ATLANTA - One of two things happened at Turner Field over the last 3 days. Either the Phillies swept a team that began the series in first place, or the Braves were swept by a last-place team. In other words, we learned something about someone, but who was it? One can make an argument it was the Braves who revealed something about themselves: Namely, that after a crushing litany of injuries that continued Tuesday when reliever David Carpenter hit the disabled list, they are not a playoff-caliber team. At least not right now. Not the way they looked in dropping three straight against the Phillies, including yesterday's 10-5 stinker.
But Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies are going to take the opposite perspective. And that is completely understandable. But even Marlon Byrd acknowledged that, at six games under .500, they still have plenty to prove. And if they proceed to in a four-game series against the Cardinals in St. Louis this weekend, then maybe everybody can start re-evaluating their expectations for the next month.
"Next series is key here," said Byrd, who hit his 11th home run of the season in yesterday's win. "We still have to fight to .500. We've got a long ways to go."
Yesterday, the Phillies spent five innings battering veteran journeyman Aaron Harang with a lineup headed by Cesar Hernandez and Wil Nieves. Those two players - backup shortstop and backup catcher - combined for six hits, three of them doubles. In fact, the first six hitters in the Phillies' order finished with at least two hits, five of them with at least three.
Harang allowed the bulk of those hits - 13, to be exact - and put three more runners on base via walk. By the time his outing arrived at its merciful conclusion, he had been charged with nine runs, and the Phillies were well on their way to a third straight victory.
"We played some good baseball," Sandberg said. "We had some good pitching. Our bats were the things that really came alive. In the first game, putting a five spot up in the 13th inning, that might have gone a long way with yesterday and today. Guys were swinging the bats. Once again today, it was up and down the lineup."
One might be tempted to talk himself into believing that some deeper meaning exists in the entrails of this series, that the Phillies are suddenly the team that Sandberg and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. hoped they would be at the start of the season. It's probably better to avoid such talk. The Phillies beat a team that has five key pitchers on the disabled list, including two-fifths of its projected Opening Day rotation and three-sevenths of its projected Opening Day bullpen.
Yes, the Phillies are only 5 games out of first place, which is about seven fewer than they'd be if they played in either of the National League's other divisions. But they are on pace to finish with 74 wins, which is the number that the professional oddsmakers in Las Vegas pegged them at prior to the season, and nothing about their performance suggests that they are a different team than they were at this time last year, when they finished with 73 wins.
After 70 games in 2012 they were 33-37. After 70 games in 2013 they were 33-37. After 70 games in 2014 they are 32-38.
They have won seven of their last nine, but are still six games under .500.
Still, players don't have much of a reason to think about things like that. With the front office fully acknowledging that it is considering all options as it prepares for the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, they are fully aware that they will need to stage a dramatic turnaround over the next few weeks to convince their bosses they have what it takes to contend.
"Ruben's going to make the moves that he has to," Byrd said. "He has his own timeline. Right now we have to make an easy decision for him as far as keeping guys here. We've got to win. He put this team together to get to the playoffs, and the only way we can do that is by winning."
Ryan Howard has endured the buy-or-sell talk in each of the last three seasons. In his opinion, what do the Phillies need to show Amaro and Co. in order to prevent them from trading away some of the roster's key pieces?
"I would hope this is probably a good start," he said.
Yet it is only a start. Check back after this weekend.
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy