Inside the Phillies: Phillies have shot at wild card, but it's unlikely

Posted: July 11, 2012

Eighty-nine wins.

That's the average number of victories it would have taken to earn the second wild-card spot in each league since 1996, the first year the single-game wild-card format was in place during a 162-game season.

It's not a magic number, because there have been times when it would have taken more and times it would have taken less. The Phillies, for example, would have been the second wild-card team with just 85 wins in 2006, and the Cincinnati Reds would have been playoff spectators in 1999 despite winning 96 games.

To reach 89 victories, the Phillies must go 52-23 the remainder of the season.

That's asking a lot from a team that has gone three consecutive days without losing a game this week only because it has not played one. That streak will reach four before the Phillies resume play on Friday against the Colorado Rockies in Denver. The last time the Phillies went four straight days without a loss was in late May.

One of three things is about to happen.

The most likely scenario from here to the finish line is that the Phillies get better but still fall far short of whatever number of wins it will take to earn that second wild card in the National League.

With Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Roy Halladay back in the fold, the Phillies cannot help but get better in the second half of the season even if they decide to trade Shane Victorino, Cole Hamels, or both.

The most prudent procedure now is to see how the team does on its six-game trip against the Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers to start the second half. If the Phillies go 5-1 or better, let things play out. If they continue to stumble, it's time to make some moves.

Use Victorino to bolster the bullpen and re-sign Hamels to a deal that mirrors or slightly exceeds the five-year, $125 million contract Cliff Lee was given to rejoin the Phillies.

There are some contending teams in need of offensive help, and even though Victorino is having his worst season, he still has the ability and the energy to spark an offense with his combination of speed and extra-base power.

If the Phillies send Victorino to a team such as Baltimore or Pittsburgh, they must get one of the better middle relievers from those teams in return. They won't get the best one because of Victorino's free-agent status, but they should be able to get a guy who can help the bullpen this year and next season, too.

They could replace Victorino in center field in the off-season by signing Atlanta's Michael Bourn, who is eligible for free agency, and spend the rest of this season seeing what Domonic Brown can do at the big-league level.

The best-case scenario, of course, is that the Phillies stage a furious rally and add to the lore of this remarkable era by making the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

Strong hallucinogens are required to envision that unlikely turn of events, but some great teams have staged incredible comebacks over the years. We all remember St. Louis' rampant rally to last year's World Series title, and the New York Yankees came from 14 games back before winning the 1978 World Series.

More relevant is what this core group has done in the last two seasons. The Phillies went from seven games down in the NL East to six games up by the end of the 2010 season because they were able to finish the year 49-19. From June 9 through Sept. 10 of last season, the Phillies went 57-22.

This group has been known for playing long stretches of great baseball. The difference is that the previous teams were never as bad as this one has been so far this season, but they also never had to endure such elongated periods without two of their star position players and their best starting pitcher.

The scenario general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and manager Charlie Manuel would dread most is the one in which the downward spiral continues right through August and September.

Even if the Phillies fail to make the playoffs for the first time in six years, it would be a far greater disaster if Utley and Howard did not make a drastic difference for the offense and if Halladay looked more like the guy who pitched with a sore right shoulder this season than the guy who dominated opposing teams during his first two years with the Phillies.

It would be equally dire if Lee's second half of the season bore any resemblance at all to the first half.

The Phillies also need a couple of their young relievers - Antonio Bastardo, Jake Diekman, and Michael Schwimer have the best chance - to prove they belong in the big leagues because they can throw quality strikes on a consistent basis and at critical times.

What transpires over the next 75 games matters a lot even if there is no bonus baseball at the end of the ride.

Contact Bob Brookover at Follow @brookob on Twitter.


comments powered by Disqus