The loss of Billy Wagner hurt.
Finally - signs of life from the Fightins. After losing four straight to the Marlins, and five of six to close out another horrid August, the Phillies pulled themselves up by their bootstraps by taking five of six from San Diego and Los Angeles. What’s this? Could it be the Phillies are still in the hunt, or are they just teasing us as they always do? Is this daylight at the end of the playoff tunnel, or is it the headlight of the oncoming train of October disappointment?
DAYLIGHT: The Phillies reactivated Vicente Padilla and Amaury Telemaco from the disabled list. They will, hopefully, get Ryan Madson and Billy Wagner back shortly. They added innings-eating starter Cory Lidle in a trade with Cincinnati, and Felix Rodriguez has pitched very effectively since joining the team in San Diego. These are all good arms, and a good sign for a September run by the Phils.
LOCOMOTIVE: Just as the Phillies begin to get those arms healthy comes news that Kevin Millwood could be done for the year. Pat Burrell has already been lost for the remainder of the season, and David Bell is day-to-day with a “tweaked” back. (Is it just me, or do you hear horror music and shrieking sounds in your head anytime you read David Bell and “tweaked back” in the same sentence?) Jim Thome has also been in a second-half swoon, which could be related to the finger injury that he has fought through all season. Losing Millwood is tough, since he had pitched effectively since the All-Star break, but with Burrell out for good, and Bell and Thome at less than 100 percent, the Phils have no chance of catching the Braves.
DAYLIGHT: Of the 15 remaining series in the Phillies 2004 regular season, only three are against teams that currently have winning records. Meanwhile the Braves play seven of their remaining 15 series against winning teams. The Phillies and Braves play each other six more times, so there is still clearly an opportunity to make up ground.
LOCOMOTIVE: The Phillies did not help themselves by losing the first two games against the Rockies, especially with the Braves and Cubs both losing Tuesday night. Anytime you have a chance to make up ground in a pennant race, you must take advantage. The Phillies are six back of the Braves, therefore they must win at least five of the six remaining games against the Braves to even have a chance of remaining in the race - a daunting task since four of those games are in Atlanta, where the Phillies have split six games so far this year.
DAYLIGHT: Some in the Phillies locker room opined last month that everyone was too uptight and just needed to relax and play baseball. The Phillies have been very effective over the past month of getting themselves out of “frontrunner” status and nearly into the ranks of “also-rans.” With the mounting injuries, and continued inconsistency from the offensive lineup, it seems that the Phillies have little chance of playing in October. Perhaps, armed with this knowledge, the players will spark themselves to do the impossible and overcome all the naysayers to catch the Braves.
LOCOMOTIVE: Warning: gratuitous jab at Larry Bowa and Ed Wade follows. Who am I kidding? Whatever spark Lou Collier or Chase Utley might give this lineup is lost in Bowa’s insistence on playing Doug Glanville in left, while leaving Utley on the bench for pinch-hitting duty only. Wade’s inability to deal a player who won’t be here next year (Polanco,) coupled with his love of mediocre pitching (Abbott, Jones, Lidle) do not inspire confidence in sparking anything.
DAYLIGHT: The Phillies trail the Braves in the division and the Cubs in the wildcard. Those two teams play each other on the last weekend of the season. If the Phillies were somehow able to overcome the injuries and put together six weeks of good baseball, that final series could determine whether the Phillies make the playoffs as a division winner or wildcard. It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility for each of those teams (Phillies, Braves, and Cubs) to be right around 88 wins going into the final weekend. The Phillies will need to win at least five from the Braves in September, and then prove that they can beat the Marlins (who they finish the season against). I’m a “glass half-full” kinda guy. I believe it’s daylight, but this team must start to win the games they are supposed to win.
DN Curry comes to you Out of Left Field every Thursday at PhillyBaseballNews.com. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.