Winter is coming: That ominous theme pervades HBO's medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones. Winter is when the usurpers invade. It is a season of privation and suffering, when faith and loyalty are tested. Nobody knows when winter will arrive or how long it will last, but everyone knows it will be miserable.

Like the Sword of Damocles, winter also hangs over the Phillies. The thread holding it has weakened with each troubling addition to the disabled list. Barbarians from Atlanta, Washington, Miami, and New York have girded for war to break the team's hold on the division crown. The miscues of pressing regulars, utility players, and call-ups from the minors have cost games. The losses pile up.

The phaithful grow phickle, as evidenced by the plethora of empty seats at home games. On some nights, the Phanatic seems hard-pressed to find a dance partner.

Ask anyone with arthritis or achy joints — say, second baseman Chase Utley — and he'll tell you that winter comes on viciously and suddenly, causing bum shoulders, sore backs, and torn Achilles tendons even among players in their prime. It rears its ugly head in the form of failed drug tests. Winter announces that the surgery to be named later is Tommy John. Even the heat and humidity of summer can't ease the pain of winter.

Meanwhile, the pockets of the Phillies' owners have been mined to the depth where the cash flow freezes. To sign ace Cole Hamels, if it's still possible, would require a restructuring, including the jettisoning of some popular players.

How will we remember the successful summer campaigns that included a World Series championship and five consecutive division titles? With fondness, I hope.

I remember watching the Phillies teams of the late 1980s and early '90s; no amount of Yuengling, dollar dogs, and crab fries could make them enjoyable. Winning eased those memories of misery.

You would think we would get used to losing, considering it took 97 years for the Phillies to win their first World Series. And the legion of zealot spellers (E-A-G-L-E-S) hasn't had a sip of championship champagne in more than 50 years — not since back when Vince Lombardi was just a coach, not the name of the trophy that continues to elude them. This is the epitome of winter.

Still, with these Phillies, there was a feeling that another victory parade was possible — probable, even, just after the 2008 season. The fans channeled Oliver Twist, imploring, "Please, sir, I want some more."

At this point, a sixth consecutive division crown seems unlikely due to injuries and formidable foes. The Phillies would have to win two of three in each remaining series to mark another Red October.

But teams have coughed up big leads before, from the 1964 Phold to the 2007 Mets, whose choke propelled this core group of Phillies into their first postseason.

So maybe they're not quite finished. But the frigid winds are swirling around Citizens Bank Park. We should enjoy the last days of these boys of summer, because winter is coming, and it could be another 97 years before the sunshine returns.

Paul F. Bradley lives in Bucks County. He can be reached at