For however long it takes you to read this, I’m going to be a hypocrite.
There has not been a more negative, down-in-the-mouth, sarcastic pessimist about the 2012 Philadelphia Phillies than me. I admit it.
The season has been ripe for opportunity, and I tend to be a low-hanging fruit kind of guy. If the Phillies are going to run Juan Pierre, Ty Wigginton, and that mess of a bullpen out there every night, they’re going to make things very easy for me.
Yet despite all that’s gone on, despite Roy Halladay’s two-month in-season vacation, despite Shane Victorino’s descent into irrelevance, despite Jimmy Rollins’ invisible first two and a half months, despite maddening bullpen usage by Charlie Manuel, despite Cole Hamels still being unsigned, despite terse post game comments by the manager and center fielder, and despite Hunter Pence’s defense, the Phillies are still not out of it.
That’s right, the Phillies are more than alive. They’re in the thick of it.
Tonight, Chase Utley returns. The heartbeat, the motor, and the pulse of the Phillies will play his first game since Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cardinals last year, hitting third as is his custom.
All told, Utley missed the first 76 games this year, and the Phillies went 36-40 in those games. They trail the first place Washington Nationals by 8 games in the standings.
And honestly, no one knows what Chase is going to provide. No one knows if he can still be a Major League #3 hitter. Those days may be long gone. His range at second base may be severely diminished too. We simply don’t know.
What we know is this. Even at 36-40, the season is not over.
Talk of selling is premature.
Thanks to the second wild card, the Phillies are just 4 1/2 games removed from a berth in the post season. The teams currently ahead of them? Atlanta and St. Louis are tied for the last spot, with Pittsburgh one game back, and the Mets and Arizona also in front of the Phils.
Folks, the Phils have climbed bigger mountains than that before.
Of course, they were younger in 2007 and 2008. They were healthier when they made their patented September runs of insanity. Their bullpen was better. Their stars weren’t as creaky. And their defense was light years better than it is now.
What the Phillies have going for them are two stud pitchers, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, another stud pitcher in Roy Halladay who will likely return in late July, another solid starter in Vance Worley, a good closer, the best catcher in baseball, a suddenly productive Polanco and Rollins, and two role players in Victorino and Pence that, if given enough support, should perform better with less pressure on them.
There is a lot of work to do. I figure 92 wins is probably a safe enough number to guarantee the second wild card. At 36-40, the Phils would have to go 56-29 in order to get there. That’s .659 ball. That’s a high hurdle, for sure.
But maybe it doesn’t take 92 wins. Maybe it takes 90. Or 87. Who knows?
The point is, at just 4 1/2 games out in late June, and reinforcements on the way, it’s too late to shovel dirt on 2012.
Let’s at least wait until July 31 to do that.