While there are still 40-plus games left in Major League Baseball's 2012 regular season, it has already seemed like an eternity for the Philadelphia Phillies and their fan base.
However, despite what seems to be the most injury-plagued season any single team has had in baseball history, along with a few underachieving stars, the Phillies are still alive in the playoff race.
I know it sounds absurd to think that after everything the Phils have been through that they actually have a shot at the post-season - especially when they can't even trade for players without them coming to town and getting hurt (see Nate Schierholtz). I don't blame you. I don't entirely believe it myself. But it's true.
The division is out of reach. That shouldn't be news to anyone. When you see the number 19 in the 'Games Back' column as of Friday afternoon, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the Phils won't be winning the NL East for the sixth straight year. Still, as of Friday, at least they were out of the basement. It only figures that the team I suspected to compete with the Phils for the division crown at the beginning of the year, the Miami Marlins, would be worse.
Thanks to MLB's rule change this year where two Wild Card teams make the playoffs (each will play in a one-game playoff before starting the NLDS series), the Phils will have one less team to jump over in the Wild Card standings. Prior to Friday's game, Philadelphia was 11 games back and in seventh place in those standings. That means that only 11 games and five teams stand between the Phils and a possible post-season berth.
Though it seems like a long shot, all that Phillies fans should be asking for right now is a chance. And there is one. Two teams ahead of the Phils, the Atlanta Braves (leading the race with a 69-49 record) and the New York Mets (nine games behind Atlanta), have both shown the ability to go into major slumps at the worst possible time. The Braves lost 21 of their final 32 games last year, including each of their last five, to miss the playoffs entirely after it seemed like they were going to push the Phils for the division title.
Every Phillies fan knows about the Mets historic collapse in 2007. Jimmy Rollins said the Phils were the better team. Everyone in New York hated him. Analysts called him crazy. Turns out Rollins would have the last laugh. Despite leading the division by seven games on Sept. 12, the Mets went on to lose 12 of their last 17 games. It was the beginning of the Phillies' NL East reign. Heck, the Phils' post-season may have turned out a little different that year had they not gotten the red-hot Colorado Rockies in the first round. Why do I bring that up? BECAUSE MATT HOLLIDAY STILL HASN'T TOUCHED HOME PLATE!
Besides Atlanta and New York, the other five teams ahead of the Phillies are Pittsburgh, Arizona, St. Louis and San Francisco. All four of those teams are playing slightly above .500 ball since the All-Star break. St. Louis and San Fran are both 18-14, while Pitt and 'Zona are 17-16. The Phils are 17-14 in that time frame. These numbers show that while it will require a run at some point, and the middle receivers to somehow miraculously turn it around, the Phils still stand a shot at moving up the board if the other teams continue to play at their current level or go into a slide.
Again, I know this may be a lot of wishful thinking, but until the Phils have been mathematically eliminated I am not ruling anything out. I don't know how anyone can after watching the Boston Red Sox go 7-20 down the stretch last season. Sure, the Phils will need five different teams to go into coinciding slumps, but there is a first time for everything right?
The two biggest and obvious problems for the Phillies are 1. the amount of teams that they will need to jump and 2. going on a roll when apparently no lead is safe with their current bullpen. In the end I think those two factors, probably the latter more so than the former, will end the Phillies' five-year post-season run.
Regardless, I haven't heard a fat lady singing yet. The Phillies haven't given up and neither will I.