Baseball is littered with examples of teams that couldn't seal the deal. Heck, in these parts, 1964 is still an epithet for a team that didn't get the job done despite having a 6-game lead with 12 to play.
The three best teams in the National League, as measured by won-lost record, are the Phillies, Giants and Braves. And they all have a similar profile. Strong pitching - ranking first (San Francisco), second (Philadelphia) and fourth (Atlanta) in staff earned run average going into last night - but could use some help offensively. The Phillies were seventh, Braves eighth and Giants 15th in runs.
The Phillies won the first regular-season meeting of the year against San Francisco last night, 7-2, at Citizens Bank Park. Their lead over Atlanta in the National League East has ballooned over the past week.
It ain't over until it's over. The regular season doesn't end until 2 months from tomorrow and there are any number of unforeseeable circumstances that can gum up the works between now and then. Injuries. Unexplainable slumps.
There is one factor, though, that each contender has some measure of control over.
The trading deadline is Sunday at 4 p.m. EDT.
"I think somebody could jump ahead of somebody else [by making an impact acquisition]," manager Charlie Manuel conceded. "If you make the right move and get stronger, that has a chance to make a big difference."
Most rumors are to what will actually happen as confederate money is to legal tender, but what will make the next 4 days especially delicious is that the Phillies, Giants and Brave are all being lumped together in some of the same reports, especially those involving Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence and B.J. Upton.
The New York Daily News, in fact, reported yesterday that scouts are speculating that the Mets will send the switch-hitting Beltran to the Giants.
Like every team, the Phillies will say that they're only focusing on improving their own roster, not worried about what any other teams might be doing. Heck, even the Yankees and Red Sox swear they don't react to each other when it's obvious that they're always furiously trying to either block the other from getting a player they might want or attempting to one-up them if they do.
The Phillies may not be moved to overpay if San Francisco or Atlanta gets something done first. But they are certainly monitoring what all the other teams in baseball are doing, too. It's part of the job description.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. has been around major league baseball his whole life. He knows how this works. He has to be thrilled with the way the pieces are falling into place. Vance Worley pitched the first complete game of his big-league career last night. Chase Utley's inside-the-park home run pushed his early-season knee problems even further into the past. Brad Lidge pitched for the first time this season on Monday. Roy Oswalt could be ready to rejoin the rotation soon.
But Amaro also made a telling comment before the game, before scheduled Giants starter Tim Lincecum was scratched with a stomach illness. Asked whether he could learn anything by how his hitters performed against the two-time Cy Young Award winner, he offered a more global response.
"When we assess, we assess the body of work," he said.
Similarly, Manuel added a caveat even though John Mayberry Jr. homered and doubled last night. "Mayberry is coming into himself and becoming a pretty good player," he said before quickly adding: "At the same time, too, we can still use some righthanded bats."
The Phillies are sittin' in the catbird seat right now. Still, the smart money says they'll do something before the calendar turns to August. As a firewall against the unpredictability of the game. As a hedge that one of the teams they could see in October will pull off a coup. And because after four straight postseasons, they understand that getting better now will dramatically improve their chances of winning another trophy then.