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September 03, 2019

Paul Hagen: The Phillies can still make a postseason run — but will they?

The team is due for a hot streak, but there are still major concerns surrounding Gabe Kapler's team heading down the stretch...

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Bryce-Harper_090319_usat David Kohl/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper talks with outfielder Jay Bruce.

Going into the bottom of the sixth at Veterans Stadium the Phillies were losing to San Diego, 1-0. And on this night – July 30, 1991 – that sounded about right.

They started the night with a seven-game losing streak during which they’d scored more than two runs exactly once. They had the second-worst record in the National League. Manager Nick Leyva had been fired in April. General manager Lee Thomas was putting the finishing touches on a white flag deadline deal that would send reliever Roger McDowell to the Dodgers for Mike Hartley and Braulio Castillo. There was speculation about possibly getting the first overall draft pick the next year.

Then, with two outs and nobody on, Randy Ready got a hit. Wes Chamberlain doubled to tie the score. In the bottom of the seventh, John Kruk doubled to drive Jim Lindeman home. Jose DeJesus got the win in relief.

And that set the stage for two of the most inexplicable weeks ever. With absolutely no warning, for no apparent reason, this left-for-dead bunch reeled off 13 straight wins. Since manager Harry Wright’s Philadelphia Quakers won 16 in a row in 1887, no team in franchise history has had a longer streak.

So when Gabe Kapler says, as he has so many times lately, that this year’s edition still has a run left or still has its best baseball of the season ahead of it or something along those lines, there’s only one possible response.

Of course, it can happen.

But will it happen for this team, this year? Ah, that’s the real question, isn’t it?

Coming out of the Labor Day games, traditionally considered the start of the stretch drive, the Phillies trail the Cubs by 2.5 games in the race for the second wild card spot, part of a tightly-bunched group that also includes the Brewers, Diamondbacks and Mets.

After thumping the Reds, 7-1, Monday at Great American Ball Park, they have 26 games left to play. So there’s plenty of time left to make up the deficit. That’s a good start.

The problem is that, by definition, getting hot requires playing consistently good baseball for an extended period. And the 2019 Phillies have been anything but consistent. Hard to believe, Harry, but their longest winning streak this year is four games.

To put that in perspective, according to sports.stackexchange.com, there are just three teams in MLB history who have won a National League pennant without winning more than 5 games in a row. Interestingly, all occurred in the last decade: Giants (2010), Cardinals (2011) and Dodgers (2018).

Or this: Even the Marlins, who have the worst record in the National League, managed to string together six consecutive victories earlier this year.

Or this: The Mets were a team is disarray. Through July 24 they were 46-55. Manager Mickey Callaway was rumored to be close to being fired. . .and then New York won 21 of their next 26 to get back in the race.

As Charlie Manuel likes to say, baseball is a funny game...  

The biggest reason to suspect that the Phillies might be able to put something together is simply that this is a talented roster that hasn’t yet had the kind of spurt than most teams have at some point of the schedule. Especially offensively.

The most compelling argument against that happening is the reality that the foundation for that sort of sustained success is usually pitching. From the rotation that opened the season, only Aaron Nola has avoided being sent to the minors, being demoted to the bullpen or going on the injured list. And the lengthy list of relievers who’ve been hurt has been well-chronicled.

To be fair, Bryce Harper (11 homers, 25 RBI, 1.025 OPS in August) and J.T. Realmuto (6/19/.949) have been on fire. Rhys Hoskins continued to show signs he could be ready to break out of his prolonged slump with two homers Monday. But it’s still incredibly hard to outslug opponents regularly.

Then there’s the schedule. After finishing in Cincinnati on Thursday, the Phillies are scheduled to play 19 straight against contending teams – 13 of them on the road – before closing out the season at home against the Marlins. Based on records, that’s the most difficult gauntlet of any of the teams still in the scrum.

That sounds daunting. Except that, despite being 7-9 against the Marlins this season the Phillies swept the Cubs at home in the middle of August and then shut down the Red Sox in a two-game series at Fenway Park the following week.

Bottom line: My guess is that the Phillies don’t end up winning a wild card spot this season.

Sure, Zach Eflin was terrific against the Mets and Vince Velasquez has quietly improved recently, the bullpen has just been too up-and-down to portend that sort of furious rally to the finish line. And even if they do get on a roll, one of the other teams in the chase could do the same. Plus the Cubs would also have to come back to the pack, at last a little.

Here’s one more thing, though. Even winning 13 straight didn’t change much for that ’91 team. They finished with a losing record with players like Darren Daulton, Lenny Dykstra, Terry Mulholland, Dave Hollins, Mickey Morandini, Mitch Williams, Tommy Greene, Kruk and Chamberlain.

Players who, just two years later, played integral roles in getting the Phillies to the World Series.


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