While You Were Watching Football, the Phillies Were Continuing their Sneaky Hot Streak

While You Were Watching Football, the Phillies Were Continuing their Sneaky Hot Streak

All summer long people wrote the Phillies 2012 campaign off for dead -- ourselves included -- but as casual fans would continue to ask me on a regular basis, "Do the Phillies have a legit shot at making the playoffs?" The answer has remarkably switched from, "No way." to "It'd take something crazy, but it's feasible."

A sweep of the lowly Rockies, including two wins on Sunday as most of us watched football instead of the local nine, was the latest in their solid play that's brought Charlie Manuel's club just 6 games out of one of the two wild card spots in the National League.

As Kulp wrote about earlier in the season in his standings watch, he was pretty much hoping they could reach the .500 mark on the season. That's remarkably achievable now. They're just two games under thanks to having won 15 of their last 21.

Perhaps the biggest boon to any playoff pipe dreams? Their upcoming schedule is quite favorable.

How about a four game set with the pathetic Houston Astros next weekend after three with the Fish at CBP starting this evening? Then a set with the Mets.

A few weeks ago the Phillies were near the very bottom of the list. Today, only the Dodgers and Pirates are significantly ahead of Philadelphia, with Arizona having fallen a half game back and the Brewers all even at 6 back.

Sure, it's going to take a lot of balls bouncing their way. But as Jonathan Papelbon said after closing out two games yesterday, they've been getting those bounces lately.

From Sully:

“We’re getting some breaks,” Papelbon said. “The errors tonight helped
us extend our lead. I don’t think we got a single break the first 80 or
90 games of the season. Now we’re getting some and taking advantage.”

I think it's safe to classify the Rockies awful defense as many breaks.

We joked earlier in the season when their playoff odds at CoolStandings.com was less than a tenth of a percent. Today, it's just 0.7 percent. But! They've got some cupcakes on the schedule.

Just need plenty of those bounces.

*

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Doug Pederson: Jordan Hicks had hand 'procedure,' shouldn't miss any time

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Doug Pederson: Jordan Hicks had hand 'procedure,' shouldn't miss any time

A few days from the first full-team practice of training camp, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson revealed starting middle linebacker Jordan Hicks needed a "minor procedure" to fix his injured hand.

Although Pederson downplayed its significance.

“He injured his hand and he needed a minor procedure to fix that," Pederson said to the team website. "He shouldn’t miss any time. We’re going to keep on top of it and take it day by day with him. We may limit him a little bit, but he should be out there every day.”

In late June, CSNPhilly's Reuben Frank confirmed a PhillyVoice.com report about the injury. Hicks injured his hand getting out of a pool while on his honeymoon in Greece.

Hicks is obviously a very important piece of the Eagles' defense. He's the team's best linebacker and one of its biggest playmakers on that side of the ball. The more troubling thing is there isn't a ton of depth at LB. After the starters (Hicks, Nigel Bradham and Mychal Kendricks), the unit is extremely inexperienced.

In addition to Hicks, Pederson also gave the Eagles' website several other updates on players.

• Ryan Mathews, while still on the roster, has been excused from the team to rehab elsewhere. That hasn't changed since the end of the spring workouts.

• Jordan Matthews might be limited during training camp after dealing with a knee injury in the spring. Matthews did travel with his fellow receivers to work out in North Dakota with Carson Wentz earlier this month.

• Jason Peters will be managed during training camp to keep him fresh. That's not a surprise considering the starting left tackle is 35 and managing his reps last year allowed him to stay healthy.

Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

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Close to full health, Phillies no longer look like the worst team in baseball

BOX SCORE

Though they still have the worst record in the majors by 3½ games, the 34-62 Phillies aren't playing like the worst team in baseball right now.

Not from an offensive standpoint, not from a starting pitching standpoint, not from a bullpen standpoint.

The Phils' offense stayed hot Sunday afternoon in a 6-3 win over the Brewers, their fourth win in five games and sixth in the last 10 (see Instant Replay).

