As Bradley Baskir noted earlier today, a few more horses have recently joined the race for the final wildcard spot. While the top three contenders for the coveted spot have been slumping a bit as of late, with the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Pirates going a combined 9-21 in their last 30 combined games, the two teams trailing them in the race (the Phillies and Brewers) have started to heat up, going a combined 15-5 in their last 20 combined games. With the end of the season approaching, here’s a closer look at the Phillies, the latest team to join the race, and their chances of stealing the Card’s wildcard spot:
The Phillies have been especially hot of late, having won 7 in a row and 18 of their last 24. Coming into September with no expectations, the Phillies have surged back into contention by playing to their strength: Strong starting pitching. Their starters have gone 15-5 over their last 28 games, with Cliff Lee finally regaining his All-Star form that has been missing most of the year. On the hitting side, they have been relying on the contributions of role players such as John Mayberry Jr., as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and other stars of years past have struggled to overcome injuries and find their stride.
This is a case of team loaded with talent getting hot at the right time. And the scary thought is that they’ve done it before. In 2007, they were trailing the Mets by 7 games with 17 left to play, and still managed to steal the division from them. While ESPN’s Playoff Formula still only has their chance of making the playoffs at 5.5%, this is a veteran squad that has been in the playoffs the last 5 years, and is hungry to get a few more years out of their aging roster and shrinking World Series window.
Telling Stat: The Phillies team ERA in September is an astounding 2.21, a good 0.65 points lower than the second-best Cincinnati Reds.
Bottom line: The Phillies surge back into playoff contention is eerily reminsicient of the Cardinals surprising run last season. Hopefully the Cardinals will dominate in their series against the Dodgers, as the Phillies get to face the NL-worst Astros for the next 4 games. The only way to guarentee that the last wildcard spot will be the Cards is if they break their little losing streak and start winning again. If they win, it doesn’t matter what the other teams do. Leggo Cards!