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Despite their struggles, the Phillies are still in the wild card mix

Thankfully, the National League is a tire fire right now.

MLB: Washington Nationals at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

After losing yet another series to the Washington Nationals over the weekend, the Phillies continue to play the type of maddeningly inconsistent baseball that has seen them fall from 3.5 games up in the National League East a month ago to 8.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves and 1.5 games behind those very same Nats today.

I don’t need to run down all the negative numbers. The Phils’ offense has been maddening and is among the bottom third in the National League in most catagories. The bullpen has allowed a number of catastrophic, late-inning losses. The only thing that has prevented a complete and total collapse has been the existence of the New York Mets.

Despite once being 11 games over .500 (33-22 on May 19), the Phils are now just 3 games over. The fanbase is either in open revolt or extremely apathetic and the Phillies are squandering their opportunity to capture the attention and fascination of the city.

OK, that’s a lot of negatives. Now, here’s the good part.

They’re still in it, thanks mainly to the parity that exists in the National League.

As of Monday morning, here are the NL Wild Card standings:

The Nats currently hold the top spot, but only by 1.5 games over the Phils, who own the second wild card, albeit tenuously. Milwaukee, a team that came within one game of reaching the World Series last year, has a worse record than Philadelphia, just two games over .500. The Cardinals have mostly been a mess all season, and are just one game over. The Diamondbacks and Rockies are just .500 themselves, and the Padres and Pirates both have losing records.

Obviously, the on-field staff needs to focus on winning games and nothing else, but the front office has to have noticed the lack of any NL team not named the Braves or Dodgers running away with anything. But the front office has a tougher question — how aggressive should they be over the next two weeks?

Even making the wild card game would be a major step forward for this franchise and, hey, if you have a reborn Aaron Nola starting that game, you have to like your chances of winning and moving on to the NLDS. Given the lack of traction the rest of the National League has had thus far, could one or two crafty additions give the Phils the boost they need to pull past the Brewers, Cardinals, D-Backs and Rockies?

This is the dilemma facing GM Matt Klentak right now. There are a lot of headwinds facing the team, and he has to decide if making additions around the margins will actually help. The Boston Red Sox traded for Andrew Cashner this week and the Oakland A’s picked up Homer Bailey. Neither is a top-of-the-rotation arm, but either may have helped give this team at least a few more innings per week. Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, and an bone spur-battling Jake Arrieta may not be able to pitch more than five innings an outing, which puts a lot of pressure on an injured and beleagured bullpen. The team is unlikely to land a big fish unless they part with Alec Bohm or Spencer Howard, and neither prospect should leave the organization unless it’s for a young starting pitcher under team control for multiple seasons.

How the Phillies perform against the Dodgers this week could crystallize the front office’s thinking, but the weakness of the NL has given the team a lifeline and an opportunity. The Brewers’ starting rotation (4.71 ERA) is worse than the Phils’ (4.51 ERA). The Rockies have the worst rotation ERA in the NL (5.65 ERA) and strike out fewer batters per nine innings than anyone else, too. The Cardinals’ team wOBA (.307) is tied for 3rd-worst in the National League. Only the Diamondbacks appear to be balanced enough between their offense, starters and relievers to make one think they could go on a second-half run.

The wild card race is wide open, and despite their struggles, it’s there for the Phillies to take. Winning one of the two wild cards should be a goal of this team, and Klentak should make a couple key additions to try and make that happen.

On Episode 302 of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh and I discussed the Phillies’ current state and answered some mailbag questions from our Patreon members. Subscribe, rate and review!