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Phillies Amazingly Still In NL East Hunt

Nearly everyone has mentally prepared for a team-wide sell-off in July, but there is a chance it may not happen after all.

Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the National League East doesn't want to let the Phillies go, apparently.

After their 13-inning, 6-1 win over the Atlanta Braves last night, the Phils are still, somehow, unthinkably, right smack dab in the middle of the NL East race.

Yes, they are in last place. Yes they are 30-38, eight whole games under .500. And yes their run differential of -38 is third-worst in the National League. Those are all great reasons that, barring a 10-game winning streak or something, the Phillies should continue forward with plans to sell off any pieces that may yield a decent return for the future.

But despite all that, the Phils are just 5.5 games out of first in a very mediocre NL East.

W L PCT GB Run Diff.
Atlanta 36 33 .522 -5
Washington 35 33 .515 0.5 37
Miami 35 34 .507 1 15
NY Mets 31 39 .443 5.5 -10
Philadelphia 30 38 .441 5.5 -36

Last week the Nationals got hot and put themselves in first place, but have since lost four straight. The Marlins continue to overachieve after losing ace Jose Fernandez, but it's hard to see them sustaining their success. And Atlanta is in first despite a negative run differential.

It is a division of extreme mediocrity, and one long hot streak by anyone could give that team momentum as the trade deadline approaches.

Do the Phils have one of those runs left in them? Probably not, but last night's 13-inning victory has at least kept hope alive in the Phillies' clubhouse.

"It’s going to be one of those years where it comes down to the team that makes a run in the division," closer Jonathan Papelbon said. "I think tonight, despite me blowing the game, we really made a statement. I’m proud of the guys for picking me up. It’s good to see.

"I definitely think we can make a run," Papelbon said. "We’ve just got to play good baseball."

The next two weeks will likely determine whether that's true or not.

Thirteen out of the next 17 games are against division opponents. The Phillies finish up a three-game set in Atlanta today and tomorrow, then travel to St. Louis for a four-game series there. Then it's home to Citizens Bank Park for a four-game series against Miami, a four-game series against the Braves, and then a three-game series in Miami.

If the Phillies are going to go on a run and make up ground, this will likely be their last chance to do it.

Of course, we've been saying that all year about them. The Phils have had soft spots in the schedule and been unable to take advantage. They had extended series at home last month and weren't able to put together a winning streak. And the last time the Phillies won at least four games in a row was a five-game winning streak early last June.

That was over a full calendar year ago.

Still, the Phils have a payroll of nearly $180 million, and management is going to give them every chance to avoid a sell-off. As long as the division keeps playing so poorly as a whole, the fire sale will be put off.

And given the payroll, it makes sense to wait a bit longer. There is still time to do that.

But this is it. There are likely no more second chances after these next 17 games. If this veteran crew has one more run left in them, it has to happen now, or they won't be together much longer to try again.