Funny thing about that "roll over and die" act the Phillies, a prohibitive favorite to roll to a National League pennant right on into the World Series, put on earlier this season - it, apparently, was just an act.

Oh, the boys in red pinstripes certainly played it well, creating a cavernous hole thanks to a 9-23 run into the All-Star break, which set the stage for their 2012 nadir one day out of it as they lost at Colorado on July 13 to fall to 37-51.

There were done, cooked ... Phinished, if you will.

All those dreams of a sixth straight trip to the postseason, well, they appeared to be forever entrapped in fantasy, never to be realized.

Fast forward two months ... and ... umm ... you might want to hold off on that eulogy just yet.

Currently on a seven-game win streak heading into action at Houston tonight, the Phillies find themselves just 3 games back in the chase for the second wild-card slot. Granted, it's not the same as challenging the Nationals for top honors in the NL East, but, hey, you take what you can get after being down for so long ... and the Phillies were down for a long, loooooong time.

In fact, it never looked like they would get up. Decimated by injuries the sidelined stars Ryan Howard and Chase Utley until midseason, and further unraveled by DL stints to ace pitchers Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee, not to mention losing first-half sensation Carlos Ruiz for some time as well, the Phillies looked old, tired ... dead.

There was no life to their game. It was like they were going through the motions, figuring they could just flip the switch and all would be well, and they could put those upstarts from D.C. in their place. The latter was never going to happen. The Nats long ago proved they were legit, showing themselves as the best team in the majors all season.

But the former seemed impossible, too. Though improving with the return of all their key guys, the Phillies just couldn't seem to string some wins together. A week ago, it seemed a foregone conclusion that they had no shot. But, then they got hot ... and the likes of St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the Dodgers got cold.

Now, with 19 games remaining, they are very much in the hunt for that second wild card. St. Louis leads the way at 75-68. The Dodgers are a game behind at 74-69 and the Pirates 2.5 back at 72-70. The Phillies, meanwhile, are deadlocked with Milwaukee at 72-71 - a mark that shows the Phillies above .500 for the first time since June 3, when they were 28-27

In short, all those mentioned are in the mix at this point ... and no team in baseball is hotter than the Phillies.

Oddly, this is not the mash-'em-up, spit-'em-up offensive juggernaut that most baseball fans had grown accustomed to while witnessing the Phils reach back-to-back Series in 2008 and '09, winning the first. The transformation to a pitching dominated operation first showed in 2010 and then seemed complete last season. But the team's big three - Halladay, Lee and Hamels - has been, as a group, disappointing for most of 2012.

Hamels has been good. Worthy of a six-year, $144 million contract good? No, but good nonetheless in posting a 14-6 record and 3.03 ERA. Halladay has been mediocre (10-7, 4.01) and Lee nothing short of an enigma (5-7, 3.36).

But Lee has come on of late - big time. In his last four starts, the left-hander has gone 3-0 with a 1.33 ERA, including a dynamite, seven-inning effort in Wednesday's 3-1 win against Miami to give him his fifth win in his last seven decisions. Considering he started the season 0-5 (4.13 ERA), that ain't bad.

Utley (.254, 10 homers, 30 RBIs in 236 at-bats) and Howard (.227, 10, 40 in 207) have supplied some juice emotionally far more so than at the plate. Jimmy Rollins has supplied some pop at crucial times, and timely hitting seems to be a staple all around of late.

No names like Kevin Frandsen and Erik Kratz have been critical to this late-season stabilizing and then surge.

Ruiz has returned, too, and has 60 RBIs in just 318 at-bats while hitting .340.

Still, you have to wonder - is it too little, too late for the Phillies ... are they just getting it done with smoke and mirrors right now ... can they really come all the way back from a midseason grave?

The amazing thing, though, is that they've put themselves in a position to see if they can - with the better part of three weeks left to play.

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