One of these years I’m going to wise up and make it a point to walk up to a betting window somewhere in late summer and put a $20 spot or $50 spot on an MLB team seemingly out of contention.
This year, those bets might have been most wisely placed on two teams left for dead who have come surging back into the thick of the NL Wild Card race: the Milwaukee Brewers and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Another Miraculous September Run?
You may recall that on September 12, 2011 a bettor put down $250 on the St. Louis Cardinals winning the National League pennant (500-1 odds) and another $250 on the Cards winning the World Series (999-1). The man came away with $275,000 on the investment even after some re-investing, hedging some of his NLCS winnings on the Texas Rangers for the World Series.
Which leads us to September 12, 2012 … and the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies now both just a mere four games out of the final National League Wild Card spot.
Both teams were supposed to be done after selling off around the July 31st trade deadline:
- On August 3 the Phillies were sitting at 47-59, in last place in the NL East and a full 13 1/2 games out of the new second Wild Card instituted by MLB this year.
- As late as August 19, a mere 23 games ago, the Brewers were 12 ½ games out of the final Wild Card. (The Phillies were still 11 games out at that point.)
That may have been a good time to head up to the window and put a C-note down on the two supposed also-rans.
When the still-anonymous bettor invested his cash on the Cardinals on 9/12/11, St. Louis had already started their run and had pulled to within 4 ½ of the Wild Card. The season started a week earlier last year and there were only 16 games remaining at that point.
By virtue of both winning last night, the Brewers and Phillies have each made it to 71-71 with 20 games remaining. For the Brewers, it marked the first time the team had made the .500 level since being 9-9 back in April. The Phillies were actually 28-25 at one point before going 9-26 in the 35 games that followed.
At the trade deadline, the Brewers shipped soon-to-be free agent Zack Greinke to the Angels. Philadelphia not only parted ways with long-time catalyst Shane Victorino, but they dealt him to the LA Dodgers, one of the teams the Phils must still overcome to claim a playoff berth. They also parted ways with outfielder Hunter Pence.
In case you’re wondering, no, I’m not counting either team out right now. Much stranger things happen in MLB these days.
Current NL Wild Card Picture
The Cardinals currently still lead the final WC but are struggling mightily with injuries.
The Dodgers, even after attempting to buy a playoff run this year while worrying about red ink later (trading for Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Victorino, etc.), have been running in place since making their moves. They remain a game out after losing two straight at Arizona this week.
The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the middle of a miserable August-September swoon for a second straight year and now sit a mere three games above the elusive .500 level which they have not eclipsed since 1993.
And the Arizona Diamondbacks are in play as well at five games out. Even the red-hot San Diego Padres have moved to within 7 ½ games.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Atlanta Braves still hold a comfortable 6 ½ game lead in regards to making the post-season, but no Braves fan is going to count on anything until a berth is officially clinched, not after losing a 10+ game lead for the Wild Card last year.
But can the Phillies and Brewers both complete the comeback?
Is a Philly or Milwaukee Playoff Run Realistic?
The Phillies have made their move despite the continued strikeout struggles of a certain cleanup hitter. If that player can return to the All-World monster everyone knows he can be, the Phillies can easily surge into the post-season.
And with a long-term contract earning him close to $25 million per, Ryan Howard is not going to be ‘Fired Guy’ anytime soon.
With a still formidable pitching staff and the experience of being in the playoffs the previous six years, the Phillies would definitely be poised do some damage if they can get into October.
As far as the Brewers are concerned, the victory is just getting to the point of making the final three weeks meaningful. The team was considered done back in May after a rash of catastrophic injuries (Alex Gonzelez/Mat Gamel/Jonathan LuCroy/Shaun Marcum etc.).
The silver lining was that the injury bug allowed many players in the system to get a chance. Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, Mark Rogers (now shut down due to innings limit), and most recently Wily Peralta, have shined given a chance in the starting rotation.
The freak LuCroy injury gave career-minor leaguer Martin Maldonado a chance, who has proven more than capable of holding a big league gig, especially with his defensive work behind the dish; he picked off two Atlanta Braves runners in one game this week.
Some other fun Brewers facts:
- Ryan Braun, Aramis Ramirez, and Corey Hart all entered the week ranked in the top four in the NL in extra base hits. The only time an NL team ever had the top three XBH guys over the course of a season was in 1961.
- Carlos Gomez has always been considered a work-in-progress, but he recently went on a 9 HR/26 RBI tear over a 40-game period.
- As a team, the Crew ranks first in the NL in home runs (179) and ranks second in stolen bases (130). The last team to lead the National League in both homers and steals was the 1996 Colorado Rockies.
- Brewers batters have been HBP 83 times this year, 26 more times than any other team in MLB.
- Games at Miller Park have an average length of 3 hours, 12 minutes this year – second only to Fenway Park. Part of it is the product of the shaky bullpen work, but part is also the never-say-die attitude of the offense in the late innings.
- With 1230 strikeouts (8.66 per game), the Brewers pitching staff is on pace to set a new MLB single season record, the Phillies incidentally are second in MLB (8.41 per game)
- The Brewers have actually scored as many runs this year as the team that finished last year at 96-66 (and had Prince Fielder).
Yes, “if and buts” can always be talked about, but consider the following:
If the Brewers bullpen had not been an utter disaster over a six-week period, or if Rickie Weeks had hit ANYTHING better than .160 first two months of the season, then the Crew could be easily in the playoff conversation. With even just ‘average luck’, the Brewers would be holding down a playoff slot at this moment.
Are Zack Greinke (who has won his last four starts in Anaheim) and Prince Fielder (only 74 K’s in 509 AB’s this year) missed? Absolutely. But, even if the Crew misses out on the 2012 post-season, the organization has given fans plenty of continued hope. Plus, the front office will now have some finances available in the free agent/trade market this winter.
The point is that with three weeks to go, the word playoffs is still very much in the conversation in both Philadelphia and Milwaukee. And who would have thought that possible?
It’s also much more than can be said with franchises such as – let’s see?? — the Cubs and Red Sox.
Someone please cue ‘Written In the Stars’…