Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Ranger Suarez in September 2023. (AP Photo/Morry Gash; Billy Penn illustration)

If you’re very still and quiet, you can hear it. Yes, that rustling in the bushes over there. It’s a bear.

No wait, it’s smaller than a regular bear. It’s a Cub! Yes, a little Cub and… wait a minute… it’s charging WHAT DO I DO WHAT DO I DO WHAT DO I DOOOO AHHHHHH!

Yes, that sound you hear galloping upon the Phillies from behind is the Chicago Cubs, the hottest team in the National League, a team that has lost only one series in the last two months and is 34-18 since the All-Star break, the third-best record in baseball. 

At one point this season, the North Siders were 10 games under .500, but entered their four-game series against the Diamondbacks at Wrigley Field 12 games OVER, just 1 ½ games behind the Phils for the NL’s top wild card spot.

On Episode 715 of Hittin’ Season, I talked with former Phillies beat writer, now Cubs beat writer for the Chicago Tribune Meghan Montemurro about what it is the Cubs have been doing so well of late, and whether she thinks they can track the Phils down. 

We focus a lot on the Phils here in this space, but we haven’t talked much about the other teams in the playoff hunt. Here’s a primer for all of you not watching 162 baseball games a year like me.

Chicago Cubs

They score a lot of runs even though you’ve only heard of a handful of their players. 

Cody Bellinger is a former MVP they signed to a cheap one-year deal, and he’s playing like an MVP. Dansby Swanson is there, although he’s not playing like himself. They’ve got a stud young pitcher in Justin Steele, but the rest of the rotation is made up of overachieving veterans and some intriguing young arms with little experience.

They tore apart their 2016 championship roster a few years ago. Gone are Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez, Jorge Soler, and our own Kyle Schwarber. They’re probably a year ahead of schedule, but don’t tell them that. And let’s be honest, there’s something fun about watching playoff, October baseball in Wrigley Field, even though we’re all crossing our fingers the Phillies aren’t the ones playing there in the wild card round.

Weirdly, after going 0-6 against them in the regular season last year, the Phils are 5-1 against this year’s Cubs, but a few of those games were with Bellinger sidelined. They’re scary and they have just as good a chance of winning the NL Central (1 ½ games back there, too) as they do the wild card.

Miami Marlins

Miami comes into town this weekend for a three-game series holding the final wild card spot by the skin of their teeth, by just ½ a game over two teams. The Phillies have split their 10 games against the Marlins thus far, but most recently, they went into Miami just after the All-Star break and took three out of four.

After a 3-10 stretch at the end of August, Miami has won six in a row, including the first two games of their home series against the potent L.A. Dodgers. 

They can pitch quite a bit, although ace Sandy Alcantara is on the Injured List and will not take the mound in Philadelphia this weekend. Jesus Luzardo is a big lefty strikeout artist, Eury Perez is their young super-stud prospect-turned-big leaguer and Braxton Garrett is no joke either.

But if you can get to the bullpen, you can do alright, and while they have some star power in their lineup, it’s not terribly deep. Consistently scoring runs has been their problem and that’s not likely to change.

Cincinnati Reds

Hey folks, this is Elly de la Cruz. He’s a rookie. He’s still raw, but he’s one of the most dynamic players in baseball.

His speed is unparalleled in the game right now.

He has pop, too.

There are other players on the team too, I think, but he’s pretty much the reason the Reds entered Thursday ½ game out of the third wild card. 

Arizona Diamondbacks

If you think the Phillies are up and down, check out this rollercoaster. From July 2 through August 11, Arizona went 7-25. Yes, that’s right, they played 32 games and lost 25 of them. Then they won six in a row, and have gone 4-7 since.

How, you may be asking, can this team be anywhere near a playoff berth with a stretch like that? When the cavalcade of losses began, they were 15 games over .500. They enter Thursday 72-68, tied with the Reds ½ game out of the third wild card spot. 

Playing in the desert does weird things to people. 

San Francisco Giants

Remember back in 2018 when Gabe Kapler’s Phillies entered the month of September 72-62 and were just two games out of first place in the NL East? Remember when the team then collapsed into a pile of goo and went 8-20 to finish up the season?

History may be repeating itself for Gabe’s Giants, who were swept by the Cubs in Chicago this week and, since losing two out of three in Philadelphia, are 4-9 and have lost their first six games of September.

The Giants are Gabe Kapler. There are no superstars on the team, just a collection of platoon players that the mad genius must mix into a cohesive stew that he hopes will be good enough to take on any comers. Of late, the formula has been sour, and given the competition and the division in which he plays, the Giants’ playoff chances are fading fast.

John Stolnis grew up in Delco as a rabid fan of all Philadelphia sports, but the Phillies have always held a special place in his heart, particularly those disappointing Juan Samuel-led teams of the late...