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About a week or so ago, the Phillies trailed the Mets by three games in the National League East and the Brewers by four games for the Wild Card. Now, the Mets and Brewers are in the Phillies’ rearview mirror. Déjà vu of 2007? Perhaps, but the Phillies have a lot of work to do. Objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear.
The Mets’ most recent slide is mainly the result of a bullpen that is seemingly incapable of finishing off an opponent. Blame it on the loss of Billy Wagner if you want, but Wagner blew his fair share of games before he was injured. Hindsight is 20/20, but now you see why the Phillies refused to offer Wagner anything more than a three-year contract.
Aside from the bullpen, it astonishes me how often “experts” bash the Phillies’ alleged lack of starting pitching while the Mets have been inconsistent all year. Maybe it’s because their bullpen is so awful that it overshadows the holes in the rotation after Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey.
The demise of the Brewers is tough to explain. Milwaukee brass decided to make manager Ned Yost the scapegoat, firing the mouthy skipper after the Brewers were swept in Philadelphia and dropped to a tie in the Wild Card race. The nosedive continued last night when ace CC Sabathia was unable to stop the bleeding. This team is more than talented enough to win the wildcard and go deep in the playoffs, but they need to win a game.
Meanwhile, the Phillies resurgence can largely be attributed to three players… Ryan Howard, Brett Myers and Jimmy Rollins. Ryan Howard still may set a single season strikeout record, but his early season struggles are a distant memory. Howard leads the majors in home runs and RBI by far and will merit serious MVP consideration if the Phillies make the playoffs.
Brett Myers has been arguably the best starting pitcher in the National League since being banished to the minors. His two-hit complete game win over the Brewers on three days rest was a masterpiece. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers may not have the resume or name recognition of Zambrano and Harden or Sabathia and Sheets, but they still form one heck of a one-two punch in a playoff series.
Jimmy Rollins is doing what he does best… getting hot when it matters most. Rollins makes the hitters behind him more effective and he’s finally leading more with his bat than his mouth.
There are other reasons for the Phillies’ rebirth. Cole Hamels is consistently brilliant. Jayson Werth has become a legit everyday right fielder. Brad Lidge hasn’t blown a save. The bullpen is not as dominant as it was earlier in the season, but it’s still among the best in the league. More than anything else, these Phillies have no doubt that they’re good enough to win the National League East again, while the Mets and Brewers are experiencing déjà vu all over again.