It has been a long time since the Philadelphia Phillies qualified for the postseason — eight years, in fact.
Since then, we have seen the departure and rearrival of 2008 World Series-winning manager Charlie Manuel to the coaching staff; a front office overhaul that included Matt Klentak replacing Ruben Amaro Jr. as general manager; a new, analytics-based way of thinking throughout the organization — you name it.
The Phillies have tried to shake things up, considering they have not finished better than third place in their division since the franchise-best, 102-win season in 2011 that resulted in a disappointing NLDS series defeat to the eventual-champion St. Louis Cardinals — and a career-devastating injury to first baseman Ryan Howard.
One of the Phillies' more recent efforts to "right the ship" was signing a new left-handed slugger — perennial All-Star and MVP-candidate Bryce Harper this past offseason to a then-record-breaking contract.
And while signing Harper at first appeared to not have "pushed the needle" any closer to a Phillies postseason berth, Harper and the team overall have completely turned things around in recent weeks — including winning seven of their last 10 games, scoring an average of 6.3 runs per game.
While the Phillies' chances to win the division title appear slim, being 10 1/2 games out with 34 games left to play, the Phillies continue to be right in the thick of a Wild Card race.
The only thing that remains in the Phillies' way of clinching their first postseason berth since 2011 — considering their favorable remaining schedule — is themselves.
Remaining Schedule, At a Glance:
- 1 at Miami Marlins (.359 current winning percentage) — August 25
- 3 vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (.419) — August 26-28
- 3 vs. New York Mets (.519) — August 30 - September 1
- 4 at Cincinnati Reds (.469) — September 2-5
- 3 at New York Mets (.519) — September 6-8
- 4 vs. Atlanta Braves (.603) — September 9-12
- 2 vs. Boston Red Sox (.534) — September 14-15
- 3 at Atlanta Braves (.603) — September 17-19
- 3 at Cleveland Indians (.585) — September 20-22
- 5 at Washington Nationals (.558) — September 23-26, incl. doubleheader September 24
- 3 vs. Miami Marlins (.359) — September 27-29
Currently, the Washington Nationals and Chicago Cubs hold the two National League Wild Card spots. The Nationals have a three-game advantage over the Cubs for the top spot, while the Cubs hold a 1 1/2-game advantage over the Phillies for the second spot.
The Nationals appear to be trending toward remaining at least a Wild Card team; they have won eight of their last 10 games, with victories coming against tough opponents in the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers, as well as the Phillies' interstate rival Pittsburgh Pirates, who they will play themselves at home this week, August 26-28.
Coming up, the Nationals will play two and three home games respectively against the lowly Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins, before they host the New York Mets for three games. The Nationals will look to build their Wild Card lead even more over this stretch before they take on tough opponents like the Braves, Minnesota Twins, and St. Louis Cardinals over their following four series.
The Phillies trail the Cubs by just 1 1/2 games, and will look to leap their fellow NL rival in the standings. After the Cubs were swept in a three-game set by the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, they won five of their next six games against the Pirates and San Francisco Giants. Since, they have fallen in back-to-back games against the Nationals, 9-3 and 7-2, despite playing at Wrigley Field. Former Phillie Cole Hamels will take on Stephen Strasburg Sunday afternoon.
If Strasburg and the Nationals can secure a road sweep of the Cubs and defeat the former Phillies World Series MVP, while Aaron Nola and the Gabe Kapler-led squad takes care of business of their own on Sunday, only a 1/2 game could separate the Phillies with the Cubs in the Wild Card race.
Looking ahead, the Cubs will travel to Citi Field to take on the Mets, before taking on the Brewers and Mariners over their next three series and nine games. That could be a tough stretch for the recently struggling Cubs.
Assuming the Phillies remain in Wild Card contention, we could likely see rally towels back at Citizens Bank Park as early as their four-game series against the Atlanta Braves, September 9-12.
By then, the Phillies would have just six series to go, three at home.
The Phillies have had some terrible moments this season, with their recent 19-11 loss to the Marlins being the most recent example. Yet, they still find themselves not out of it just yet, with other teams likewise not taking control of a postseason spot, either.