|Philadelphia Phillies need strong finish to reach playoffs|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 24 September 2007 09:37|
For the third straight year, Philadelphia's postseason hopes will come down to the final week. Six games remain, and each is at home. It's almost do-or-die every night, starting Tuesday against the Atlanta Braves.
Can the Phillies finally end a 14-year playoff drought?
Considering the obstacles they've overcome this season, anything is possible. This is a resilient team that's been counted out several times only to fight its way back into contention.
An 8-2 road trip that started with a three-game sweep over the NL East-leading New York Mets left the Phillies 2 1/2 games out of first place and only a half-game behind wild-card leading San Diego. New York hosted Washington and the Padres played at San Francisco on Monday.
Catching the Mets will require a lot of help from the Nationals and Florida Marlins - the two worst teams in the East. But the Padres have a tougher schedule with three road games against the Giants and four in Milwaukee. Philadelphia finishes with three against Washington.
Of course, the Phillies (85-71) have to win and not worry about watching the scoreboard.
``We have to have a big homestand,'' manager Charlie Manuel said after a 5-3 loss to Washington on Sunday. ``If we win all six, we get to 91 wins, and five of six is 90. Ninety or 91 wins might get us something.''
A month ago, it seemed individual goals would be all that's left to play for this week. After losing to San Diego on Aug. 25, the Phillies were seven games out of first place and four behind the Padres. Then they got hot, going 19-9, including 7-0 against the Mets.
Manuel has found a way to get the most from a patchwork pitching staff, especially a bullpen that struggled much of the season. Before allowing four runs against the Nationals in the series finale, the relievers had a 1.84 ERA on the road trip and 15 straight scoreless innings.
Left-hander J.C. Romero and setup man Tom Gordon were outstanding and closer Brett Myers pitched well, going 1-1 with four saves in five chances. The trio appeared in five straight games and eight of nine before getting Sunday off.
The starters have kept them in games long enough for the league's highest-scoring offense to make up any difference. And, the Phillies lead the majors with 48 come-from-behind wins.
Given all the injuries this season, it's quite an accomplishment for Philly to be in the playoff race this late. When Jimmy Rollins boldly predicted the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, he didn't expect guys like John Ennis and J.D. Durbin to start important games in September.
Of the original starting rotation, only 44-year-old Jamie Moyer hasn't been hurt. All-Star Cole Hamels missed a month. Adam Eaton was sidelined two weeks and has pitched poorly when healthy. Freddy Garcia, acquired in the offseason to anchor the rotation, had season-ending shoulder surgery after going 1-5. Jon Lieber went down for the season in June. Myers moved to the bullpen after three starts.
Overall, the Phillies have used a team-record 28 pitchers, including 13 different starters. They've also dealt with injuries to key position players and relievers. Ryan Howard, last year's NL MVP, missed almost a month, All-Star Chase Utley sat out 28 games and right fielder Shane Victorino still isn't starting because of a calf injury sustained in late July. Myers and Gordon were out two months and Ryan Madson hasn't pitched since July 29.
``We feel like we got momentum right now,'' Victorino said. ``We're definitely going to keep upbeat.''
If it weren't for a 4-11 start, the Phillies would be getting chased right now instead of looking up at other teams. They've been here before.
In 2005, Philadelphia walked off the field after beating Washington in the final game with a chance. But the Houston Astros won later and earned the wild-card spot by one game.
Last year, the Phillies held a half-game lead over Los Angeles in the wild-card race with seven games remaining. But they lost three of the next four games, including two of three to the last-place Nationals in Washington, and were eliminated on the next-to-last day of the season.
A strong finish this week could finally get the Phillies in the playoffs for the first time since they won the NL pennant in 1993.
``It's not daunting,'' said center fielder Aaron Rowand. ``It's exciting.''