A 162-game MLB season has its fair share of twists and turns.
These 2019 Philadelphia Phillies have been a roller coaster. They started off hot, ran out of the gate to a 3.5 game lead in the NL East, climbed to 11 games over .500 at one point only to plummet to earth with a dismal six-week stretch that saw them fall to third place, as many as 9.5 games out of first as recently as July 15.
Many teams experience swings like this. The San Francisco Giants were one of the worst teams in baseball heading into the month of July, but have unexpectedly rattled off a 16-3 record this month, vaulting them back into the NL playoff picture. The Washington Nationals were brutal through the first two months, but have been the best team in baseball since May 24, going 36-15 over that stretch, a 114-win pace. The Colorado Rockies were hanging around the periphery of the wild card until a recent stretch of ineptitude that has seen them fall out of the postseason picture.
It’s a long season, is my point.
And now, with the trade deadline a little more than a week away and teams trying to decide how aggressive they will be, the Phillies, for the first time in more than a month, enter a series against the Atlanta Braves this weekend with a little momentum. After a 4-1 road trip in which they won two out of three against the Pirates in Pittsburgh and swept the putrid Tigers in Detroit, the Phillies have won five of their last six games and are six games over .500 in what feels like forever (in reality, it was June 19).
They have shaved four games off their deficit in a week, as the Braves come to Philadelphia on the heels of a two-game sweep at the hands of the lowly Kansas City Royals. Their lead over the Nats has shrunk to a meager four games and the Phillies enter the series just 5.5 back.
Are the Phils finally catching the Braves at the right time?
Remember, the Phillies swept the Braves in the only other series they played at Citizens Bank Park this year, their opening series of the season. And now, with a sweep, the Phils could make things very interesting.
In fact, this is probably their last, best chance at making a run in the division. If the Phils win two out of three, they’ll be 4.5 back, within striking distance over the season’s final two months. If they sweep, it’s just a 2.5 game deficit.
Sure, Washington is in the picture and is a better ball club than the Phils. They’ve played .700 ball over one-third of the season, so their odds of winning the division are much greater. But, this weekend series at The Bank could also go a long way in determining how aggressive general manager Matt Klentak will be at the trade deadline, as the Phils would likely be in the mix, too.
Team officials are reluctant to make a big trade if the division is out of reach, which makes sense. There is no reason to blow up the future for a shot at a one-game wild card playoff. With the Phils 0.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals and 1.5 games behind the Nationals for the two wild card spots, it makes more sense for the Phillies to try and make changes around the edges, moves like they made in 2007 when they got Tadahito Iguchi and Kyle Lohse, and in 2008 when they traded for Joe Blanton.
But if the division is suddenly in their grasp, that’s a different story. That’s when prospects like Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm might come into play.
Now, understand, those two prospects should only be moved for the highest-caliber talent, such as if the Mets make Noah Syndergaard or someone of that ilk available. But suddenly, a trade for Madison Bumgarner makes a little more sense if the division is a stone’s throw away. Maybe the Phils pony up a little bit more in prospect capital, or take on more cash in a Zach Greinke trade if they sweep the Braves.
A series victory muddies things a bit. A 4.5 game deficit is still a big one, although it doesn’t preclude their chances of catching Atlanta. A series loss that puts them 8.5 back virtually assures that Klentak will not go hard at the deadline. If Phils players want this team to get aggressive and make a serious push for some big-time trades, they need to show upper management that it’s worth the investment.
The course of the 2019 Phillies season likely rests on how they play against Atlanta this weekend. If the Phillies get hot, something they haven’t done yet this season, it could not only catapult them up the standings, it could change the entire complexion of the final two months of the baseball season.
On Episode 305 of Hittin’ Season, I discussed this in depth, explored the Phils’ run of bad luck/poor decision making with veteran relief pitchers, and talked to Jay Floyd of PhoulBallz.com for some in-depth prospect chatter! Subscribe and download!