Inside the Wild Card Standings: Are the Phillies Making a Push Yet?

Inside the Wild Card Standings: Are the Phillies Making a Push Yet?

When we last checked in with the standings after the All-Star break, we called for a moratorium on all post-season talk. That hasn't stopped other outlets from discussing it, but we've done our part by avoiding it here... until now. We're placing our moratorium on hiatus.

Nobody can deny the Phillies are suddenly playing an exciting brand of baseball unlike at any other point this season, and with the trade deadline less than a week away, there really is no ignoring the question anymore. With an 8-4 record since the break, which includes a pair of four-game winning streaks and multiple come-from-behind victories, is this club in the midst of a last-ditch playoff push?

While progress in the standings is slow going -- non-existent in the NL East, really -- there is progress for the Wild Cards nonetheless. They've only moved up by 0.5 games, but with their sweep of Milwaukee, are poised to leave at least one team in the rearview mirror. The Marlins, already selling, appear likely to falter next. If the Phillies continue to put up this fight, passing both is only a matter of time.

Meanwhile, standing off in the distance two weeks ago, the Mets are suddenly reeling. In this short stretch, they've gone from 0.5 back of a playoff spot to 7.0. There's still plenty of games left for them turn it around, and New York has been on the seesaw all year, but it's saying something that the Phillies are not much further out at this stage.

We all knew the Phils would need some of the teams ahead of them to fall down around them, but they have a golden opportunity to take care of their business over the weekend and ahead. The Fightins head down to Atlanta for a series with the Braves, then after a trip to Washington to face the NL East-leading Nationals, consecutive home dates with their direct competition for the WC -- Arizona, Atlanta again, and St. Louis.

In fact, every series from now until September 7 is with an opponent that is currently either ahead of the Phillies or tied in the Wild Card standings, or leading their division. That's a brutal road.

Making the playoffs is still a long shot, but the Phils certainly control their own destiny. Whether Ruben Amaro believes the club can do it may be entirely dependent on how they fare in this upcoming series against the Braves, which means he'll probably hold off on any landscaping trades for at least another couple of days. If they take even two of three in Atlanta over the weekend, which would keep them on the absurd .667 pace thought to be necessary to reach the postseason, should the front office keep the band together and try to make a run?

What a call. It would be a lot easier to put the moratorium's hiatus on permanent leave, but it's fun that the Phillies could even make someone believe they might have this in them.

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

Vince Velasquez feels the heat in Phillies' Sunday loss to Pirates

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH --- Vince Velasquez wasn’t able to stand the heat Sunday afternoon.

The game-time temperature was 89 degrees with humidity to match at PNC Park. The Phillies' right-hander admitted he didn’t handle the weather well.

"You're going to go through various conditions, and it's something that you've got to really take into consideration -- to really lock in, stay hydrated because it can mentally drain you,” Velasquez said. “It kind of took a toll on me but I have to make the best of what I've got.”

Velasquez wound up pitching six innings in the blistering heat but did not factor in the decision as the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Phillies 5-4 on pinch-hitter Adam Frazier’s leadoff home run in the seventh inning, his first in the major leagues, off fellow rookie Edubray Ramos (see Instant Replay).

Velasquez had his worst of his five starts since coming off the disabled list June 26, allowing four runs and seven hits while walking four and striking out five. He threw 107 pitches, 64 for strikes.

In his first four outings after begin activated, he was 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA to raise his record to 8-2.

“Just looking at his body language, he showed that he was struggling to find the strike zone,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “He didn't have his best location. He did a good job; he just made a couple bad pitches when they scored the two runs. Obviously, he wasn't at his best, but he kept us in the game.”

While that kind of outing can breed confidence in a 24-year-old pitcher, Velasquez took no consolation in it. He was bothered about not being able to hold a 4-2 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, giving up a tying two-run home run to Matt Joyce.

“I knew it was my last inning when I went out there and I have to be able to close it out there,” Velasquez said. “I’m disappointed in that. I need to be better in that situation.”

Joyce’s blast came on pitch after Starling Marte doubled on an 0-2 pitch. That, too, annoyed Velasquez.

“That's just a matter of finishing at-bats,” Velasquez said. “You've got to lock in on 0-2 counts when you're ahead. You've got to finish the at-bat. Knowing that that was my last inning, that's where you have to bear down and give it all you've got.”

Ramos then gave up the game-winning homer to Frazier an inning later, the first long ball given up by the 23-year-old right-hander in 14 career outings. The Phillies wound up losing two of three games in the series and are 3-7 since the All-Star break to drop to 10 games under .500 at 45-55 through 100 games.

“It’s a game we should have won but I put us in position to lose it,” Velasquez said.

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

Dallas Cowboys bus involved in fatal crash in Arizona

KINGMAN, Ariz. -- Four people were killed Sunday when bus carrying Dallas Cowboys staffers but no players collided with a van on a northwestern Arizona highway.

The fatalities were passengers in the van, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Quentin Mehr said. But the bus occupants emerged uninjured.

"All on the bus came through OK with some bumps and bruises," Cowboys spokesman Rich Dalrymple (DAHL'-rimp-ul) said in an email.

Dalrymple said the bus was only carrying members of the franchise's staff but would not say how many. There were no players on board.

The two vehicles collided in the afternoon on U.S. 93, about 30 miles north of the city of Kingman, according to DPS.

The crash shut down at least one lane of the highway that serves as the main route between Phoenix and Las Vegas.

The bus was on its way to a Dallas Cowboys fan event in Las Vegas. Charles Cooper, manager of GameWorks entertainment center in Vegas, said the session with 50 to 75 fans was scheduled for 3 p.m. PDT. People were already waiting when the president of a Las Vegas Cowboys fan club called to relay news of the accident. The event was subsequently canceled. Cooper says the team mascot was supposed to appear.

After the Las Vegas stop, the bus was scheduled to go on to Oxnard, California for the team's training camp. Members of the organization typically take a bus two weeks before the camp starts and make stops along the way.

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Report: Phillies preparing for possible Jeremy Hellickson trade to Marlins

Jeremy Hellickson may be staying in the NL East past the trade deadline. 

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that the Phillies are scouting the Marlins' minor league teams in advance of a possible Hellickson deal. 

This comes on the heels of a report from a radio host in Miami that Marlins starter Wei-Yin Chen may need Tommy John surgery. Chen left with an elbow sprain during Wednesday's loss to the Phillies and was placed on the disabled list. Ironically, Chen was starting against Hellickson, who will face Jarred Cosart in place of Chen on Monday.

Hellickson's value rebounded significantly this season after struggling in Arizona and Tampa Bay the last few seasons. After dealing with a shoulder injury, Hellickson pitched to ERAs above 4.50 in each season from 2013-15, leading to the Diamondbacks trading him to the Phillies for limited value. 

However, in 20 starts, Hellickson, who will be a free agent after the year, has anchored the Phillies' rotation, bringing a 3.84 ERA over 119 ⅔ innings into Monday's scheduled start. He also has a nearly career-best strikeout rate and has regained his signature command that made him a strong performer with the Rays.

The Phillies are aided this trade deadline by a lack of starting pitching options available on the market. With many teams in contention looking for an additional starter, Hellickson is an attractive piece who could help a team in a pennant race.