The Philadelphia Phillies never needed one wild card spot to make the playoffs from 2007 to 2011. Yet Phillies fans like myself thought the second wild card slot came just in time in 2012, in case the team really was about to tumble down. But Philadelphia took such a tumble that any dreams of a second wild card berth died quick - although everyone else suddenly seems determined to kill theirs as well.
Except for the Atlanta Braves, absolutely no one seems interested in playing the NL's first wild card game. While the Braves are blowing out all other second and third place teams, the likes of the St. Louis Cardinals, Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates keep losing. In fact, they have been losing so much that even the 70-71 Phillies have a flicker of hope.
After the Phillies won their fifth straight game over the Miami Marlins on Sept. 10, the Cardinals got blown out by the lowly San Diego Padres. With that, the Phillies are only five games back for the second wild card berth, in spite of the massive hole they've been in all year.
Yet not only has Philadelphia been winning after throwing in the towel, St. Louis, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh have almost been trying to throw in the towel themselves. The Cardinals and Dodgers have each been 4-6 in their last 10 games, while the Pirates have been tanking for the last few weeks. Meanwhile, the Phillies are on an 8-2 run and don't face another winning opponent for the next week.
If there was only one wild card spot, the Braves would be cruising with a 5 1/2 game lead over the Cardinals - although they know how precarious a September lead over the Cardinals can be. But because of this new system, Atlanta would have to face an inferior, struggling team just to reach the NLDS if the season ended today. However, the season still has a few weeks left - and eventually, one team will have to want that second wild card.
Yet right now, the only clubs that seem interested are under .500. Not only have the Phillies risen into striking distance after a horrific, disappointing start, the Milwaukee Brewers are doing the exact same thing. The Brewers are also 70-71 and have slight hopes to return to October after all, so the Phillies might have to look out for them as well.
Both Philadelphia and Milwaukee have to leap over Pittsburgh and Los Angeles before they can even get to St. Louis. Just a few weeks ago, overtaking so many teams in such a short time looked impossible, but they are all making it look pretty easy now.
The Pirates may be destined for a 20'th straight losing season after all, while the Dodgers have spent hundreds of millions this last month for almost nothing so far, and the Cardinals could be on the other end of a September collapse. Although this second wild card was supposed to be a gift, it seems no one has any interest in accepting it anymore - not anyone over .500, anyway.
If the Phillies actually go over .500, maybe they'll stop winning as well. But it seemed like a pipe dream that Philadelphia would even get close to .500 a few weeks ago - so what other pipe dreams could be made easier?
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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