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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Phillies may still have one final playoff push left in their 2018 season

Cabrera's addition failed to help Phillies stay in contention
Frankly, I’m tired of thinking in terms of what this 2018 Philadelphia Phillies ball club can’t get done. 
I really don’t think they are a playoff team just yet. But I’ve also always been a glass-half-full guy. So, it’s time to examine the possibilities once again.
Much has been made of the Philadelphia Phillies sudden inability to win a series. They have now lost nine in a row going back to an early-August four-game sweep of Miami at Citizens Bank Park.
What you may not realize is that it was exactly one month ago today that the team’s 2018 hopes had crested. Fans had little reason to suspect what was about to happen next and unfold over this past calendar month.
On Wednesday morning, August 8, the Phillies woke up in Phoenix, Arizona as a first-place team. They were tied in the loss column with the Atlanta Braves, but had played and won three more times. Their lead was at two games in the loss column for an NL Wildcard playoff berth.
The club had defeated the host Arizona Diamondbacks the previous night by a 5-2 score when Nick Pivetta matched Dbacks ace Zack Greinke pitch for pitch. What had been a 1-0 pitcher’s duel was busted open with a four-run rally in the top of the eighth against former Phillies reliever Jake Diekman.
It was a sixth victory in seven games for the team. The lone defeat had come in the series opener on a 14th inning walkoff. The last defeat prior to the winning stretch had been a 13th inning walkoff at the hands of the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park.
The Phillies were winning baseball games and playing good teams tough on a regular basis. And there were signs that the club might finally be scoring runs on a consistent basis, something which had eluded them for much of the season. The Tuesday night victory was the fifth straight in which the club had scored at least five times.
Then on that Wednesday night the Phillies were shutout by Arizona’s lefty ace Patrick Corbin. No shame there. Corbin was an NL All-Star this season and was emerging as one of the top pitchers in all of baseball.
After an off-day the Phillies moved on to San Diego to face the Padres, the last place team in the West Division and owners of the worst record in the entire National League. Once again, they were shut out, this time by rookie Jacob Nix.
Those consecutive white-washings proved to be the beginning of a month-long 9-17 collapse leading up to last night’s opener at Citi Field in New York.
The month of losing had left the Phillies staring up at a three-game deficit to Atlanta in the division and had dropped them four games off the final Wildcard pace with four teams between them and that last-chance playoff spot.
But here we sit on Saturday morning, September 8, and the Phillies are still very much alive. The Braves faced a tough schedule this week, playing the Red Sox and Diamondbacks. They have gone just 1-4 to this point. Atlanta has lost seven of their last 10 overall, nine of their last 14 games.
With the Phillies 4-3 win over the Mets last night coupled with a Braves 5-3 loss to Arizona the division deficit has been cut to just two games in the loss column. There are still 22 games remaining for the Phillies this season, including seven of the final 11 as head-to-head battles with Atlanta.
The Phillies still have not resolved a huge negative issue that has plagued the team all year long. They still are not scoring on a consistent basis. 
Prior to last night the lone Phillies victory of the past week came when the offense erupted for nine runs in Miami. But in the other four games, all losses, the team managed to score just a single run in each.
Management tried to help by bringing in veterans Asdrubal CabreraWilson Ramos, and Justin Bour to bolster the attack and provide greater depth. It really hasn’t helped very much.

Cabrera arrived and played in his first game on July 28. The club lost the first three games in which he played. That was followed by a five-game winning streak. But then the month of losing began immediately afterwards. Over 36 games he is slashing .235/.273/.419 with a .692 OPS.
Ramos was injured when the Phillies acquired him from Tampa Bay and didn’t play in his first game until August 15. The Phillies have gone 9-13 since then. Ramos has hit well, slashing .375/.426/.604 with a 1.030 OPS. However, he has only played in 15 of those 22 games, including just a dozen starts.
Despite all of the offensive struggles, the Phillies have something fundamental that could still help them win the division this season: math. There is no way that this team is going to continue to play down to the .346 winning percentage of this last month. That math is going to eventually turn back in their favor.
Here is what the Phillies need to do at this point. They need to keep fighting, game to game. They need to believe again, something that Kapler had them doing well up until a month ago.
They need to remain within no worse than a couple of games out, as they are right now, for the next 10 days. That would get the Phillies into the final stretch of games with the Braves with their 2018 fate right in front of them in their own hands.
At this point, the Phillies are what they are: inconsistent offense, mediocre defense. But there are also just three weeks left in the regular season, and they are right there battling for the division crown.
I’ve been as critical of the Phillies over this last month as anyone. Mistakes have been made, both in putting this team together and in managing it during the season. 
I truly believe with just a couple of different decisions, and with handling some of these players just a little differently, that it could have been even better at this point.
But we all know that for the last five years it has been much, much worse. Losing, last place, bottom-feeding, ugly baseball with little hope for a brighter future. 
That is not where we are now. This team is clearly ready to win. They’re hungry for it, and they were able to find a way to do it for most of the year.
Former Phillies superstar shortstop and team leader Jimmy Rollins was asked about the current mostly young Phillies squad and quoted this week by Scott Lauber of Philly.com on the importance of developing a winning mindset:
“This late in the season, it’s about the win-loss column, but in the beginning, you have to believe you can win. It’s like, ‘I know we’re going to win.’ And once you get that mentality — it starts with the first guy, through the staff, through upper management, to the last guy in the bullpen — you know something good is going to happen. You have to learn how to think, ‘I am not going to lose.’ “
If someone told me back in Clearwater during spring training in March that the Phillies could be two games out of the division lead with three weeks to play, I would have been ecstatic. I would have been excited for the season ahead.
That is how Phillies fans should feel right now. Ecstatic at the results of this 2018 season. Excited at the possibilities for the future. And by the future, I don’t mean next year or the next decade. I mean for these next three weeks.
Possibilities are still very real for this current Phillies team, warts and all. There is no reason that this team can’t suddenly get hot again for a couple of weeks and push the Braves, maybe even pass them, before those two late-September series arrive.
The last of those regular season games with the Braves is scheduled for Sunday, September 30. The Phillies no longer have to play well for 162 games to make the playoffs. They just need to play well for most of the 22 games remaining. 
If they have three mostly good weeks in them, we could still see a return of ‘Red October’ baseball to Citizens Bank Park.

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