Can the Phillies Spoil the Pirates’ Playoff Hopes?
By Brian Iovine
Jul 6, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates left fielder Josh Harrison (5) slides home to score ahead of a tag by Philadelphia Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp (29) during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Exciting times are here again for the Philadelphia Phillies! They are only eight games back in the Wild Card standings, and with a four game series against the playoff hopeful Pittsburgh Pirates on deck, a nice little sweep would put them right back in the middle –
Oh, I’m just kidding (mostly). But hey, that doesn’t mean this isn’t an exciting time in the baseball world. We’re in the final month of what has been a tough year for the Phillies, and now certainly is the time to finish strong. Not only that, but stringing together wins against teams with playoff aspirations is always a great feeling that is made even greater when these teams fail to make the playoffs!
Remember 2011? Not only were the Phillies undoubtedly headed to the postseason, but on the final night of the regular season, they delivered the final blow in the Atlanta Braves’ historic crumble, preventing them from playing in the NLDS! Ah, that was a great night!
The Phillies would play the St. Louis Cardinals instead, and I’m sure you remember how that turned out.
Anyway, fast forward to 2014. The Phillies have (almost) no chance of making it to the postseason, a far cry from that team in 2011. And yet, they find themselves in a somewhat familiar position. Tonight they begin a four game series against the Pirates, a team that is looking to return to the playoffs after their momentous run last year, during which they ended a postseason and winning season drought that lasted for twenty seasons. At the moment the Pirates have hold of the last Wild Card spot in the National League, but they are clinging on for dear life, as both the Braves and the Milwaukee Brewers sit only a half-game behind them.
That being said, on paper the Pirates have the easiest week of these three hopefuls. The Brewers begin a four game series tonight against the Miami Marlins, a team that is behind in this Wild Card race but still technically in it at four and a half games back. Meanwhile, the Braves are on the road against the Washington Nationals tonight, beginning a three game series against the team that’s leading the division. Sure, the Pirates may be playing on the road as well, but they are up against a team that’s in last place in the National League East! A team that they soundly swept back in July! The Pirates have to be laughing heartily as they look to completely and utterly sink the Phillies’ season!
However… The Phillies have played some very good baseball as of late. They certainly have not looked like a last place team. Apart from a stumble against the New York Mets (which has been a maddening, recurring theme for the Phils this season), they have won every series they have played in dating back to August 18th. Keep in mind these were victories against quality opponents with playoff aspirations. And the last time that the Phillies played in their ballpark, they won 7 of 9.
Now, the Pirates just finished rolling over the Chicago Cubs, and after this series against the Phillies, they’ll be in store for another three game series against the Cubs as well as a three game series against the Boston Red Sox. Frankly, I would imagine that the Pirates are feeling pretty good about playing this trio of last place ball clubs. But if the Phillies continue to play good baseball, it won’t be an easy four game series.
In fact, what if the Phillies go and sweep them, and the Brewers and Braves do well against their respective opponents? Suddenly the Pirates would be on the outside looking in. Of course they would still have time to gain some ground after this series, but it would not get any easier for them after that series against the Sox; they’ll be hosting the Brewers for a three game series before embarking on a seven game road trip.
Is it likely that the Phillies will sweep the Pirates? Not really, no. They might not even win this series. But hey, winning just two of these four games could be all the help that teams like the Braves or the Brewers need to pass the Pirates. And perhaps more importantly, the Phillies have been playing some relaxed baseball and having fun (and what’s more fun than spoiling the playoff chances of other teams?).
I’m sure the Pirates would claim the same, but really, it’s has to be hard to be relaxed when you’re more or less neck and neck with two other teams vying to take your spot, no? If they falter against the Phils, their postseason berth very well could slip through their fingers, and they may not be able to take it back.