Seriously. How the Heck is this Happening?

Can you count how many of these guys we're on the opening day roster? I can't but they sure do look like they're having a hell of a time, and so am I! (Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images)

Editors note: This article was written BEFORE the win today. It has been edited to reflect the win, but does not have any of the results of the other games.

I'll be the first to admit publicly that for me, most (if not all) of this season has been little more than an exercise in fan futility, and a huge gigantic slice of humble pie thrown right at my face at 100 miles an hour with not enough cut.

When I look back on the season, there are 2 moments where I actually felt confident that we had a legitimate shot at a post season run.What I mean by this is I was excited. I jumped out of my chair. I believed.

1. April 5th, 3:59 PM. Roy Halladay goes 8 strong innings in his season debut, Jonathan Papelbon makes short work of the Pirates in the 9th inning, and the Phillies win 1-0 thanks mostly to a 2-4 performance by John Mayberry who I think may be the real deal.It was the last time the Phillies would have the division lead all season.

2. June 27th, 7:35 PM. After being as close as 2.5 games back of the division, and only 1 game off the wild card on June 1st, a depleted, Roy Halladay-less Phillies had managed only 9 wins to 15 losses in June, to fall a miserable 9 games back in the East. However, they were still only 4 games behind the second Wild card, and THE MAN was back. In his first AB when Chase Utley blasted a 2-2 pitch in his first AB of the season well over the RCF wall to thunderous applause. The curtain call was hardly over when MVP candidate Carlos Ruiz followed with a HR of his own on the next AB. Twitter was abuzz, the Phils were back, and watch out bitches. Baseball was fun again.

for exactly half an inning.

That's how long it took for Raul Valdes to give up a 3 run shot and the lead to perennial long ball threat and back up catcher Michael McHenry. By the time I made it to the Bank on July 8th, 10 games later, the last game before the ALL-STAR Break, The Phils had won 1 of their last 9, Charlie had benched Shane Victorino for buying a hoagie at a WaWa outside AC at 2 in the morning, Jason Pridie was starting in centerfield, And we were trading the whole team. Cole Hamels to the Dodgers! The season was over. I spent more time with my kids in the Phanatic zone than I did watching the game. You JUST KNEW they were gonna blow it. and they did, thanks to Brian McCann, Charlie Manuel, you name it.

At the All Star break, the Phillies were:

  • 13 games below 500, (37-50)
  • had lost 9 out of 10 games in a row,
  • sat 14 games back of the division
  • were 9 games off the second wild card with 11 teams ahead of them (including the division leaders and 1st WC)
  • Need I go on?

Most experts at the time (read, radio jocks and smarty pants sports writers) felt that to secure the second wild card, a team would have to have 89 wins. For the Phillies to do that, they would have to go 52-23, or play .693 ball in the second half. The fans turned their attention to Cole Hamels and the trade deadline, and we all know what happened there. But on the field?

The Phils lost the first game back from the break, and it looked like all was the same. But then they went 8-5 heading into a pivotal series with the Braves before the deadline. Only to lost all three, and the great sale of 2012 commenced. Hunter Pence? Giants! Victorino? Dodgers!

Since August 1st though, with a rag tag bunch of misfits and minor leaguers, the Phillies have gone 26-14 good for a .650 winning percentage, and the second best record in baseball since the deadline.

Starring Dom Brown in LF, John Mayberry in CF, Erik Kratz at C, guest starring Nix/Pierre/Schierholtenfrudenstrudel/Wiggingtonberry in RF...

And introducing Michael Martinez and Kevin Frandsen as your 3B.

Wow.

Somehow, some way, since that first loss after the break, the Phillies have managed to go 35-20 (.636) to get to .500 as of September 11th. and somehow, some way, they're just 3.5 games back of the second wild card, (at writing, the Cardinals trailed the Padres in the 6th inning) with only the Cardinals, Dodgers, The fading Pirates and Brewers standing between them and the playoffs. The chances are still slim, but no one, not even the most optomistic fan in the world predicted this or saw this coming.

