braves and Nationals could be a stroke of good fortune. By the time the Phillies face them, both the Braves and Nationals may have wrapped up playoff berths. They may have started to rest key players as they prepare for the playoffs.
Suddenly, the possible seems probable.
To reach the playoffs, the Phillies have to pass the Pirates, Dodgers and Cardinals. The poor Pirates are sinking as fast as the Mets, having lost six straight and suddenly in danger of having their streak of consecutive losing seasons extended to 20. The Dodgers and Cardinals have both lost three straight, a streak that will end for one of them Thursday as they begin a series against one another.
The bad news for the Phillies is that either the Cardinals or Dodgers must win each night during their series. On the other hand, if they take turns beating one another, the Phillies could gain on both teams this weekend.
Amazingly, the probable appears almost likely.
Hold on a second. Take a deep breath.
Before we get too carried away, we need to pay attention to the suddenly surging Milwaukee Brewers, who are matching the Phillies stride for stride. The Brewers have transformed themselves from awful to a 72-71 record, the same as the Phillies entering Thursday night. The Diamondbacks are just one game behind the Phillies and Brewers, so there is plenty of competition on all sides.
If the Phillies make the playoffs, this will be one of the most remarkable chapters in franchise history, particularly if they achieve postseason success.
At the very least, it appears we are in for a thrilling final few weeks of the season. After the frustration we experienced most of the season, you can’t ask for anything more – except for yet another Red October.