PHILADELPHIA -- Here the Phillies stand again, at the 17-games-to-go mark. This time, they're not staring at a seven-game deficit in the National League East. This time, they sit 2 1/2 games behind their favorite rivals, the New York Mets. A daunting task?
"Very doable," Chris Coste said. "At the same time, we need to win." And, like last season, the Mets have to lose. Not as much, but they do have to be defeated enough for the Phillies to strike. It can be done. The players know it. With no head-to-head games remaining -- Philadelphia took two of three from the Mets over the weekend to finish 7-11 in the season series -- the Phillies must scoreboard watch. They did this Tuesday night, when they saw the Mets blow two leads, but rally for a 10-8 win over the spoiler Nationals. The Phillies lost to Florida by the same score. Positive news arrived later, when Milwaukee squandered a comeback and dropped an 11-inning game to the Reds, keeping Philadelphia's Wild Card deficit at three games. The Brewers arrive in Philadelphia for a four-game series on Friday. "We're sitting on the door with two ways in," Jimmy Rollins said. "One team [the Mets] we just played. The other team that's ahead of us in the Wild Card, we're playing. We definitely have an opportunity." In their two-front war, the Phillies have four more games remaining with Florida, including Wednesday afternoon, four with Milwaukee, six with Atlanta and three with Washington. New York has five with Washington, six with Atlanta, four with Chicago and three with Florida. Other than Philadelphia, the Brewers play the Reds four times, the Cubs six times and Pirates three times. Getting in is the thing. "Right now, you're just fighting to get to the playoffs," Ryan Howard said. "Hopefully, you win the division. If not, you try and take the Wild Card. The goal is just getting to the playoffs." On Sept. 12, 2007, the Phillies were bludgeoned by Colorado, 12-0, in a game in which Philadelphia turned a triple play, was unable to score early with the bases loaded and no one out and saw Kyle Kendrick knocked from the game by a line drive. The playoffs didn't seem possible. A Mets win over Atlanta that night pushed their divisional lead to seven games, a seemingly insurmountable amount, making the Wild Card the only race worth running. On that front, the Phillies sparred with the Rockies and Dodgers, with all three teams trailing the Padres by 2 1/2 games at the time. The division, despite a pending three-game series at Shea Stadium, seemed a fantasy. Seven-game leads simply don't disappear with 17 contests left on the schedule. Such a collapse wasn't possible, and hadn't happened since the 1964 Phillies dropped a 6 1/2-game lead with 12 to play. But New York dropped a baton that Philadelphia would seize. The Phllies trounced the Rockies on Sept. 13, moving 6 1/2 games back, then vaulted to 3 1/2 behind with a rousing sweep of the Mets in New York. While the Rockies, Padres and Dodgers pummeled each other for the Wild Card, the Phillies steadily earned the East, capturing the division on the final day of the season. They went 13-4 in the final 17, with the Mets going 5-12. "We didn't have a chance to enjoy first place last year," Manuel said. "We were in first place for one day. It was the right day, of course, but we lost three straight [in the National League Division Series] and had to go home. I've said this a lot, but if we don't win the division this year, it's our fault. We definitely have a team capable of winning."
Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.