After consecutive victories at the wire, the Philadelphia Phillies are shutting the door on the NL East a little earlier this time around.
With a 5-0 victory over the Florida Marlins on Sunday afternoon, Philadelphia extended its lead to a full seven games over the second place Marlins. For now, Philadelphia is the only team in the division on the positive side of .500, and a 12-1 run since July 2 has given them a larger lead in the standings than they had at any point during their last two campaigns.
And it's not as if they never gave the competition an opportunity either. New York, Atlanta, and Florida all failed to take advantage of Philadelphia's 4-14 run from June 11-July 2. Only the Marlins posted a winning record during that stretch.
During the worst part of Philadelphia's slide (a 1-9 run from June 16-26), Florida (6-4), New York (5-6), and Atlanta (4-7) failed to gain much ground.
It's a safe assumption that Philadelphia will cool off at some point. But as far as the rest of the division is concerned, the damage might already be done.
Consider this: If the Phillies play only .500 ball the rest of the way, they would end up at 87-75. Not a particularly stunning record, but it will take a very strong finish for anyone else in this division to match that mark.
Florida would have to finish 41-28.
Atlanta would need a 42-29 record, while the Mets would have to go 44-28.
For a group of teams that have struggled just to have winning records this year, is there anyone who really believes one of them is capable of that kind of run over the next 10 weeks?
The Marlins are probably the most likely candidate, but the same thing that makes them a threat is also the biggest thing working against them.
This is the team that started the season 11-1, so they could be capable of going 13 games above .500 for a period of time, but this is also the team that went 8-24 immediately after that.
The Wild Card in all of this is the trade deadline, and who can improve themselves for a strong finish—but will any team that far out be willing to mortgage the future for this season? Most likely, the Mets, Marlins, and Braves will not take that risk; they will hold their cards for next season.
Also of interest: While Philadelphia's September surges over the past two seasons have been well documented, the Phillies have made a hot run in July an annual event as well.
In 2007, the Phillies hit the All-Star break at 44-44. Less than a week later they lost the 10,000th game in team history. They had been within a few games of .500 all season long.
Then, they embarked on a 9-1 run that brought them within three games of the division-leading Mets, and they easily carried a winning record the rest of the season on their way to an improbable division title.
In 2008, a five-game winning streak at the end of July gave Philly a narrow one-game lead as they entered August.