There's a lot still out of the Philadelphia Phillies ' control in their hopes of getting back in the NL wild-card race. They're doing an awfully good job taking care of their part, however.
Back at .500 for the first time since early June, the red-hot Phillies look to win a season-high seventh straight game and wrap up a sweep of the visiting Miami Marlins on Wednesday.
The Phillies (71-71) have been as many as 14 games below .500, and they were 12 games out of the NL's second wild-card spot as recently as Aug. 17.
Suddenly that deficit - one they share with Milwaukee - is down to four, albeit with Los Angeles and Pittsburgh to pass before getting to St. Louis. But after winning for the 14th time in 18 games Tuesday with a 9-7 victory over Miami - and reaching .500 for the first time since June 4 - it seems like anything's possible with three weeks left.
Next up after Wednesday? Four at major league-worst Houston and three with the woeful New York Mets ."You hear it's a cliche that this is what you play for, for September, but it's true," Jimmy Rollins said after hitting his team-high 18th homer. "We have a lot of flags but we don't have a wild-card flag, so this would be a good time."
Cliff Lee (4-7, 3.50 ERA) has been as big a part of the recent surge as anyone, giving up a total of three runs while Philadelphia has won his last three starts. Lee didn't get the decision in his latest, when he allowed two runs in the first but wound up pitching 6 1-3 innings in Friday's 3-2 win over Colorado.
It's been a difficult season for Lee, who has just one home victory, but his worst outing of 2012 came against the team he'll face Wednesday. The left-hander gave up six runs in a season-low 4 2-3 innings of a 6-2 loss at Miami on June 29.
Lee went 1-0 with a 1.50 ERA in three starts against the Marlins (63-80) last season, going nine innings in both outings at Citizens Bank Park.
Josh Johnson (8-11, 3.81) beat Lee in late June, holding the Phillies to one run and four hits over six innings. However, he was a tough-luck loser in a 1-0 defeat Aug. 14 after pitching eight innings.
His lone 2012 outing in Philadelphia didn't go nearly as well. Johnson gave up 11 runs and six hits - both tied for season highs - in just 3 2-3 innings of a 7-1 defeat April 11.
The right-hander has been impressive of late, posting a 2.76 ERA over his last nine starts, and earned his first win in six outings Thursday thanks to some long-awaited run support. Johnson held Milwaukee to two runs and four hits over seven innings in a 6-2 victory."He started the season very rough because he hadn't pitched in a while," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said. "After that he got the momentum going. You look up and he's had a great year if you look at it that way, compared to last year."
Johnson's road ERA is still ugly - 5.22 compared to a 2.87 mark at home - but he's had little trouble with some of the Phillies' top hitters this season. Ryan Howard , Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz are a combined 0 for 12 with six strikeouts against Johnson.
Philadelphia is just happy to have Ruiz back in the lineup for its stretch run. The All-Star catcher, who spent five weeks on the DL battling plantar fasciitis, started Tuesday for the first time since Aug. 2 and reached base three times.
|September 04, 2012||Heath Bell||Day-to-Day||Sore left foot|
|August 22, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||15-Day DL||Sprained right knee|
|August 13, 2012||Nick Green||15-Day DL||Sprained left thumb|
|August 04, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||15-Day DL||Sprained left thumb|
|August 04, 2012||Emilio Bonifacio||15-Day DL||Sprained left thumb|
|August 04, 2012||Donnie Murphy||15-Day DL||Left hamstring strain|
|September 05, 2012||Placido Polanco||15-Day DL||Lower back inflammation|
|August 31, 2012||Raul Valdes||15-Day DL||Torn meniscus in right knee|
|August 29, 2012||Cole Hamels||Day-to-Day||Gastrointestinal illness|
|August 29, 2012||Vance Worley||15-Day DL||Loose bodies in right elbow|
|August 28, 2012||Domonic Brown||Day-to-Day||Left game - left knee soreness|
|August 24, 2012||Brian Schneider||15-Day DL||Strained left hamstring|
PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Jimmy Rollins swigged champagne after winning a division title, went wild when the Phillies won the National League pennant, and took a ride on that unforgettable parade down the heart of Philadelphia after a World Series championship.
The Phillies have done it all the last five years.
Well, except win a wild card berth.
Rollins connected on a two-run homer and Cliff Lee pitched seven strong innings to lead the streaking Phillies to their seventh straight win, 3-1 over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday.
The second NL wild-card spot is firmly in sight for the Phillies with 19 games remaining.
"We're in it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We're dead in it pretty good."
Oh yes, they are. And they show no signs of slowing down.
The Phillies continued their late push with a three-game sweep of the Marlins. Up next for the Phillies, four games in Houston against the NL-worst Astros. Then it's three games in New York against the going-nowhere Mets.
Philadelphia pulled within three games of St. Louis for the second wild card after the Cardinals lost 3-2 in San Diego.
The Phillies (72-71) are on a season-best winning streak and have won 15 of 19 to move over .500 for the first time since they were 28-27 on June 3.
"If we can continue to play the way we have since the All-Star break, we have a pretty good chance," Lee said.
The clubhouse TVs had on a pair of games that will shape the NL wild-card race: St. Louis at San Diego and Pittsburgh at Cincinnati.
The Phillies will have to at least get past the Cardinals and Pirates, two fading teams, to snag a postseason spot.
This September has a familiar feel from 2007 when the Phillies trailed the Mets by seven games with 17 to play. The Mets collapsed and the Phillies would win their first division title since 1993.
With Manuel calmly leading the way, the Phillies haven't skipped a postseason since, winning the World Series in 2008.
"We're in it pretty good," Manuel said.
Phillippe Aumont worked a scoreless eighth and Jonathan Papelbon completed the four-hitter with his 34th save. Papelbon fanned Gorkys Hernandez with two runners on to end it.
The five-time defending NL East champions have made an amazing run since they seemed out of contention at 37-51 on July 13. Fueled by a rotation that has found its groove, and unexpected contributions from role players, the Phillies have become one of the hottest teams in baseball.
Their 15-4 record since Aug. 23 is the best in the National League and they are 21-8 in their last 29 home games.
Josh Johnson (8-12) did his best to shut down the Phillies early, taking a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the sixth.
Rollins led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice and scored on John Mayberry Jr.'s two-out single to center.
With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley slumping, the Phillies have relied on clutch hits from unheralded players like Mayberry during this recent streak. Mayberry beat Colorado on Sunday with the winning single in the ninth inning.
But it's the stars like Rollins, who declined to talk to the media, who still need to shine during the stretch drive.
Lee (5-7) seemed headed toward a tough luck no-decision until the offense came through with timely hits in the seventh.
Pinch hitting for Lee, Pete Orr hit a two-out single. Rollins followed with his 19th homer, a two-run shot to right, that sent the late-afternoon crowd into a frenzy and gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead.
With little expected at the start of September, the Phillies are playing loose and having fun.
"Nobody's saying we've got to win 20 in a row," Orr said.
Lee struck out the side in the fourth inning and fanned Hernandez to open the fifth. He tossed four-hit ball and struck out six in seven innings to earn only his second home victory of the season.
Lee has regained his Cy Young form after making 13 starts to open the season without a win. He also had a stint on the disabled list and even had a 10-inning scoreless outing wasted against San Francisco when the Giants won 1-0 in the 11th.
"It's their pitching, that's how they're back in it," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said.
Lee allowed only an unearned run in the sixth after two straight Marlins batters reached on errors.
Rollins, who leads all NL shortstops in fielding percentage, booted Donovan Solo's grounder. Jose Reyes hit a one-hopper that Lee snagged wide of the mound, whirled around and threw wide to second for an error. Carlos Lee followed two batters later with an RBI single to right for the 1-0 lead.
That's the kind of sloppy play that might have done in the Phillies before the All-Star break.
Not this month.
Notes: The Phillies are on their longest winning streak since a nine-game run from July 29-Aug. 6, 2011. ... Philadelphia's starting pitchers are 15-5 over the last 28 games. ... The Marlins head home to start a three-game series with the Reds. ... Marlins RF Justin Ruggiano was ejected in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes.