By July 31, 2012 the Phillies unloaded starting outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence, effectively conceding that the group of players the Phillies had were unable to win. A few days later Joe Blanton went out the door as well, and the Phillies gave Jim Thome to the Orioles even before that. The second National League Wild Card, however, gave Phillies fans plenty of good baseball to enjoy down the stretch.
Let's face it: the Phillies were not playing to win even a while after the trade deadline. The approach to the lineup, pitching decisions, and disabled list decisions was one of, "Well, let's see what we have". For example, the Phillies gave starts in center field Nate Schierholtz, who had never played center field in major league ball, and Laynce Nix, who had not played the position in several years. Michael Martinez got a spot on the roster instead of a .286 hitter and started plenty of games. It took a playoff run to give John Mayberry Jr., the lone center fielder on the roster regular play in the outfield and for the Phillies to place infielder Kevin Frandsen and Ty Wigginton starts ahead of Michael Martinez.
But once it came, it was fun. The Phillies reached the climax of their season on Wednesday, September 12 with a win against the Florida Marlins and sat three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the second Wild Card chase. Had the Phillies continued to play at that pace, the second Wild Card could have been theirs. But, by then the Phillies were just too ill-equipped to get the job done.
A shut-down of Vance Worley and the inexperience of Tyler Cloyd along with Kyle Kendrick taking Joe Blanton's rotation spot left the Phillies without a bullpen long-man or the ability to pull a starter early. B.J. Rosenberg had to be allowed to continue to scuffle in the bullpen, no matter what he was able to put forth. And, the Phillies were still very unbalanced, a bench mostly comprised of left-handed hitters, especially when Ty Wigginton would get a start.
By the time the Phillies were in the hunt, it was simply too late to be able to add any pieces that could help the team. In 2006 the Phillies had a resurgence in time to pick up Jamie Moyer, Jeff Conine, and Jose Hernandez on waiver trades. But that was August. This was September. At that time it was too late.
But, for us Phillies fans, it was meaningful baseball. We had a reason to go to games and be excited, and the games were fun while we dreamed of the October baseball we had come to expect, then expected to lose. One more Phillies loss or Cardinals win, the Phillies are done, and it is highly unlikely that the Phillies will win out or the Cardinals will lose the rest of the way. But, I am very thankful that the Phillies had the run.
Reasons to be excited about these six games? Let's start with Darin Ruf, who has five hits in this three major league starts, including a home run. We get to see Ruf play down the stretch, including tonight against a right-handed pitcher. We also get to see more Domonic Brown, as the former "untouchable" finally gets a chance to show off what many felt were five tools. Of course, the Phillies are giving Michael Martinez a start too, probably to see if he's worth keeping around next year.
Our year ends early, but there is reason to be happy and to be excited for next year. None of this would have happened without the second Wild Card, instituted this year. September 12th instead of being three games behind the Cardinals, the Phillies would have been 10 games behind the Braves and Phillies fans would have no reason to follow. I am glad we did.