So the question is: How the heck is this happening? My opinion, after the jump.

For me, there are three components to this. 2/3 fact, 1/3 opinion.

ON THE FIELD AND THE NUMBERS:

The on the field stuff is actually fairly easy to dissect. Quite simply, the Phillies are playing better.

Since the break, they've scored 228 runs and allowed 208. That would give them a Pythag record of 30-25. But they're 35-21. So how did that happen?

1 run games. Quite simply, as resident statistical GURU Schmenkman pointed out to me while prepping for this, they're doing it "The Oriole Way" again. That used to mean winning with the 3 run HR, but now, at least in the second half, it means winning the 1 run games.

PRE ASB 1 run games: 9-17.

Post ASB: 15-7.

Thats a perfect 24-24 (in 2011, the phillies were 28-19 in 1 run games, FWIW) so they went from winning 34% of the 1 run games to winning 55%.Thats where the 5 wins come from.

And of course, pitching. I mean, you don't have to dissect the numbers too deep to see the differences in the bullpen, the rotation, etc.. As Schmenk put it yesterday, Scoring the 3rd run in the 9th is HUGE when you're tied 2-2, but its too little too late when you've given up 5 or 6. And consider this:

since August 18th, (when the Phillies started their current 16-6 run and were 11 games back of the wild card, The Opponent has scored more than 2 runs in a game just 6 times. They're 3-3 in those contests, and that includes the Chipper fiasco game.

the bullpen is better, and situational hitting is somewhat better as well.

INTANGIBLES

Maybe the injuries healed. Maybe the clubhouse needed cleaning. Maybe Jimmy not hustling sparked something. Maybe The youth infusion from Brown and Kratz etc.. brought some life to the team.

Or maybe they just relaxed. When you think about it, from the time Utley came back, all the way up until the deadline the story wasn't on the field. It was off. From The Hamels extention, to the should they sell, to the Victorino stuff, to the bullpen problems, to the front office decisions, Everything being written about the team, everything happening was focused on what was going wrong, and the future, not the now.Thats great for the shock jocks and the papers, but it'll kill your clubhouse in an instant.

Sometimes its easy to forget that athletes are people. People with emotions and opinions, and feelings. Think about when you're having a bad day at work, think about how when the company isn't doing what it should be doing etc.. There's pressure from above, and pressure you put on yourself, and in a lot of instances, we make dumb decisions and do worse. I'm of the opinion that when we traded Pence and Vic, when we signed Hamels, when we made the decision to kind of "forget this season" the team actually started to not care, and they remembered how to have fun. These guys look like they're enjoying themselves.

They're playing like kids, playing a kids game, but they're playing with fire and passion and I'm sorry, fan or not, I aint betting against them.

Granted, they've had some luck fall their way, specifically Kratz, and the bullpen guys from Lehigh really stepping up, but they've also had their adversity (Chooch, Mini at 3B, Worley, etc...)

But guys:

We traded Joe Blanton, Worley goes down, and Kyle Kendrick may be the best starter on the team right now! They're 5-1 in his last 6 starts, and he's got 33 K's to 7 BBs. hasn't given up more than 2 runs, and has gone at least 6 innings in each one!!!

That's fate. Thats kismet. Thats the gods giving us something for being faithful through this shitstorm of a season.

There's no explanation for that.

THE LEAGUE CAME BACK TO THEM: THE CARDS FALL PERFECT!

As I mentioned above, at the AS break, there were 11 teams with better records than the Phillies. The Nats, Pirates and Dodgers led their respective divisions, and the Reds and Braves held the two wild card spots. Lets take a look and see what those 11 teams did:

  • Washington (NL EAST LEADER) 2nd best record in the NL since the Break. (39-20) l7.5 game lead over the Braves.
  • Pittsburgh: (NL CENTRAL LEADER) 24-32. Took a 12.5 game lead over us and turned it into a fading 1.5 game gasp for air.
  • Reds: (1st WC) Now lead the central by 10.5 over the Cardinals, and have the best record since the break at 39-19
  • Braves: (2nd WC) went from clinging to a 1 game lead over the Mets, to taking a commanding 5.5 lead for the 1st slot by going 35-23.
  • Dodgers: (NL WEST LEADER) Even after making the deal of the century, the Dodgers are a game below 500, at 27-28, 3 games ahead of us for the 2nd WC.
  • Mets: 1 game off the WC at the break, the mets have played .339 ball. worse than the Chicago Cubs since the break.
  • Giants: The giants lead the West, by 6 games, sans Melky, with a 34-22 record.
  • Cardinals: The Cardinals had a .535 winning percentage at the break, and were 1/2 game off the WC. they've played .518 ball since, good for a 29-27 record, and amazingly, a 1.5 game lead on the 2nd slot, but just 4 games over the Phillies.
  • Diamondbacks: sub .500 28-29
  • Marlins: also worse than the Cubs. 22-36
  • Brewers: 31-26, .544. 4 games ahead of us turns to dead even.

Simply put, the Cardinals played about the same, the Pirates came back to reality, the teams that shouldn't have been there at all (Mets, Marlins) went where they belong, and the Dodgers played below expectations. and we were just better enough than the teams that DID put together a run (Brewers, Diamondbacks) to jump ahead of them and the team that really killed it (the Padres) was too far gone to be in it any more.

The Perfect Storm.

So aas the sand bags are removed, the levees hold, the sun starts to shine through the clouds, and we find 4 teams ahead of us. The Dodgers, and Cardinals, two teams playing 500 ball, and the Pirates who may as well be dead.

And the Brewers. The team that blew 15 saves before remembering they have John Axford. Of all these teams, its Milwaukee that probably has the best chance of getting red hot.

But...

The Phillies have by far the easiest schedule of any of those teams the rest of the way. If you take the remaining games and use second half percentage here's what you should expect:

Cardinals (.518) 85-86 wins.

Dodgers: (.491) 83-84 wins.

Pirates: (.429) 81 wins

Brewers: (.544) 82-83 wins

If you use the Phillies record since the deadline? (.641) 84wins. almost there... (editors note...after today, make that 84.35 and .650 Noticing the trend?) But with every victory, the road gets easier for us, not harder.

that doesn't take strength of schedule or momentum or anything into consideration guys. Its pure math. But with 20 games left, the difference between going 13-6 and finishing with 85 wins vs. 2 more wins and 87 is minimal.

The real point is that at the AS break, it looked like 89 wins was what it would take for the Braves to get the second wild card. They'll likely get that, but the second wild card could be anywhere from 84-87 wins. So in essence, we were handed anywhere from 2 to 5 wins from up above.

15-4 down the stretch. with 10 games against the Mets, Astros and Marlins. 6 against the Nats, and 3 against Atlanta. Can we do it? Well, we did it over the last 19 games. Exactly. and the Cards went 8-12 in their last 20. Dodgers went 7-13, Pirates are 5-15

If we repeat the next 20 and so does everyone else? We win the wild card by 4 games. It's real folks.

Ya Gotta Believe.

Maybe this is the universes way of making up for the first half, maybe its all ying and yang. maybe its regression to the mean. maybe its destiny. Maybe this was all designed to take RAJ and give him a do over for trading for Pence and by trading him again, he restored cosmic balance to the universe. I half joke about that but I think there's something to that. Hell, maybe It's just Hittin'Season.

So whats the answer? How the hell is this happening?

Simple.

NO F*&^%$G CLUE!!!

Don't know. Don't Care either. Here's what I do know. I didn't expect to give a S&%T on September 12th, and now, I'm nose deep into it, and its the most fun I've had watching this team since I don't know when. Don't question it, don't analyze it anymore, just enjoy it for as long as we can, becuase I believe we're witnessing something improbable, something special and something we may never get the pleasure of experiencing again.

Be a Phan.

and Phight.

And if you're the Cards, The Dodgers, the Pirates, or the anyone else unlucky enough to be ahead or run into us in the near term?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Catz OUT.

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