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.

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

NHL Playoffs: Penguins beat Senators in 2OT of Game 7 to reach Stanley Cup Final

BOX SCORE

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Chris Kunitz beat Craig Anderson 5:09 into the second overtime to give the defending champions a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final Thursday night.

Kunitz scored twice, his first two of the playoffs. Justin Schultz added the other in his return from an upper-body injury, and Matt Murray stopped 28 shots on his 23rd birthday.

The Penguins are trying to become the first team since the Detroit Red Wings in 1998 to win back-to-back titles. They will host Western Conference champion Nashville in Game 1 on Monday night.

Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel scored for Ottawa. The Senators rallied twice to tie it, with Dzingel making it 2-2 with 5:19 left in regulation.

Craig Anderson made 39 saves, but couldn't get a handle on Kunitz's shot from just outside the left circle. The Senators are 0-6 in Game 7s in franchise history.

The Senators forced a return trip to Pittsburgh -- where they lost 7-0 loss in Game 5 on Sunday -- by leaning heavily on Anderson in a 2-1 Game 6 victory, putting both teams at odds with history.

Ottawa came in 0-for-25 years in winner-take-all games, while the Penguins were 0-7 in Game 7s at home in series in which they also dropped Game 6.

Ottawa coach Guy Boucher told his resilient team to not get caught up in the big picture but instead focus on the small ones, a recipe that carried the Senators throughout a bumpy transition under their first-year head coach to the brink of the franchise's second Cup appearance.

The Penguins, trying to become the first defending champion to return to the finals since Detroit in 2009, came in confident they would advance if they could replicate their dominant Game 6, when they were undone only by Anderson's brilliance.

Pittsburgh has been nearly unflappable in the face of adversity under Mike Sullivan, going 12-2 in playoff games following a loss over the last two springs. He encouraged his team to "just play," code for fighting through Ottawa's neutral zone-clogging style and the bumping, grabbing and pulling that comes along with it.

A chance to play for their sport's ultimate prize on the line, the sheets of open ice the Penguins found so easily in Games 4-6 closed up. For most of the first 30 minutes, loose pucks hopped over sticks to spoil some scoring opportunities while Anderson and Murray gobbled up the rest.

Kunitz, relegated to the fourth line since returning from injury in the second round, picked up his first postseason goal in a calendar year when he completed a two-on-one with Conor Sheary -- a healthy scratch in Games 5 and 6 -- by slipping the puck by Anderson 9:55 into the second period.

The momentum lasted all of 20 seconds. Ottawa responded immediately with Stone -- who stretched his left skate to stay onside -- fired a wrist shot that handcuffed Murray.

Pittsburgh kept coming. Schultz, returning after missing four games with an upper-body injury, zipped a shot from the point through Kunitz's screen and into the net with 8:16 left in the third.

Once again, the Penguins could not hold the lead. Dzingel set up at the right post and banged home a rebound off Erik Karlsson's shot that hit the left post and caromed off Murray's back right to Dzingel's stick.

Notes
The home team is 21-20 in overtime Game 7s in NHL playoff history. ... Pittsburgh F Patric Hornqvist skated during warmups, but was held out of the lineup for a sixth straight game with an upper-body injury. ... Karlsson had 16 assists in the playoffs to set a team record. ... The Penguins are 10-7 in Game 7s. ... It was the fifth one-goal game of the series.

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick hit by pitch twice, removed from rehab start at Triple A

Howie Kendrick experienced a painful rehab start on Thursday night.

Rehabbing with Triple A Lehigh Valley, Kendrick was hit by a pitch twice before being removed after the sixth inning of the IronPigs' 8-4 loss to Indianapolis at Coca-Cola Park.

Both times Kendrick was plunked in the upper left arm, according to Tom Housenick of the Morning Call.

There was no update on if Kendrick was injured or taken out for precautionary reasons. Thursday marked Kendrick's second rehab start as he recovers from an oblique strain that has sidelined him since April 15.

The Phillies' leftfielder started at third base Thursday. At the beginning of his rehab assignment, Kendrick was expected to play four games and see time at third and first base, as well as in left field.

Kendrick made a throwing error at third on Thursday and finished 0 for 1 with a run scored. In his two games, he's 0 for 3 with two strikeouts.

Kendrick hit .333 with four doubles, a triple and five RBIs in 10 games with the Phillies prior to landing on the DL.

When he returns, he could see time at third base instead of left field if Maikel Franco continues to struggle (see story).