Against all odds, Phils stay in race for pennant

For High Hopes —

Ryan Howard is the latest addition to the Phillies ever-growing Disabled List. A DL that the team seems to have miraculously overcome. Photo: AP

When this baseball season started, it was generally acknowledged that the Phillies were the class of the National League East, and a fourth straight NL East title was all but a formality.

Pundits, myself among them, cautioned that although winning the NL East was a strong probability, the road would be just a little tougher this year than it was in 2009.  The popular theory was that the Mets, ravaged by injuries last season, would be at least ten to fifteen games better in 2010 just by staying healthy. Some believed the Atlanta Braves, with their strong starting staff and deep bullpen, would be the Phillies main rival. And a few, perhaps after downing one too many of their favorite adult beverages, opined about the Florida Marlins’ chances.

But no matter the theory, all but the mentally disrupted agreed that the Phillies would prevail in the end. Equipped with perhaps the strongest and most balanced batting order in all of baseball, and a pitching staff bolstered by the addition of Roy Halladay, all the necessary ingredients for another championship season were present and accounted for.

Ah, the best laid plans, coupled with that annoying guy named Murphy who believes whatever can go wrong will go wrong, and here we are on August 9th, trailing the Atlanta Braves by two games in the NL East. That will come as quite a shock to those who thought the biggest problem the Phillies would face this year would be how to keep their focus in so many meaningless September games with the NL East crown already secured.

What went wrong? Injuries, plain and simple.

Every one of the starting eight position players, with the exception of Jason Werth, has either spent time on the DL or has missed games because of injuries. The biggest losses were Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley. Rollins only has 202 at bats this year and Utley went down in late June and won’t be back until September. Placido Polanco and Carlos Ruiz missed three weeks with an elbow problem and concussion respectively.  Shane Victorino is going to miss the same amount of time with an abdominal strain.

And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, Ryan Howard will miss significant time after spraining his ankle.

The pitching staff hasn’t been immune to the injury bug, either. Jaime Moyer may have suffered a career-ending injury. Joe Blanton started the year on the DL, and J.A. Happ, recently traded to Houston, spent the first half of the season on the DL. Brad Lidge seems to be on a constant recuperating schedule, and bullpenners J.C. Romero and Chad Durbin have also visited the DL.

So here we are entering the dog days of August and Charlie Manuel has had to rely on the likes of Cody Ransom, Wilson Valdez, Domonic Brown, Benny Francisco and Ross Gload to fill out a line up card.

If someone had told me way back in April that the Phillies would have had all this bad luck, I wouldn’t have given them much of a chance to finish above .500 let alone challenge for the NL East title. But as I write, the Phillies are very much in the hunt and, you can call me crazy if you must, I believe they are going to pull it off and win the NL East again.

If they do, much of the credit has to be given to Charle Manuel for keeping a ship afloat with so many holes in it. Partial kudos must go to Ruben Amaro Jr. for righting the wrong which was trading Cliff Lee by acquiring Roy Oswalt.

Unless another brick falls on their head, September should be fun when all the familiar names are back in the starting line up. Given what this team has endured, the Phillies are clearly bucking the odds just by being in contention.

There’s an old adage in baseball that says all things eventually even out. For every line drive that is caught, a weakly hit flare will drop in for a hit. If that adage is true, then it won’t be too long before the Phillies rise up to greet Lady Luck.

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