After finally selling this once-hesitant fan base on the legitimacy of their contention, the Phillies have hit the rough patch that so many had predicted. Now they sit 3.5 games behind the Braves in the NL East and 2.5 games behind Milwaukee for the wild card. Just like that, visions of Citizens Bank Park draped in a mid-October white-out have faded, and any playoff hopes have taken a back seat to pessimism.
In all truth, this was always the most likely outcome for the season. It’s unrealistic to expect such a young and inexperienced group of players to navigate the entirety of a season without having to weather a few storms, and this particular rough patch has exposed their biggest flaws. The bats have run cold in the past, but this time the pitching staff wasn’t enough to save them.
With a little over a month to go in the season, the Phillies have an uphill battle in front of them if they want to continue playing into October—Atlanta & St. Louis are playing their best baseball of the year, and Chicago and Milwaukee continue to do their thing. But is a playoff run all of a sudden out of the question? Absolutely not, and the simple reason for that is the history of volatility in September-baseball.
In the grand scheme of things, 3.5 games (or 2.5 for a wild-card spot) is nothing. In 2007 we made up 7.5 games in less than three weeks to win the NL East, in 2011 Tampa Bay made up 9 games on Boston to win the AL East, and the Phillies themselves had an infamous collapse in 1964 when they blew a 6.5 game lead with twelve to go. The list of September runs doesn’t end there, and suffice to say, it’s not unrealistic for this team go on a similar run.
If they’ve had enough in the tank to contend this far into the season, then they obviously have the tools to put together a winning September. We’ve already had our fair share of winning streaks, and I don’t see why they can’t string together a few more in the coming weeks. Beyond that, the Phillies aren’t the only team in the playoff race to experience a rough patch. The Braves, Brewers, Dodgers, and Rockies have all spent weeks losing series after series only to rebound with a strong month in return, and I don’t know why we wouldn’t expect the same from the Phillies (that’s actually the most logical assumption to make—that they’ll follow this valley with a peak).
If you’ve abandoned ship at this point in the season nobody would blame you. After all, this is by far one of the weakest offensive lineups to ever contend for the playoffs, and the bullpen hasn’t exactly been lights out. It was always hard to imagine this team pulling out W’s come October, and we’re clearly in the early stages of building a winner here.
All that notwithstanding, the Phillies find themselves in the thick of things in September—a reality that few people anticipated in Clearwater. Have these past two weeks been disappointing? Sure. Are the Phillies out of the pennant race? Not by a long shot.