NL Wild Card

Wild-card-leading Phillies would benefit from race below them staying so tight

MLB: MAY 24 Diamondbacks at Phillies

PHILADELPHIA, PA – MAY 24: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies puts on his elbow brace during the game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Citizens Bank Park on May 24, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

ATLANTA — The Phillies have been positioned for the better part of a month to match up with the Cubs in the wild-card round but the standings were shaken up over the weekend when David Ross' team was swept in Arizona.

The Cubs went 1-5 on their final West Coast trip of the season and have lost eight of 10. All seven of their meetings with the Diamondbacks came within the last 10 games and they went 1-6.

As a result, Arizona has burst up the standings into the No. 5 seed. If the season ended Friday, the 4th-seeded Phillies would have hosted the D-backs in the first-round Best-of-Three series.

The D-backs appear to pose more of a threat than the Cubs. They have two of the top right-handers in the National League in Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly, who are a combined 26-15 this season with a 3.48 ERA and 371 strikeouts in 351⅔ innings. The Phillies showed last October how far two horses (Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola) can take a team.

Since opening August with nine straight losses, Arizona has gone 22-13. The D-backs have three dangerous hitters in particular in Corbin Carroll (24 homers, 47 steals), Christian Walker (30 homers) and Ketel Marte (.838 OPS). They, like most of their teammates, have performed considerably better at hitter-friendly Chase Field in Arizona than they have elsewhere. That could be meaningful given the team in the Phillies' position would host all three games in the wild-card Best-of-Three series.

Much can and probably will change over the regular season's final two weeks. Going into Monday night, just one game separated the Diamondbacks, Marlins, Cubs and Reds. Only two of those four teams will be playoff-bound, assuming the Phillies make good on their 99% chance to clinch a berth.

The Phillies would benefit greatly from those teams remaining so bunched up going into the final few days of the season because it would prevent them from aligning their rotations specifically for the wild-card round. Beyond playing on their home field, that is another advantage the Phillies hope to maintain for the wild-card round.

"I watch the standings but it's not like in my mind I'm preparing for certain teams. I'm preparing for this team tonight," manager Rob Thomson said Monday afternoon from Truist Park. "But I'm watching the standings because it's interesting."

The Marlins have the softest remaining schedule among the group of four. Their remaining four series are against the Mets, Brewers, Mets and Pirates.

The D-backs have the Giants, Yankees, White Sox and Astros.

The Cubs play the Pirates and Rockies, then end the season with a road trip to Atlanta and Milwaukee. The Braves and Brewers will probably have nothing to play for by then and could be resting key starters.

The Reds finish up with the Twins, Pirates, Guardians and Cardinals.

The Phillies began a three-game series Monday night with the Braves, the final team on their schedule with a winning record. After Atlanta, the Phillies come home for seven games against the Mets and Pirates, then close out the 2023 regular season at Citi Field.

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