Nick Williams homered again, Howie Kendrick had a very Howie Kendrick-like at-bat with the bases loaded, Jerad Eickhoff spun a quality start and the trio of Pat Neshek, Joaquin Benoit and Luis Garcia sealed the win.

The Phillies have scored at least five runs in seven straight games, which is something none of their recent division-winning teams did in a single season. It's their longest such streak since May 31-June 7, 2005.

Their starting pitchers have allowed three runs or less in six of the last eight games.

And the Phils' bullpen has the lowest ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

A lot of things are clicking right now for a team that probably can't play worse than it did in the first half. The Phils' record remains hideous, but there are actually four teams with worse run differentials: the Reds, Blue Jays, Giants and Padres.

"My first year here as a coach was '09, and in no way am I comparing ourselves to that team, but it was reminiscent the way we've been swinging the bats of us coming back and coming from behind and catching up and beating other teams," Pete Mackanin said. "It reminds me to a certain degree."

For much of the season, Mackanin has walked into the Phillies' media room after a loss and said that his hitters aren't living up to their standard. For much of the season, the Phillies have made quick outs and life easy for the opposing pitcher. 

But with Kendrick and Cesar Hernandez back from the DL, with Odubel Herrera hitting .331 since June 1, with Maikel Franco walking as much as he's struck out the last 35 games, and with Williams' power and energy rubbing off on the rest of the team, many different Phillies are playing like they have something to prove.

"Everybody is playing for a job next year," Mackanin said. "Everybody is playing to be part of our future and I think the guys are competing among themselves. It's good to see. Everybody's more aggressive. They're into the games."

The energy added by Williams' arrival on June 30 has been impossible to ignore, though it's kind of a chicken-or-egg thing. Is there added energy because he and so many other guys started hitting, or are they hitting because there's a more positive vibe in the clubhouse and dugout?

"I like to do whatever I can to start the momentum or get guys going," Williams said. "If I do something exciting, they're like, 'Oh, he's playing hard.' But everyone's been hitting and everyone's been just playing the game right and just doing all the little things and that's how we've been able to come out with some victories.

"In close spots with the hitting, we've been able to knock a lot of guys in. It's just that hitting's contagious. I always say when one guy does it, why can't the next? That's how I think of it."

The biggest spot in Sunday's game came with the bases loaded and no outs in the fifth inning. With the game tied, the Brewers switched pitchers and Kendrick quickly found himself down 0-2 before singling up the middle to score two runs.

Kendrick has missed 60 games this season and it's been frustrating for him because he's been so locked-in when he's played. After picking up two more hits Sunday, he's up to .353 with an .873 OPS. His numbers are rarely sexy because he averages about 10 home runs per season, but a versatile, perennial .290 hitter has value. It's why the Phillies' offseason acquisition of Kendrick made sense and it's why he figures to have some trade value even though Sunday was just his 36th game of the year.

"Not only is he a good hitter but he plays solid defense out there," Mackanin said. "He doesn't have the greatest range but it's not bad. He's average to maybe a tick above average. 

"I'm sure there's a lot of interest in a lot of our guys, (Pat) Neshek, [Kendrick], even (Joaquin) Benoit, (Daniel) Nava. We'll wait and see."

The non-waiver trade deadline is just eight days away and general manager Matt Klentak expects there to be some movement. The Phils' two best trade chips are Kendrick and Neshek and both had productive weekends. Neshek pitched a scoreless seventh inning to lower his ERA to 1.12. He's allowed runs in just two of 43 appearances.

And Kendrick has picked up right where he left off, going 4 for 10 since returning Friday from a hamstring strain.

"If I were scouting for another organization I'd recommend him," Mackanin said of Kendrick. "I'd put an acquire (label) on him."

We'll soon see what that acquire label nets the Phillies. The return won't be huge, but trading Kendrick will allow the Phils to add another young player with upside and open a spot back up for Aaron Altherr, who could return from the DL as early as Wednesday.