The Philadelphia Phillies had faith months ago that they could be this year's St. Louis Cardinals. Phillies fans like myself can never forget how the 2011 Cardinals had a double-digit wild card deficit in late August, then stormed to make the playoffs - with Philadelphia as their first October victim.
Yet the Phillies threw in the towel and any playoff aspirations weeks ago at the trade deadline. However, now that it is late August, Philadelphia is technically right where St. Louis was last year - and is starting to win more again too.
While the 2011 Cardinals were 10 1/2 games down for the wild card last Aug. 24 after 130 games, the 2012 Phillies are 10 games back for the second wild card spot as of Aug. 28 after 128 games. It would take an historic winning streak and an historic collapse for Philadelphia to close that gap - yet perhaps the baseball gods owe us one after the way last year ended.
The Arizona Diamondbacks are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Phillies for fourth place in the second wild card standings, so they can be caught. The Pittsburgh Pirates are in third place and are a full seven games ahead of Philadelphia, yet they are clearly starting to slip back. If they tank in September and if the Phillies get red hot, there might be something to work with.
Right now, the Atlanta Braves and none other than the Cardinals hold the two wild card spots, with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Pirates a couple of games back. Given all the moves the Dodgers have made lately, it would be stunning and embarrassing if they collapsed. But if the Dodgers move up to take first place in the NL West, the San Francisco Giants would be in the wild card mix - yet losing Melky Cabrera hasn't seemed to hurt them so far.
Perhaps the Cardinals are due for an ironic fate and will fall apart themselves this time. Or maybe if the Braves start losing again, last year's disaster will get into their head and make them spiral once more. However, if Atlanta gets hot enough, the Washington Nationals may tumble into the wild card standings and keep tumbling without Stephen Strasburg.
There is room for a few wild card leaders to come crashing down - and if the Braves and Boston Red Sox could do it so spectacularly last season, anyone can this year. However, if the Phillies still want to take advantage and make a run, they actually need to win like last season's Cardinals and Tampa Bay Rays did. Unfortunately, nothing that Philadelphia has done suggests that it can pull this off.
At 61-67, the Phillies may need to go 29-5 or no worse than 27-7 to have a real shot. And while last year's Cardinals erased a huge deficit with weeks to go, they were never 61-67 when they got started. Unfortunately, this is where the hopes for an improbable Philadelphia comeback fall apart in theory.
But with the prospect of the first meaningless September in years on the horizon, Philadelphia has to do something to stay occupied. Given the Phillies' recent wins and the miracles of the recent past, it may be tempting to start looking at wild card standings again with a few more victories. However, it is going to take a lot more victories - and almost no losses for a while - to make this more than a fantasy.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident who has followed the Phillies since he was eight years old.
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