The Philadelphia Phillies clung to hope for a wild card berth as long as they could. But as much as Phillies fans like myself started to dream of an improbable October run, we may have to wake up after this past weekend. For that matter, the likes of the Milwaukee Brewers and Los Angeles Dodgers may have to soon throw in the towel as well.
No one has really seemed that interested in winning the NL's second wild card for a while. Yet at the moment, the team that has come closest is the St. Louis Cardinals, who have finally opened up some long overdue breathing room going into the home stretch.
As of Sept. 25, the Cardinals hold a 3 1/2 game lead over the Brewers and Dodgers, with the Phillies down by 5 1/2 games. Erasing deficits like this isn't impossible, as St. Louis itself well knows after its improbable wild card comeback last season. But the Cardinals had to catch fire to make that happen while the Atlanta Braves collapsed, and no one is really catching fire right now.
The Phillies were pretty much put out for good with two losses to the Braves this past weekend. Meanwhile, the Brewers and Dodgers were unfortunate enough to face the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds, while the Cardinals only had to play the Chicago Cubs. And on Sept. 24, St. Louis got another break by facing and beating the Houston Astros - although Philadelphia didn't take advantage of that break a week ago.
The Cardinals really shouldn't be as comfortable as they are now, with a mere 83-71 record. Yet no one is acting like the 2011 Cardinals and putting pressure on this St. Louis squad. Milwaukee and Philadelphia became red hot to get back in this race, yet they each had too much ground to overcome and may have peaked too soon. As for Los Angeles, its massive trades and spending sprees have done little to help it out so far.
Every other National League playoff race has really been decided so far, with the second wild card race providing the only real drama left - if only due to incompetence. But even that is dying down now, as the Cardinals are doing the bare minimum to pull away, while the Phillies and everyone else continue to blow their opportunities.
Philadelphia put off its doom as long as possible - and longer than it really should have - and so did the likes of Milwaukee and Los Angeles. Yet reality now appears to be settling in, as St. Louis is on track for a shot at defending its title after all. As such, the only thing left to wonder is why the Cardinals didn't wrap this up sooner.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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