Hey, based on recent history ...

The Phillies have 14 more games until the All-Star break, but in practical purposes, Saturday was the midpoint of the season, Game 81. The Phils beat the Nationals in a nailbiter, 3-2, to improve to 44-37 (see first take).

Last season, eight teams were 44-37 at the season's official midpoint. All eight teams ended up making the playoffs.

That fact, coupled with how well the Phils have fared against playoff-caliber competition these last five weeks, has a young team believing.

"I think it always felt realistic to us," manager Gabe Kapler said, "but certainly the closer we get and the more we hang around and we're not just in the race but in many ways in a really strong position, yeah, it does become more tangible. It does become more real. And we do have to prepare even harder."

The Phils have their series finale Sunday afternoon against the Nationals, then they play 13 straight games against the Orioles, Pirates, Mets and Marlins. 

Those four clubs are a combined 71 games under .500. Their collective .391 winning percentage means that the Phillies are playing the equivalent of a 100-loss team for two straight weeks leading into the All-Star break.

If June was the month to stay alive, July is the month to take advantage.


"I felt like we were in a solid position coming into the month and we knew that this was going to be a major test," Kapler said. "We knew there were going to be bumps and bruises along the way and there were. It was a really difficult road trip when we went West, but I think we went toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in baseball. We have a long way to go but I think we're in a good position, a strong position."

Saturday's win was one of the best the Phillies have had all season. If they lost, you'd have heard all about the bullpen's ineffectiveness again. But this time, in front of a sellout crowd of 42,746 on fireworks night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phils' bullpen met the task.

Victor Arano pitched two scoreless innings after Velasquez exited early with an injury. Tommy Hunter pitched the fifth and sixth. Adam Morgan pitched a 1-2-3 seventh and was bailed out by Yacksel Rios after putting the first two men on in the eighth. And Seranthony Dominguez, again, shut the door in the ninth, working around a two-out double from Daniel Murphy.

"It was actually pretty gratifying to the players," Kapler said. "Just because when we lost Vinny and our bullpen was a little bit taxed, we were thinking about how we were going to get through the game. First and foremost, how are we going to get through the game, make sure that we get enough innings and keep people safe? And then we just fought, we battled, we stayed in the game and we scored a couple runs and all of a sudden it looked like we were in position to win the game. 

"And at that point, this kind of becomes a playoff game and we do everything in our power to win it."

With the win, the Phils close the book on June at 13-14. Certainly, a better mark than anyone expected following their 1-7 start to the month.

A month ago, the thought of the Phillies remaining in contention in the second half seemed unrealistic. It looked like a hot start to the season that would lead to the inevitable June swoon. 

But you just can't underestimate the impact of a young team growing through a stretch that included some horrible losses and setbacks. Not when that stretch comes against the Brewers, Cubs, Yankees, Nationals, Braves, Dodgers, Giants, Cardinals and Rockies.

"We're getting a little taste of it," Vince Velasquez said. "And we know what's coming."

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