A wild primer

The Phillies' rotation order could see Cole Hamels start in the Wild Card playoff game. (David Maialetti/Staff file photo)

The Phillies inconceivably stand three games back of a postseason berth for a multitude of reasons. The best explanation for how a team, once considered dead by many of its members, is luck and good timing.

Dissect it, and you'll see an old trend.

Their starting pitchers have a 3.01 ERA in their last 29 games. The Phillies have a 20-9 record during that stretch. It was the unit that brought so much success and a celebrated moniker in 2011.

It is what they must ride if this miracle of a comeback is to actually happen.

Tonight, in Houston, a 25-year-old junkballer named Tyler Cloyd takes the ball on short rest. He's the first Phillies pitcher asked to start on short rest this season. Even against a moribund squad like the Astros, there is still danger.

With days off, the Phillies can massage their rotation so that Cloyd makes only two more starts after Thursday, both against middling National League East teams.

9/13 @HOU: Cloyd
9/14 @HOU: Hamels
9/15 @HOU: Kendrick
9/16 @HOU: Halladay
9/17 @NYM: Lee
9/18 @NYM: Cloyd
9/19 @NYM: Hamels
9/20: OFF
9/21 vs. ATL: Kendrick
9/22 vs. ATL: Halladay
9/23 vs. ATL: Lee
9/24: OFF
9/25 vs. WAS: Hamels
9/26 vs. WAS: Kendrick
9/27 vs. WAS: Halladay
9/28 @MIA: Lee
9/29 @MIA: Cloyd
9/30 @MIA: Hamels
10/1 @WAS: Kendrick
10/2 @WAS: Halladay
10/3 @WAS: Lee
10/4: OFF
10/5 WILD CARD: Hamels

It's not a terrible scenario; every pitcher is going on regular rest (or extra rest in some instances). That has Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee pitching on the two final days of the season and Cole Hamels in line for a wild card one-game playoff start on regular rest.

A tiebreaker complicates things. If the Phillies tie another team for the second wild card berth, that tiebreaker is played Thursday. Home field is decided by season series records.

The Phillies had a winning record against three contenders:

vs. ARI: 4-2
vs. LAD: 2-5
vs. MIL: 5-2
vs. PIT: 3-4
vs. STL: 5-2

That means tiebreakers against Arizona, Milwaukee and St. Louis would be played at Citizens Bank Park on Thursday, Oct. 4. If the Phillies tie Los Angeles or Pittsburgh, the game is on the road.

Then, should the Phillies win a tiebreaker, the wild card one-game playoff is Friday, Oct. 5, probably in Atlanta. So the travel schedule, theoretically, could look like such:

Oct. 3 at Washington
Oct. 4 at Los Angeles
Oct. 5 at Atlanta


Such a situation would necessitate starters on short rest to avoid using Cloyd. Hamels would pitch the tiebreaker on three days' rest with Kyle Kendrick starting the one-game playoff on three days' rest.

Of the six contenders (yes, we'll include Arizona), Arizona and St. Louis are tied for the softest remaining schedule by opponents' winning percentage.

STL: .464 -- 9 home (3 WAS, 3 CIN, 3 HOU), 10 road (4 LAD, 3 CHC, 3 HOU)

ARI: .464 -- 12 home (3 SFG, 3 SDP, 3 COL, 3 CHC), 7 road (3 SFG, 4 COL)

PIT: .467 -- 9 home (3 CIN, 3 ATL, 3 MIL), 11 road (4 NYM, 4 CHC, 3 HOU)

PHI: .493 -- 6 home (3 WAS, 3 ATL), 13 road (3 WAS, 3 NYM, 3 MIA, 4 HOU)

MIL: .504 -- 9 home (3 SDP, 3 NYM, 3 HOU), 10 road (4 WAS, 3 CIN, 3 PIT)

LAD: .532 -- 10 home (3 SFG, 4 STL, 3 COL), 9 road (3 WAS, 3 CIN, 3 SDP)

St. Louis heads to Los Angeles for a four-game series starting Thursday. The Phillies will be watching.

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