Starting Sept. 18, the Cardinals play nine straight games against the Astros and the Cubs, the teams with the worst two records in the majors. The Dodgers have a tougher go of it, with a four-game series against the Cardinals and three-game series against NL East-leading Washington and NL Central-leading Cincinnati still on the schedule. Still, the Phillies have less than a 1 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason, at least according to the formula that ESPN uses to determine such things.
That we are even having the conversation is a victory of sorts for a team that was 14 games under .500 as recently as July 13. Since then, they are 33-20, a pace that over the course of a 162-game season would equate to 101 wins. All of it is enough to make you wonder where they would be had Chase Utley and Ryan Howard been healthy for an entire season, or if the bullpen had a couple of more weapons.
The real optimism isn't about this year's postseason, but about next year's regular season, because the Phillies' roster is at a point where it could use some pleasant surprises. Maybe Kyle Kendrick can fit into that category. In a 3-1 win over the Marlins on Monday night, he once again looked the part, carrying a no-hitter into the sixth inning and finishing with eight strikeouts in seven innings. A pitcher who entered the season with a career 4.41 ERA and 4.1 strikeouts-per-nine-innings average, now has a 3.83 ERA and a 6.6 K/9 average. If Kendrick really has discovered the key to consistent major league success - right now, it looks suspiciously like a changeup - it could more than offset the regression of Roy Halladay and the uncertainty surrounding Vance Worley.
Even more important than Kendrick are Domonic Brown and Antonio Bastardo, two players who factored heavily into Monday night's win. Brown, who entered the night hitting just .243 with a .320 on-base percentage and .339 slugging percentage in 128 plate appearances, crushed his second home run of the season, a two-run shot off lefty Wade LeBlanc in a three-run fifth inning. Bastardo pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the save. Both are the kind of player this club will need to regain its position atop the National League: they are cheap, and they play positions of need. Neither is close to earning the benefit of the doubt with regard to 2013, but nights like Monday show you a glimpse of the tools that keep earning them chances.
If those chances result in something to talk about for the final few weeks of the season, all the better. Monday night, Charlie Manuel estimated that the Phillies would need to win at least 14 or 15 of their remaining 21 games to have a shot at the second wild-card spot. To have a realistic chance, the number is probably more like 18 or 19. It isn't impossible, but it sure is unlikely. There are also far worse alternatives.
Contact Dave Murphy at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @HighCheese. For Phillies coverage and opinion, read his blog at philly.com/HighCheese.