If you had the Phillies as the team to make a miracle run in September, raise your hand.
The Phillies are toast. You can look it up. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. gave the club every chance to turn itself around, and then he began making changes, trading Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence. In Philadelphia, the speculation had begun about how Amaro could get the club back in contention in 2013.
So we went about our business, focusing on the Cardinals and Braves, on the Dodgers and Giants, the usual stuff. It was going to be an interesting September, but the Phillies, well, the Phillies weren’t going to be part of things.
And then something real peculiar happened, and it just shows you how you’ve got to keep paying attention because no one knows anymore. Just a year after the Cardinals and Rays sprinted from far back in the pack to make the playoffs, the Phillies have won 13 of 17 to get within a game of .500 (70-71) and to within five games of an NL Wild Card berth.
They’re still a long, long shot. To be five out with 21 to go is a huge mountain. But the Cardinals and Rays had a huge mountain to climb last September. There were losses along the way that seemed to seal the deal for both teams. But they kept going and played out the string.
Even after five straight division championships, this run might be Charlie Manuel’s finest hour as a major league manager. He has a great core group of guys who know how to win and compete, but Charlie kept things together during the toughest of times. Nice going, Charlie.
It’s all about the pitching. The Phillies have a 2.15 staff ERA this month. They’re only scoring 4.3 runs per game, but are still 7-2. Three of their last four victories have come by the scores of 3-2, 3-2 and 3-1.
Since the All-Star Break, Phillie starting pitchers have a 3.39 ERA. That’s the best in the National League and behind only the Rays and Mariners in the Majors. In the last 27 games, they’re even better, going 13-5 with a 2.99 ERA.
The Big Three of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay have been on a great role. Tyler Cloyd, 25, has made two real good starts. Others have chipped in, too. Kyle Kendrick pitched a seven-inning, two-hit start against the Marlins on Monday, and Charlie is using five rookie relievers.
The Phillies play 12 of their final 21 games against teams with losing records, but their margin of error is almost zero. That was true with the Cardinals and Rays last season. If they’d bothered to do the math, they might have given up hope. Instead, they kept going hard without sweating the day-to-day stuff.
If nothing else, the Phillies have made sure they’re not going to be overlooked when he start projecting the 2013 race. They’re back.
“If you stay with it, you’ll hit a streak,” Manuel said. “Baseball is streaks. If you do it at the end of the season, it can be real rewarding. I don’t like numbers. I like to go day-by-day. We might win all 21 of ’em.”