The Phils remain two games back of the Marlins in their cat and hairball fight for the NL Eats division lead. The Phils, however, lost 6-4 to the Braves and fell to 10-15 overall against the division. Only cellar dwelling Montreal has a worse divisional record.
Consider that if the Phils has played at the season-long winning percentage (.527) in divisional games, their record would be three games better and they would be in first.
The same was true in 2003. The Phils were 39-37 in divisional games last year (.513 winning percentage). The Marlins were 48-28 (.632), and of course won the wild card by 5 games and eventually the World Series crown. Had they both played in divisional games at their overall winning percentage, the Phils would have edged the Marlins by one game (not to mention that their expected win totals had the Phils at 4 games better).
So what's the cause of the Phils' mental block in the division? Well, a lot of it boils down to their inability to beat the Marlins: The Phils are 0-6 so far in 2004, were 6-13 in 2003, and have lost nine straight dating back to September 23 against them. Without Florida, the Phils divisional record would be 10-9 this year and 36-24 last year.
The Phils have a bit of trouble with tehe NL Central, against whom they are just 5-6 so far. The Phils' success has all been in the west (14-5).
The Phils also seem a bit jumpy against the divisional foes. Bowa seems to be juggling his lineup right until game time. Marlon Byrd's confidence in his abilities now mirrors the manager's. And Bowa also relies on the tail-end of the roster was too much. How many starts do the likes of Doug Glanville and Todd Pratt deserve? Glanville has not been at the level of a major-league starting player offensively for five years. He also has been going way too often to Roberto Hernandez, whose only qualification as a major-league pitcher apparently is that he was once a closer. Next, instead of shifting young Ryan Madson, who has been stellar in the pen, to replace injured Vincente Padilla, Bowa instead turns to Quad-A pitcher Josh Hancocok, whom the Phils picked up two years ago from the Red Sox and who has been atrocious in his two starts. Finally, Bowa fails to understand that Rheal Cormier's 2003 was a fluke and parades him into tight situations continually. Cormier can be productive at times, but it would be wiser to use him as a spot lefty until he regains his confidence rather than a setup man.
The Phils play their 13 of next 14 games against the supposedly weak AL Central and then seven of their next 10 against the Expos, so maybe they can get themselves back on track. If the falter, I wouldn't be surprised to see Bowa go. If they keep meandering along 2-3 games back, then they will probably limp into the second half with Bowa at the stern. With apparently four strong teams in the central and at least two in the west (and the Gianst suddenly hot), the wild card seems a remote possibility. Unless and until the Phils prove that they can beat the teams in their division on a consistent basis, especially the Marlins, they cannot be considered serious contenders in the NL East race.