Back-to-back walk-off wins, a seven-game winning streak, and a .500 record; the Phillies are back in the playoff race.
Entering July, the Phillies were 37-51, five games behind the Marlins for sole possession of last place in the National League East, not to mention 15 games behind the first place Nationals. Even a stellar 26-18 record during July and August still left them eight games back in the Wild Card race. The Phillies seemed to be done.
Then they started September 9-2, suddenly pulling within three games of the Cardinals for the second Wild Card spot.
The excitement was building. The Phillies had a crucial series against the Houston Astros from September 13-16. If the L.A. Dodgers won two or three of a four-game set against the St. Louis Cardinals (they won three), and the Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates stayed where they were (which they did), then a four-game sweep of Houston would have brought the Phillies within one game of the second National League Wild Card spot.
Instead, Philly dropped three of four to a Houston team with the worst record in the league, dropping to four games under the Dodgers.
“A sweep gets us within one game,” said Sports Radio WIP broadcaster Angelo Cataldi. “All [the Phillies] had to do was win four games against the worst team in the league. The guys who stood out for the Astros are people no one’s ever heard of! [In game 2,] they got shut out by a minor leaguer!”
WIP’s Keith Jones concurred. “If you’re that bad that you lose to a terrible team like Houston, you don’t deserve to make the playoffs. Even if the Phillies do manage to ink a wild card spot, they’re not going anywhere. They’re not good enough to really be contenders.”
Much of the heat from fans has been towards Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. In the first game against Houston, the Phillies were leading 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning. Reliever Phillipe Aumont recorded two outs before walking one batter and then hitting another, meriting his removal from the game. Many people thought closer Jonathan Papelbon should be brought in for a four-out save, but Manuel brought in Jake Diekman to face pinch-hitter Jed Lowrie. Lowrie made him pay, hitting a go-ahead, and ultimately game-winning, two-run double.
Some of the criticism the Phillies are facing may be heat-of-the-moment reactions from fans. During their seven-game win streak in early September, the team received enormous praise from its loyal fan base. If the Phillies piece together a winning streak down the stretch that brings them on the heels of a playoff spot, the criticism will probably dissipate into praise and hope.
“We’re passionate fans,” said Cataldi. “We shower our teams with praise when they win, but we rip them to shreds when they don’t. If [an athlete] can’t handle that, you don’t belong here.”