Lost weekend for Phillies in Atlanta — which way will they go in final 16 games?


ATLANTA -- It was a moment that spoke volumes about the way the weekend went for the Phillies.

Kyle Schwarber, unable to hold up his swing on a first-pitch slider from Atlanta Braves strikeout machine Spencer Strider, backed out of the batter's box, removed his helmet and scratched his head quizzically.

Three pitches later, Schwarber went down swinging at a 99.5 mph heater to end the top of the fifth inning. He flung his bat and helmet away in frustration.

Or disgust.

Or both.

It's not time to panic about these Phillies but definitely time to be concerned. At a time when they need to be firing up the afterburners and locking down their first postseason berth in a decade, they have lost four in a row. 

The Braves completed a three-game sweep of the Phils with a 5-2 win on Sunday afternoon. Strider held the Phillies hitless for the first 5⅔ innings and finished with 10 strikeouts over six innings. The rookie phenom is 4-0 against the Phillies this season. He's allowed just three runs in 21⅓ innings and struck out 34.

After a weekend of heading in the wrong direction in the NL wild-card race, the Phillies will use Monday's off day to regroup. Then it's two at home against Toronto, a team in the American League wild-card race, and four -- gulp! -- against these same Braves. Strider will get the start in one of those games.

Which way will this Phillies team go? Are they running out of gas? Are their holes finally catching up with them? Or was this just a bad weekend?

"It's disappointing for sure," manager Rob Thomson said. "But we've got to keep going. I thought for the most part, we pitched well and played good defense. We just didn't score many runs. You know how offense is, it comes and goes. They'll get it going.

"I think you just stay positive and understand we played good baseball for a long time and we're going to play good baseball again. We are playing good baseball. We're just not scoring many runs right now. Keep doing what we're doing and the offense will click at some point."

It better click soon.

The Phillies are in a three-team battle for two wild-card spots and slipped a half-game behind San Diego. They lead Milwaukee by two games. The Phils hold tiebreakers against both clubs. With 16 games left in the regular season, the Phils need wins. That's it. Only wins will get them to the postseason and calm a doubting public that has been scarred by previous September collapses.

Late Septembers have been particularly difficult for the Phillies. They lost six of their final seven last season, seven of their final eight in 2020, nine of their final 12 in 2019, and nine of their final 11 in 2018.

They are 7-8 this month.

"Does losing stink? Especially at this point of the year? Sure," Schwarber said. "But there's still games to be played. I'm sure that people maybe outside might have (doubt) creep in. But the guys in the room, we're looking forward to getting out there Tuesday, getting out there and playing that game. Does it stink? Sure. It obviously stinks. But we're looking forward to getting out there and playing Tuesday.

"There's still a bigger picture to play out. We have to turn the page. That's the only thing we can do. There's no sitting back, sulking about, 'Man, we could have done this. We could have done that.' We lost the game. That's it. We have to rejuvenate here. Take the off day (Monday) and get right back to work."

Bailey Falter did a solid job keeping Sunday's game close. He allowed just one run over 4⅔ innings and got a huge assist from Andrew Bellatti in getting out of the fifth trailing just 1-0.

That lead looked like it might be enough for the Braves with the way Strider was strutting his power fastball and wipeout slider. He did not allow a hit until there were two outs in the sixth. That's when Alec Bohm jumped a first-pitch slider and sent it over the center-field wall to tie the game.

It didn't stay tied long. William Contreras clubbed a hanging, full-count changeup from Connor Brogdon over the left-field wall to break the tie in the bottom of the sixth and Robbie Grossman homered against Sam Coonrod in the seventh.

The Phillies were 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position Sunday and a dreadful 2 for 21 for the series.

"We're missing some opportunities with runners on base," Thomson said. "That's all part of not scoring runs. They'll get it together."

While Ronald Acuña Jr. was almost personally delivering the Braves two wins in the series, Bryce Harper went 1 for 12 with no walks and five strikeouts. He is hitting .222 (16 for 72) with 22 strikeouts since his return from the injured list and the Phils are 10-11 over that span.

Harper is far from the only struggling Phillies hitter.

J.T. Realmuto was 0 for 14 before homering in the ninth inning Sunday.

Maybe it was a sign that the offense will get going this week. It needs to. It's a 16-game game sprint to the finish line, time for the Phillies to turn it on. If they have anything left.

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