Before heading into a dreadful series in Houston in which they lost three of four to the worst team in the National League, the Philadelphia Phillies were three games out of the second wild card spot in the National League.
A six-game sweep over the Colorado Rockies and Miami Marlins yielded one of the best homestands in franchise history, and the sports talk stations were abuzz at the turnaround that the Philadelphia Phillies, a team given up for dead at the trading deadline in late July, had made.
Today, even after Cliff Lee K'd 10 Mets and the Phightin's knocked two homeruns off Cy Young candidate R.A. Dickey, they're a half-game worse off than when they entered the weekend, with four teams yet to pass and not a lot of road left ahead.
Despite their history of being one of the best second-half teams in baseball, despite middling play from the Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates before them, despite an infusion of Charlie-ball and a spark from the IronPigs, there simply may not be enough time left to be a better-than-.500 ballclub.
That's not to say these Phils don't have some swagger. They've made several late-inning pushes to keep the fans interested throughout the month. They've also served up plenty of steamers.
In recent weeks, Jimmy Rollins has carried the team on his back, swiping bags and knocking dingers; yet he's still run afoul of manager Charlie Manuel for a lack of hustle on more than one occasion. Ryan Howard is back from injury and producing RBI, but the man dubiously nicknamed "Mr. September" also is hitting a dismal .193 with nothing leaving the yard off his stick since before Labor Day.
The much-maligned Phillies bullpen has at times been one of the best in the business, thanks to rookie Phillippe Aumont (acquired in the short-lived Cliff Lee trade to Seattle) and closer Jonathan Papelbon, who saved his 35th game tonight.
And at times, Aumont has looked stretched too thin, and Papelbon has blown four saves and lost six games outright. We will kindly omit from the discussion the maddening inconsistency of setup man Antonio Bastardo, who has been both bafflingly brilliant and thoroughly lousy.
In a year of mixed blessings, General Manager Ruben Amaro deserves credit for keying the team's turnaround, shipping Joe Blanton, Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence to potential wild-card competitors in the West. In came an influx of Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs that gave the team a jolt.
Players such as Erik "Chris Coste 2012" Kratz and Kevin Frandsen are putting up solid numbers in their call-up duties while relievers Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus and B.J. Rosenberg and starter Tyler Cloyd have made a difference.
But the Philadelphia Phillies are still a remote longshot to make the postseason, if not just for the number of teams ahead of them for the second Wild Card spot (four) but the quality of their schedules.
- The Pirates play a few more competitive teams: the Brewers, the NL Central-leading Reds and the Wild Card-leading Braves. They've also got a seven-game road swing through Houston and New York.
- Milwaukee has a harder, 10-game road schedule: three each with the Reds and Pirates, plus four with the Nationals before playing their final six games at home against the Astros and Padres.
- The Dodgers also face the Reds as well as the Nationals and the rival Giants, but should feast on the Rockies and Padres, which they play three times each.
- The Cardinals will square off against the Reds and Nats—but play nine of their last 15 games against the woeful Astros and Cubs.
- In addition to three-game stands against the Phillies and Pirates, the Braves have five match-ups with the dreadful Marlins and three with the Mets.
As for the Phillies, after they wrap the next two with the Mets, they return home for two series agains the Braves and Nationals, respectively, and then hit the road for the final six games: three in Miami and three in Washington.
So where does that leave our boys—and we fans?
Watching the scoreboard for help.