At first glance, this edition of Inside the Standings isn't so very different from two weeks ago. The Phillies were five games back of first place in the NL East on April 27; today they are only half a game further out. There have been a few changes since then -- most notably they've fallen to four games under .500, and are all alone in the cellar -- but the song remains the same.
This is not an overwhelming lead, not when there are 130 shows remaining.
Yet it's difficult to ignore the vibe, which has become increasingly negative. Of course, the manner in which the Phils were swept by the Mets has a lot to do with it. That was ugly, but those three losses are all it took to ratchet up the distress. Speech that began as murmurs and hushed warnings that maybe this isn't our season is slipping into talk of the sky falling. I think Beerleaguer summed up this change in public opinion the best.
Succint. Demonstrative. Valid?
If there's any silver lining at all right now, it's the upcoming slate gives the Phillies a chance to crawl back into contention. Beginning tonight, they face four consecutive opponents who are below .500 as well, each with a ways to go before getting their heads above water as well. If the Fightins can't get a rally going over the next week and a half of baseball, they might have big problems on their hands, as they are on a collission course with every first place team in the National League.
vs. Padres (11-21)
You would think welcoming a fellow last place team and owners of the worst record in the National League to CBP might be just what the doctor ordered, but the Phillies only managed a split in four dates with the Padres a few weeks back. Starting pitchers Cory Luebke and Anthony Bass stifled the Fightins in the latter half of the set, and along with Edinson Volquez, they're actually forming a half decent staff out there.
The Phils avoid Luebke and Bass this time around, but not Volquez, who they missed when they were out west. With Worley, Halladay, and Hamels going, maybe it won't matter. Even the Major League's worst bullpen should be able to handle the NL's second least productive offense.
vs. Astros (14-17)
They follow with a pair of those wonky two-game series against a pair of down-on-their luck clubs from the Central division. Houston went on a little tear recently, winning five straight, including a sweep over the Mets (ahem). They're back to their usual routine however, losing three of their last four games.
The rotation has been the Astros' undoing, ranking 13th in the NL in starting pitcher ERA. They can do a surprising amount of damage on the scoreboard though. They're a scrappy bunch that's led in many categories by 22-year-old Jose Altuve. The second baseman is batting .333 (1st) with 19 runs (2nd), 12 extra-base hits (1st), 5 steals (2nd), and an .869 OPS (1st).
@ Cubs (13-18)
Like the Padres, there's nothing particularly uplifting about seeing the Cubs again, whom the Phillies also split with. Offensively, Chicago is only marginally better than San Diego, and it should be back to Worley-Halladay for the two gamer. They're actually playing pretty good ball over the last three weeks or so. The Cubs are 10-7 since jumping out to a disastrous 3-11 start.
vs. Red Sox (12-19)
Boston, surprisingly, has one of the worst records in baseball, and are losers in nine of their last 11. With names like Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, and David Ortiz, their lineup is still one of the most feared, ranking second in the American League in runs scored. Obviously they are getting little help from their pitching staff.
The Sawx have the second-worst ERA in baseball, a whopping 5.29, and their starters have an outrageous 6.01 -- to put that number in perspective, it's far worse than the Phillies' relievers at 5.59. The lowest ERA on the staff belongs to Jon Lester at 4.29. Josh Beckett has a 5.97. Clay Buchholz has a 9.09. Those numbers should eventually settle down some, but they have a lot of work to do before they get to anything close to resembling normal.
On Deck: vs. Washington (19-12), @ St. Louis (20-11), @ NY Mets (18-13), vs. Miami (16-15), vs. LA Dodgers (20-11)