By Michael Rushton
The Phanatic Magazine
Who would have thought after a poor start, a rash of injuries, many early holes and a few let-down games sprinkled in for good measure, the Phillies would be where they are heading into play on Friday?
Of course, this season has not been without its joys: beating the Mets again and again, Howard's deep bombs, the re-emergence of Pat Burrell, and of course, the erasing of many of those early holes.
The only drawback is at this point, tied for the lead in the National League East with three games to play, anything less than a playoff appearance would be a failure. The Phils are too close with their fate in their own hands to blow it now.
So, as the club heads into a HUGE weekend set with the Nationals, lets take a look at some highlights that got us here.
Offensive MVP: Jimmy Rollins
Sure, the club hit a bit of a skid when Chase Utley went down, Howard brings the game-changing bat to the table and Cole Hamels had a heck of a run before getting hurt, but none of those players have brought a complete game to the table like Rollins.
In fact, I believe he should be the MVP of the whole league.
He's gone 30/30, has been a terror on the basepaths, and most importantly, he gave the club a "we are going to win this thing attitude" from day one of this season.
Pitching MVP: Kyle Kendrick
This thing could have came unglued a long time ago until an unknown rookie was called up from Double-A. All Kendrick is done is win, going 10-4 with a 3.87 earned run average through 20 no-one-saw-coming starts.
Kendrick has earned a spot in the rotation for next year as a back-end starter (which is what he is) because of his ability to keep the Phillies in every game he starts while eating up effective innings.
Most underrated move: Hiring Davey Lopes to coach first
In Rollins, the Phillies have always had speed, but felt they lacked enough to win games. Hence, players like Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn were brought in, and Lopes has been the guy to put that all together.
Philadelphia is fifth in the majors in stolen bases with 135 and have a pair of players with over 30 on the season in Rollins and Victorino. Those two have totaled 75 swipes between the two of them and have been caught just nine total times. Bourn, meanwhile, is 18-for-19 in stolen base attempts this year.
But its not just the speed guys. Remember when Jayson Werth stole second and third off Billy Wagner back on August 30 to plate the tying run in an eventual 11-10 victory that completed the four-game sweep? That never happens in 2006.
Turning point: Four-game sweep of Mets
If the Phillies do something special this year, every commemorative DVD released about it will begin with this series. The sweep, which occurred from August 27-30, pulled Philadelphia within two games and got the club officially inside the Mets' heads.
Where it could have gone wrong: Losing five of seven after the sweep
By the end of this stretch, Philadelphia had fallen six games back of the Mets, and the here-we-go again mentality had returned. Instead, the club rebounded.
How does this end: Phils make the postseason
What makes me nervous is that many "experts" are picking the Phillies to make the postseason via a division title. Favorites never win. However, the Philllies are playing good and hard. They are not just getting lucky, they are seizing the moment.
The club knows if they sweep the Nats, they are guaranteed at least a shot to play for the postseason.
It is all in their own hands.
Michael Rushton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org