Phillies in Atlanta… It’s Do Or Die Time

Ryan Howard got mad the last time the Phils played the Braves. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

This weekend the Phillies travel to Atlanta for a three games series against the Braves (54-44), the team currently holding the second wild card spot in the National League. The Phillies, at 45-54, are 9 1/2 games behind Atlanta, with a bullet.

It’s do or die time in Hot-lanta, y’all! (Note the colloquial southern vernacular.)

The Phils’ current four-game winning streak, with all four wins coming in their final at bats, three of them walk-offs, has awakened the club from their season-long zombie-like trance of suckitude. All of a sudden, the fight and late game heroics we have been used to seeing since 2007 showed up at Citizens Bank Park this weekend, leading some to believe there is still a chance the Phils can make the playoffs for a sixth straight season.

And honestly, they do still have a heartbeat. Although I’d call it more of a murmur than a heartbeat. The Phils are still seeing a cardiologist. His name is Dr. Frankel. He’s a very nice man.

However, everything will come to a head this weekend in Atlanta for a three-game match-up of vital importance to the Phillies. A sweep of the Braves gets the Phils to within 6 1/2 games of Atlanta, while winning just two out of three only allows the Phils to pick up one game. Losing two out of three puts the Phils 10 1/2 back. And a three-game sweep, well, you get the idea.

Here’s the realistic math, folks. The Phillies need to sweep this weekend’s series to have any realistic shot at the playoffs and prevent a sell-off of well known veterans like Victorino, Pence, Lee, Pierre, Blanton, and the rest (well, maybe not Blanton). Anything less means the sell-off will probably commence in earnest on Monday.

May 2, 2012; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Braves third baseman Chipper Jones (10) hits a two run walk off home run to beat the Philadelphia Phillies during the eleventh inning at Turner Field. The Braves defeated the Phillies 15-13 in eleven innings. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-US PRESSWIRE

It’s odd that the calendar has almost hit August and the Phils have only played the Braves six times, going 2-4. In May the Phils took two out of three in Atlanta, but the one loss was perhaps the Phils’ toughest loss of the season, as well as perhaps the game of the year so far in Major League Baseball. Roy Halladay blew a 6-0 lead and gave up eight runs, only to see the Phils come back and take the lead thanks to Carlos Ruiz’ seven RBIs, only to see the Braves batter the Phils’ bullpen and send the game into extra innings, only to see Chipper Jones hit a game-winning, walk-off home run in the 11th inning, sending the Phils to a 15-13 loss. It was incredible, depressing, and amazing all at the same time.

The Phillies then hosted Atlanta for three games just after the Fourth of July, getting swept in convincing fashion. That leaves 12 more games against Atlanta this season, and the Phils have to make each one count.

Of course, the boys have been in this position before. In 2007, the Phils entered a September series against the Mets 6 1/2 games back with just 16 games to play. They swept the Mets, moved to within 3 1/2 games of New York, and put themselves on a late-season run that ended with their first NL East title since 1993.

Without that sweep, the Phillies simply would not have won the division.

In 2008, the Phils entered a four-game September series against the Brewers four games back of the wild card. You know what happened next. The Phillies swept all four games, propelling them to another division title, again over the Mets.

Without that sweep, it’s doubtful the Phils would have made the playoffs yet again.

Granted, it’s only late July, so the Phillies have more time then in ’07 or ’08. But the Phils also have six other teams to leap over in order to get that second wild card spot. Atlanta, L.A., St. Louis, Arizona, New York and Miami are all in front of the Phillies.

That’s a monumentally huge hill to climb.

And remember, the only thing a sweep of Atlanta does is keep them in the conversation. The Braves would still hold a commanding 6 1/2 game lead on the Phillies, and it’s pretty likely those other six teams won’t all suffer three-game sweeps as well.

But a sweep would give the Phils a seven-game winning streak. It would strike fear into the rest of the National League. And it would allow the front office to believe the team has the kind of run left in them that allows everyone to think a miracle is possible.

Simply winning a series won’t be enough. They’ve waited too long to make a move. From here on out, the Phils need to take full advantage of every single series in which they play a team directly in front of them in the wild card standings.

On Friday night, the Phils will turn to their $144 million man Cole Hamels (11-4, 3.23). He’ll go against former Brewer stud Ben Sheets (2-0, 0.00), who is back from the dead and pitching well. Saturday night features Joe Blanton (8-8, 4.70) vs. Mike Minor (5-7, 5.49), and Sunday will showcase Roy Halladay (4-5, 4.32) vs. Tim Hudson (9-4, 3.71).

So the Phillies’ mission this weekend… win all three games. It’s the only legitimate way to keep them in the playoff conversation.

Anything less and “Ruben Amaro’s Amazing Player Bazaar” will begin in earnest.

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