PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Entering this weekend, the Phillies sit in a three-way tie for one of the two wild card spots in the playoffs, locked with Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, at 57-51 with 54 games left to play.

This Phillies’ season has been filled with a lot of angst because everything was expected to be easier. The Phils were supposed to be World Series bound. They signed Bryce Harper. They acquired J.T. Realmuto.

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Washington was supposed to be weaker, with the loss of Harper. Atlanta’s youth was thought to still be cooking.

None of that has come to fruition, and it looks like the New York Mets may soon enter the wild-card picture.

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The Phillies have suffered some embarrassing defeats this year. There were times when it seemed their season was over.

Though each time they came back and pulled a good group of you back in.

Gabe Kapler has been the reason.

Prior to the Phillies, Kapler had no managerial experience. In two years with the Phillies, he’s turned a 96-loss squad into a playoff contender. He’s still basically learning on the job.

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But there is no doubt he’s a better manager than he was last year. And there’s no doubt, it seems, that he’ll become an even better manager next year.

The Phillies appear to be heading to a season that will end with a record above .500 for the first time in seven years. The players seem willing to play for Kapler. They appear to be listening. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be in playoff contention as August begins.

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The Phillies may not make the playoffs, and that will no doubt cause critical ripples to surface among the media and the fan base in demanding Kapler’s head.

Right now, they’re three games behind last year’s 60-48 pace through 108 games. The 2018 Phillies went 21-34 the final two months of the season. This team appears to be getting stronger. The schedule may help.

The next 54 games will play a pivotal role in where Kapler goes and where the franchise is headed. The feeling here is that the Phillies will contend for a playoff spot until the final weeks of the season — maybe even getting in as a wild card.

Though one thing is undeniable in the short, polarizing two-year tenure of Kapler — the Phillies are improving.

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The manager may deserve some credit for that.