Monday, September 10, 2012

The Phillies: In it, But Not In It

The big debate concerning the Phillies is this: Are they, or are they not, in the playoff hunt?

The answer is, yes and no.

More than at any time this season the Phils are capable of putting together something more than a stretch of above-average play. They have the heart of their lineup back and beyond the "scraping off the rust" period. They have four healthy starters pitching at or close to their best ball of the season, and a fifth guy who seems capable of keeping them in games. They have a revamped bullpen that has talented arms and is far more dependable than the mess they had in the first half. And they have a schedule that features seven games against divisional cellar-dwellers this week.

However, it's one thing to be capable of a big run. It's another to rip off six wins in seven games against the Marlins and Astros. And in reality, that's what the Phillies have to do. Not 4-3, not 5-2. They need six or seven wins here.

Then there are the teams they much chase down -- St. Louis and LA.

While the Phillies have a chance to smack around Houston for four games, the Dodgers and Cardinals -- really, the only two teams with which they must concern themselves in this wildcard chase -- play each other for four games. That could work for, or against the Phillies. They need to root for a split, or at worst the Dodgers taking three out of four of those games. The reason: St. Louis goes into the series with three games against the Padres, then follows it up with six games against Houston bookending a three-game set against the Cubs.

As for the Dodgers, they definitely are the less stable team. They lost 11 of 12 earlier this season, and despite loading up on skilled veteran players, LA hasn't exactly taken off over the last six weeks. The Dodgers have a much tougher schedule, and even when they catch a six-game break against San Diego and Colorado later this month, it isn't as if they have done very well against those teams (16-14 combined vs. SDP & COL).

Truly, this is mostly about the Cardinals and the Phillies themselves. They have practice zero margin of error -- one more meltdown like two Sundays ago in Atlanta, and forget it.

That said, it would be nice if they at least close this season gone awry with a fight. And, say, four or five homers by Darin Ruf.

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