Following a loss in the 10th game of the 2001 NFL season that dropped his Indianapolis Colts squad to a 4-6 record, head coach Jim Mora went off on one of the most memorable post-game press conference tirades in sports history. In the midst of his lambasting his team’s turnover-prone performance against the San Francisco 49ers, a reporter unwisely brought up the topic of what effect this might have on the Colts playoff chances. “Playoffs?” Mora asked incredulously, “Don’t talk about…playoffs? You kiddin’ me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”
Coach Mora’s immortal rant was ringing in my ears the last couple of days when, to me just as incredulously, I noticed a number of Phillies fans on Twitter announcing that the team was just 9 1/2 games out of the Wildcard, and might still have a chance at the playoffs. Playoffs? You kiddin’ me? Playoffs?
I personally stopped checking the MLB standings, at least as far as the hometown Philadelphia Phillies are concerned, more than a month ago. Following a 5-game winning streak that included a 4-game sweep of NL Central-leading Milwaukee and that had spilled over into the first game of a series against Washington, the Fightins had gotten back to within 9 games of the .500 mark, sitting 8 games out of first place. It was the closest they had been in two weeks, and the optimist in me still held out a sliver of hope as we approached the All-Star break.
The team then proceeded to lose 7 of the next 8 games to fall 15 under .500, 13 games back, and I was done. There would be no miracle in 2014. These Phillies were what they were, a losing team, and it had been coming. The team fell from their lofty 2011 franchise record-setting perch to a .500 finish in 2012, then to their first losing season in a decade, a 2013 that saw them finish 13 games below the .500 mark. There would be no getting back up.
“Playoffs?” Mora asked incredulously, “Don’t talk about…playoffs? You kiddin’ me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game.”
That 1-7 stretch began a 13-20 mark of futility over more than a month of play leading into mid-August and a homestand that began last Monday night. So what has happened suddenly to make some segment of the fan base believe that the post-season, the “playoffs”, is even a remote possibility?
First of all, it began with a basic: the team started to win a bit. With last night’s victory over Washington, the Phils have clinched winning their 3rd straight series. They took 2 of 3 vs. the Mariners and Cardinals each last week, and now have won the first two in the series with the Nationals. It’s been a nice little stretch of play, winning 6 of 8 on the homestand thus far. But all it has accomplished is this: nothing that matters.
The Phils are still a full dozen games below the .500 mark. They are still 15 1/2 behind the first place Nats. They still have the worst record in the National League East, the 4th-worst in the entire league. At those 9 1/2 game out in the Wildcard race, they have 9 teams standing between them and the 2nd Wildcard playoff berth. Despite their recent winning play, they have gained no ground in that race over the last 10 games. Folks, I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I am not only Mr. Glass Half Full, I am Mr. Glass 3/4 Full. But there comes a time when even the most optimistic have to be realistic.
If the Phils somehow reach the playoffs, I will walk the 23 miles from my home to Citizens Bank Park wearing a sign saying “I Didn’t Believe” – but I won’t have to take that walk. The Phillies have no, zero, shot at a 2014 playoff berth. There will be no post-season play, no October baseball at all in the City of Brotherly Love.