The Philadelphia Phillies and Milwaukee Brewers nearly faced off in the NLCS last October. Of course, Phillies fans like myself know full well that didn't happen - and then after the St. Louis Cardinals upset Philadelphia, they took care of Milwaukee in the actual NLCS. It seemed that both the Phillies and Brewers never recovered, given how they both tanked in the first five months of 2012.
Yet in the final month of the year, both Philadelphia and Milwaukee have risen from the ashes. The Phillies were an utter train wreck just a few weeks ago, but now they are 71-71 and suddenly four games back of those very Cardinals for the second wild card. It would be unprecedented, except that the Brewers are doing the exact same thing.
While the Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers seem determined to give away a playoff berth, the Phillies and Brewers are getting closer to all of them. Both of them still actually have to overtake all these teams, and they only have three weeks left to do it. However, they are much closer to doing this than they were several weeks ago.
Until a month ago, Philadelphia and Milwaukee were pretty much dead and buried. 11 months after both clubs had World Series dreams, they each came back down to Earth and looked nowhere near their former selves. In fact, both clubs had already thrown in the towel at the trade deadline, when the Phillies traded Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence and the Brewers sent away Zack Greinke.
Milwaukee still has Ryan Braun hitting at MVP levels - even after last year's drug test controversy - so it helps explain its resurgence. But Philadelphia doesn't have anyone hitting at Braun like levels, as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are still struggling and half of its lineup is led by backups. And yet the Phillies are back at .500 for the first time in months, along with the Brewers.
If someone were to say in March that the Phillies and Brewers would both be 71-71 as of Sept. 12, they would be correctly labeled as big disappointments. They still are huge disappointments, as they would each be cruising to the playoffs at this rate if they played like this months ago. Yet weeks ago, if someone were to say that Philadelphia and Milwaukee would be .500 by now, it would have been shocking in more positive ways - and is now.
These are two teams that should have been playing for the pennant last October - and should have been playing this well in 2012 long ago. But at long last, the Phillies and Brewers are playing back to their potential, albeit in ways no one expected. Yet which team, if any, could actually make a shocking return to October after all these miserable months?
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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