It comes down to this.
The Philadelphia Phillies are finally back at .500 and are just 6.5 games back of the rival Atlanta Braves for control of the NL East and 5.5 games out of contention for a wildcard spot. Overall, the Phillies are playing much better baseball, winning each of their last four series against top teams and going 9-4 in their last 13. The starting staff is pitching as one of the best in the league and Ruben Amaro is actually talking about buying and not selling.
However, absolutely none of that will matter if the Phillies don’t come out of the gate strong following the All-Star break. But, it will be tough because after a series against the New York Mets, which the Phillies should not overlook, the team is scheduled to face the first-place Detroit Tigers, the first-place St. Louis Cardinals, the third-place San Francisco Giants and then the first-place Braves.
Collectively, the four teams have won 205 games and lost just 170. All but the Giants are above the .500 mark, the games against the Braves could determine who wins the NL East and the Cardinals at 56-36, have the best winning percentage in all of baseball.
Long story short, this is likely to be the toughest part of the Phillies’ schedule, but also perhaps the most important.
And with those crucial games against top teams and most falling in before the July 31 trade deadline, the Phillies will know if they stand to be contenders or pretenders by the time the calendar turns to August. They will know if they should realistically be buyers or sellers.