There's a lot still out of the Philadelphia Phillies' control in their hopes of getting back in the NL wild-card race. They're doing an awfully good job taking care of their part, however.
Back at .500 for the first time since early June, the red-hot Phillies look to win a season-high seventh straight game and wrap up a sweep of the visiting Miami Marlins on Wednesday.
The Phillies (71-71) have been as many as 14 games below .500, and they were 12 games out of the NL's second wild-card spot as recently as Aug. 17.
Suddenly that deficit - one they share with Milwaukee - is down to four, albeit with Los Angeles and Pittsburgh to pass before getting to St. Louis. But after winning for the 14th time in 18 games Tuesday with a 9-7 victory over Miami - and reaching .500 for the first time since June 4 - it seems like anything's possible with three weeks left.
Next up after Wednesday? Four at major league-worst Houston and three with the woeful New York Mets.
"You hear it's a cliche that this is what you play for, for September, but it's true,'' Jimmy Rollins said after hitting his team-high 18th homer. "We have a lot of flags but we don't have a wild-card flag, so this would be a good time.''
Cliff Lee (4-7, 3.50 ERA) has been as big a part of the recent surge as anyone, giving up a total of three runs while Philadelphia has won his last three starts. Lee didn't get the decision in his latest, when he allowed two runs in the first but wound up pitching 6 1-3 innings in Friday's 3-2 win over Colorado.
It's been a difficult season for Lee, who has just one home victory, but his worst outing of 2012 came against the team he'll face Wednesday. The left-hander gave up six runs in a season-low 4 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss at Miami on June 29.
Lee went 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts against the Marlins (63-80) last season, going nine innings in both outings at Citizens Bank Park.
Josh Johnson (8-11, 3.81) beat Lee in late June, holding the Phillies to one run and four hits over six innings. However, he was a tough-luck loser in a 1-0 defeat Aug. 14 after pitching eight innings.
His lone 2012 outing in Philadelphia didn't go nearly as well. Johnson gave up 11 runs and six hits - both tied for season highs - in just 3 2-3 innings of a 7-1 defeat April 11.
The right-hander has been impressive of late, posting a 2.76 ERA over his last nine starts, and earned his first win in six outings Thursday thanks to some long-awaited run support. Johnson held Milwaukee to two runs and four hits over seven innings in a 6-2 victory.
"He started the season very rough because he hadn't pitched in a while,'' Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "After that he got the momentum going. You look up and he's had a great year if you look at it that way, compared to last year.''
Johnson's road ERA is still ugly - 5.22 compared to a 2.87 mark at home - but he's had little trouble with some of the Phillies' top hitters this season. Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz are a combined 0 for 12 with six strikeouts against Johnson.
Philadelphia is just happy to have Ruiz back in the lineup for its stretch run. The All-Star catcher, who spent five weeks on the DL battling plantar fasciitis, started Tuesday for the first time since Aug. 2 and reached base three times.
- Miami Marlins