"Hope springs eternal in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blessed. The soul, uneasy and confined from home, rests and expatiates in a life to come."
I assure you, Alexander Pope was not talking about the Philadelphia Phillies when he penned that quote in his Essay on Man and Other Poems, but it's relevant enough to that ball club to practically be their mantra this season.
As many great works of literature, of course, that famous quote was cut and chopped throughout time and only a fraction of it is what we remember today:
Hope springs eternal.
That's all the Phillies have right now. Hope. In the beginning of the season, they didn't even have that. They were forced to field a mediocre offense that replaced the injured likes of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard with "hitters" who barely qualified as replacement level.
Their bullpen fell to shambles when key contributors from a season ago—like Mike Stutes and David Herndon—joined their offensive minded teammates on the disabled list.
And don't think that the starting pitching was immune to that injury bug. Cliff Lee missed time with an oblique issue early in the season and Vance Worley finally succumbed to a bone chip at the end of August.
What many thought was the final blow for this Phillies club came at the end of May when ace starting pitcher Roy Halladay suffered a bad strain of the right latissimus dorsi that could force him out of action for up to two months.
But Halladay came back. So did most of the other aforementioned names, like Lee, Utley, and Howard.
And while their returns didn't make an immediate impact on the club physically, they gave the rest of their teammates quite the booster shot mentally.
They provided hope. Hope that they could model the rest of their season after the St. Louis Cardinals of 2011—a team who's fury they felt first hand when they helped them make the postseason by defeating the Atlanta Braves only to be dispatched by the surprise RedBirds in the first round of the playoffs.
Fresh off series wins against a pair of teams that would be in the postseason if it started today—the Braves and Cincinnati Reds—the Phillies are finally feeling confident about their chances. Confident about having to make that improbable and exhilarating run after being at the top for so many seasons.
Currently eight games out of a Wild Card spot, it wouldn't be easy. It's an uphill battle on a near vertical slope, but with the right traction, that's a possible climb.
For the Phillies, that "traction" could be an incredibly weak stretch of games for them this month; starting with a home series against the Colorado Rockies.
The Rockies, who have played most of the season without their superstar shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki, were just manhandled by the Braves' pitching staff. They lost consecutive 1-0 games on unearned runs.
The Phillies aren't going to let up on them. They'll be throwing two of the best pitchers in the National League at them in Cliff Lee (who shutout that Braves for seven innings in his last start) and Cole Hamels, followed by rookie Tyler Cloyd, who struck out nine and walked zero against a potent Reds lineup in his last start.
The Phillies are in a position to win that series handily, and it's just the start of a string of games that they should be capable of winning easily.
Following their series against the Rockies, the Phillies will throw Roy Halladay, Kyle Kendrick, and Cliff Lee against the last place Miami Marlins before hitting the road to take on the worst team in baseball in the Houston Astros—for four games. They'll then travel to Citi Field to take on the rival New York Mets.
In case you haven't been keeping count, here's an update: The Phillies will play 13 consecutive games against teams with losing records.
And that's not even the kicker.
For this club, the best part about the schedule is that after that very winnable 13-game stretch, they'll return home to square off with the Braves, followed by three games against the Washington Nationals.
Now, making up eight games in the standings is no simple task, but no team in the race right now is better equipped to make up that ground than the Phillies.
The Braves have to play the Nationals and the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Pittsburgh Pirates still have to play the Reds and Brewers.
And while most of this Phillies roster is still focused on this season, make no mistake about it—almost everyone else around the club, including the fans, has moved on.
The five-time reigning National League East champions just can't bring themselves to do so.
It's an uphill battle. Of course it is. Anyone who told you otherwise would be lying right through their teeth.
But all the Phillies have right now is hope. Hope that the Cardinals left them a little magic following their improbable run at the World Series last season.