For all the Phillies haven't accomplished in the first 113 games, they have positioned themselves well for meeting the objective they identified in Clearwater, Fla., in February -- winning the division for the fourth straight season. Not that they have played so well, but despite injuries to key personnel, they have stayed close enough to the Braves that, if they had the reach of Randy Johnson, they could grab the leaders by the backs of their collars.
The Braves have done a remarkable job just staying ahead, despite their own physical predicaments -- Martin Prado remains disabled -- and the inconvenient truth that their personnel isn't comparable the talented teams that have won the past 15 East division championships -- Braves 1995-2005, Mets '06, Phillies 2007-09. And now Jones may limp off into the East sunset.
Not that he is comparable to the force he was for the Braves teams that denied all others in the East first-place finishes for 11 years. Indeed, if he doesn't return next season -- his agent says that is undecided -- the numbers he produced in 317 at-bats this year have the feel of those of a player about to retire. Anyway, the Braves already are quite accustomed to playing without him.
But diminished or not, Jones has pennant-race pedigree. And one or two last-hurrah swings by Chipper would be beneficial in race that promises to be as tight as Rickey's hamstrings ... unless the Phillies catch the Braves and run away.
The return of Victorino, so long as he can run, ought to serve the Phillies quite well. Howard and Utley do the heavy lifting, but without Victorino -- a David Eckstein-like pest with speed -- there isn't much to lift.
His return and the Braves' concerted effort to extend Bobby Cox's final season deep into October could make for grand September theater. The Braves can't be expected to collapse as the Mets did in '07 and '08. They won't hold the door open for the Phillies as those flawed Mets teams did. But they don't appear to be sufficiently equipped. Moreover, if the Phillies are determined to become the Yankees of the NL -- and they are -- they need another set of rings.
The rest of the division needs defibrillator paddles. The Nationals get an adrenalin jolt once every five days, as long as Stephen Strasburg stays in the rotation. The Marlins seem comfortable with mediocrity. And the Mets seemingly have reached the stage of acquired indifference -- so accustomed to disappointment that it is no longer troubling.
Their shutout defeat of the Rockies on Thursday notwithstanding, the Mets appear to have an erratic heartbeat. The burdens Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo have become and the problems of Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran are bound to complicate their arrhythmia.
They too could use a Victorino transfusion.