By FRANK WARD
“It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”
The Phillies started the season strong, and have a chance to finish the first half the same way. Winners of nine of their last 13 games, the Phillies offensive machine is coming out of its funk just in time.
Out of first place by five games just a week ago, the Phillies now sit 2.5 games behind Atlanta, and two games behind the Mets in the Wild Card standings. Make no mistake, this team wants its fourth straight division title, and their in a position to make that statement before teams break for the All-Star game on July 11.
It’s not going to be easy, but it’s doable. Except for four games against the lowly Pirates in Pittsburgh, the Phils face nothing but first place lineups the next two weeks. They get the NL Central leading Reds (42-34) for three in Cincinnati and four at home. They also battle the Braves (44-32) for three games at CBP.
To make up ground and take a run at regaining first place by the All-Star game, the Phils must keep playing the way they have the last two weeks. The 9-4 record they posted the last two weeks is what they have to duplicate. And, it’s not as if they’ve posted that record against stiffs. They’ve done it against the Red Sox, Yankees, Twins, Indians and Blue Jays.
Cleveland sucks and the broom the Phillies used to send Jason Donald and Co. back to LBJ country was missing a ton of bristles. Two of the three wins were far from overpowering. We won’t hang our red hats on that series.
Otherwise, the Phils did their damage against the three likely playoff teams and the best fourth place team in the league. The Red Sox lead the AL Wild Card race, and the Yankees look destined for another October run. The Blue Jays at 40-36 would likely lead almost every other division in baseball. Their lineup is that good.
The bottom line is the Phils took the last game against the Red Sox in Boston, won two-of-three in New York, swept Cleveland, lost two of three to the Twins and won two-of-three from the Blue Jays.
That’s not too shabby. They’ve won three of their last four series. They’re hitting their stride again. Oh, and the spark plug — Jimmy Rollins — is back.
To be the best, you have to beat the best. To be in first place, the Phillies need to beat first place teams.
It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely doable. If Rollins, Roy Halladay and company want to send the NL a message that they’ll be a player in the playoff race the second half of the season, they have a chance to make a statement.
The stretch to the All-Star break starts Monday in Cincinnati when Kyle Kendrick battles Johnny Cueto.