The Philadelphia Phillies had any postseason hopes end realistically last weekend. Now that Phillies fans like myself can officially stop hoping, there's only one real goal left to reach before the year finally ends. It is a goal that we have taken for granted for almost a decade, yet getting a winning record in 2012 is the very least that Philadelphia can salvage.
The margin for error is slim now, thanks to last week's ill-timed slump that took the Phillies out of the wild card running. But it didn't get any slimmer on Sept. 29, as Philadelphia held on to beat the Miami Marlins by 9-5 and get back to .500.
With a 2-4 record against the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals this past week, along with an opening defeat to the Marlins this weekend, the Phillies had gone from playoff long shots to being back below .500. Even if a wild card spot wasn't in the cards, it had looked like Philadelphia would hold on to avoid its first losing season since 2002, at least until these last several days.
Now that the Phillies are 79-79, they need to go 3-1 to preserve that winning season streak. It could be an iffy prospect, since they have to visit the Nationals in the final series of the year. By then, Washington may have already clinched the NL East, which might make it rest everyone and give Philadelphia an advantage. But since the Nationals are fighting for home field advantage throughout the playoffs with the Cincinnati Reds, they could go all out to win anyway.
That would put the Phillies in a bad spot, especially if they lose their final game to the Marlins and would then have to sweep the Nationals. But Philadelphia had nothing to play for in the final three games of last season, yet still went on the road and swept a Braves team that had everything to play for. Of course, last year's Phillies had already won 99 games by then, while the Braves were in free fall out of a wild card spot.
This season's Philadelphia team has nothing to play for in a far uglier context - except for the small honor of winning 82 games. Even that tiny victory has gotten much harder to accomplish all of a sudden, as the Phillies will need to be virtually perfect in these last four games. But if they were any better at playing like that, they would have won much more than 79 games by now.
The Phillies only need to ask the Pittsburgh Pirates about how much a winning season means - especially since the Pirates will now have gone 20 straight years without one after all. There has to be something positive that Philadelphia can take into 2013 - and finishing 82-80 or 83-79 is the best option still available.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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