Phillies will be fine, but a win tonight would be nice

John Mayberry Jr. gave the Phillies' offense a spark with a two-run home run last night. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
John Mayberry Jr. gave the Phillies' offense a spark with a two-run home run last night. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)
Posted: September 22, 2011

DON'T WORRY about the playoffs.

There are a lot of extenuating circumstances at work that have led the Phillies into their current malaise.

They are things that likely will not come into play when the Phillies open the National League Divisional Series next Saturday at Citizens Bank Park.

I'm confident that they'll be just fine and come together like the World Series favorites they've proven all season that they are.

Still, tonight's game against the Washington Nationals at the Bank is important. The Phillies need to win because it is the last home game of the season. And frankly, it would stink to end such a magical season with the home fans watching their team continue to struggle through their worst stretch.

With last night's 7-5 loss to the Nationals, the Phillies now have a season-high five-game losing streak.

It's the first time they have lost five straight since May 22-27, 2010. Before last night, the last time the Phillies lost five in a row at CBP was June 16-21, 2009.

There was actually a smattering of boos last night as the Phillies were tagged with another loss to a team they lead in the standings by 22 1/2 games.

Normally, I'd get on fans who had the audacity to deride a team that has won 98 games, clinched a fifth straight NL East Division championship and secured home field throughout the playoffs. But honestly, the last five games have put a bitter aftertaste on a year that's been one of the sweetest in the franchise's long history.

The Phillies clinched the NL East on Sept. 17 when they beat St. Louis, 9-2.

With last night's crowd of 45,083, the Phillies posted their 203rd consecutive sellout. The fans came to South Philadelphia to celebrate with their team. They wanted to have one last lovefest with the team before the pressure of the playoffs raises the intensity level up to 10.

There was a milestone the Phillies had a chance to achieve in front of the home crowd the last 4 days. After beating St. Louis, the Phillies were just four wins away from breaking the franchise's all-time season mark of 101 victories. With six home games remaining, including four with the Nationals, a lot of folks figured that record-breaking win was going to happen at Citizens Bank Park.

Setting a victory record is not the ultimate goal for this team, and it still can be achieved with seven games remaining. If it happens, however, it's going to be in New York or Atlanta, not in Philadelphia, where this dedicated fan base could have been a part of it.

In the grand scheme of what's going on, that's not a big deal, but, after a season like this, it just doesn't seem right that every domino isn't going to fall perfectly into place.

Due to an extensive history of disappointment, Philadelphia is a cynical sports town. Much of the fan base is highly skeptical of its team achieving success. Even though most of the concerns are more imagined than real, the last five games have given some fans reasons to get stressed about the team's chance of being successful in the playoffs.

Nerves are getting rattled. I can only imagine what these last five games have done for the sale of stomach medicine around the region.

Folks, the Phillies are going to be fine. Instead of investing in antacids, just remember a big-three rotation of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels is going to make the Phillies extremely difficult to beat in any series.

The questions about the offense are going to remain unless the hitters turn things around in the last seven games.

"It's not October, it's an everyday game," manager Charlie Manuel said in an attempt to put last night's loss in perspective. "If this was happening in October, I'd be packing my car up and heading home.

"I've been in these situations before. You can struggle but then you go into the playoffs, start hitting and win. I'm concerned, yeah, but I think we'll start hitting again."

Tonight's game is important, but not from the standpoint of it affecting the playoffs. If the Phillies lose again, it's not going be a dark cloud lingering until next Saturday, when the energy in the ballpark is going to be off the charts.

But this already has been such a remarkable season that, honestly, it would just be a bummer if the Phillies lose their last six regular-season home games.


Send email to

smallwj@phillynews.com.

For recent columns, go to

www.philly.com/Smallwood.

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