This is the madness that the 2011 Cardinals and the inception of the second Wild Card can inflict upon an otherwise reasonable mind. This is baseball in '12, a season ripe with ridiculousness.
The A's were nine games under .500 on June 10. Now, they're 20 games over and clutching a Wild Card spot.
The Indians were in first place in the American League Central on June 23. Now, they're in dead last.
The Yankees had a 10-game lead in the East on July 18. Now, they're in a bitter, brutal dogfight with ... the Baltimore Orioles? Yep.
In 2012, it ain't over 'til it's over. Just ask Roger Clemens. Well, actually, no, don't ask Roger Clemens, because now he says he's not pitching this season, and I still don't know whether or not to believe him.
Point is, anything goes in 2012. So why wouldn't the Phillies and Brewers, in the same year they dealt the likes of Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and Zack Greinke, in the same year their bullpens have been among the worst in baseball, in the same year they entered August a combined 20 games under .500 ... why wouldn't they retain ridiculous-yet-realistic playoff hopes with three weeks left to play?
Now, understand, the math is still unfriendly to these two clubs. With identical 70-71 records, entering Tuesday's play, they trail the Cardinals (75-66) -- who currently possess the second Wild Card spot -- the Dodgers (74-67) and the Pirates (72-68). Even if the Cards go 11-10 or 10-11 the rest of the way, the Phils and Brewers would have to win 15 or 16 of their final 21 just to tie them, all while hoping the Dodgers and Bucs fall back.
Unlikely. Absolutely unlikely.
But not impossible, especially given recent trends.
The Cardinals, after all, have dropped nine of their past 13. Rafael Furcal won't be back in the regular season, and Lance Berkman is out completely. Adam Wainwright has struggled his past two starts, leading to speculation about fatigue in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. Things are not going particularly well for the Cardinals.
The Dodgers have dropped 10 of 16 since completing the blockbuster trade for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw both needed cortisone shots in recent days, Gonzalez has a sub-.700 OPS and the offense went 1-for-23 with runners in scoring position in a huge series against the Giants. Things are not exactly rosy with the Dodgers.
And the Pirates? Only four Major League teams have a worse record than the Bucs dating back to Aug. 1. One of those teams -- the Cubs -- swept them in Pittsburgh over the weekend. No, things are not exactly perfect for the Pirates either.
So the hope, however faint, does exist for the Phillies and the Brewers to make this happen. But how do they make it happen?
Well, for the Phils, the formula is simple and familiar. Ride the trio atop the rotation. Roy Halladay is still not his old self after missing nearly two months on the disabled list, but he is 5-1 with a 3.00 ERA in his past seven starts. Cliff Lee, with just four wins on the year, is still not getting sufficient run support, but he is 2-0 with a 2.08 ERA in his past five starts, and he's walked just two batters over his past 55 2/3 innings. Cole Hamels is 3-0 with a 2.22 ERA in his past six trips to the mound.
The Phillies still don't hit like a playoff club, and that's been a theme all year. But their staff ERA is the second best in the league dating back to the beginning of August -- trailing only the Braves -- and 12 of their final 21 games are against the Marlins, Astros and Mets.
Again, unlikely. But not impossible.
The Brewers, meanwhile, have been one of the more productive teams in baseball this season and the most productive in the past month, averaging 5.70 runs per game. They've won 16 of 21 largely on the might of those bats, with Aramis Ramirez (1.048 OPS), Ryan Braun (1.048) and Corey Hart (1.037) all going off in that span.
An abominable bullpen has held the Brewers back this season. They have more bullpen losses (31) than anybody in baseball. But John Axford has allowed just two runs (both in the same outing) in the 10 1/3 innings since he was reinstated in the closer's role on Aug. 19, picking up 10 saves in that span. If the bullpen is steady, the Brew Crew has a chance.
Again, unlikely. But not impossible. And in 2012, that might be enough.