To suggest that seven games in September – heck, for more dramatic effect let’s make that Seven Games in September! – will end up deciding how deeply the Phillies play into October would be a little too glib, a bit too hyperbolic.
Which doesn’t mean it might not play out that way.
This final month’s schedule looked pretty much like a routine stretch of road except for the four-games against the Braves that ended with a 4-1 loss Wednesday night plus three games in Atlanta next week.
It’s kind of like driving from Philadelphia to Boston. You can’t miss that big city right in the middle. You can try to go through it on the George Washington Bridge or try an end run via the Mario Cuomo Bridge. One way or another, you’re going to have to deal with New York.
So far, so bad for the Phillies. They lost 3-of-4 to Atlanta. They had to watch the Braves celebrate clinching the National League East title on the Citizens Bank Park sod. They’re 3-7 against their division rivals so far this season.
A contingent of Braves fans behind the third base dugout celebrated the franchise’s sixth consecutive first-place finish as the players rushed onto the field to celebrate around the mound. The Phillies fans briefly booed the display and then headed for the exits. “Get off my field,” one yelled in futility.
The Phillies have lost five of their last seven and eight of their last 13. Manager Rob Thomson ritually noted that he’s not concerned that this season could spiral out of control.
“We’ll bounce back,” he said with his customary calm. “This group’s been resilient all year. I don’t think it’s going to affect their preparation or the way they compete. They’re just going to go out there and play the game.”
Last year the Phillies were 14-17 down the stretch, snuck into the postseason by a single game and made it all the way to the World Series.
“Experience is great. We can have things to lean back on,” said leadoff hitter Kyle Schwarber. “But we want it to be a different September. I don’t think we want it to be a September where we’re losing and trying to find a way. We want to flip the script and make sure we’re taking care of business and playing our game. The signs are there. Everything’s there. We’ve just got to go out there and keep fighting.
“It is what it is. You’ve just got to make it in any way possible. So we’re going to make sure we’re fully prepared every day. We know what’s at stake. Nothing’s guaranteed. We’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
No matter what Chicken Little might say, the sky isn’t falling. Wouldn’t be even if Fred (Chicken) Stanley and Lloyd (Little Poison) Waner said it.
The Phillies have 16 games left and their entire mission right now is to punch their ticket for the best-of-three wild card round of the playoffs. And, if at all possible, to enter with the best record among the also-rans which comes with a lovely consolation prize: all home games against the next team in line.
Not to get all rah-rah about it, but despite the events of this week, the Phillies are still well-positioned to host Game 1 of the WCS on October 3.
Think about it. Two of their losses in this series came in extra innings. And they weren’t blown out Wednesday night. They were just overmatched by Braves starter Spencer Strider, who allowed two walks and a hit in the first inning. . .then just three more baserunners, none of whom got past first, in his final six innings.
He improved his record to 17-5 and lowered his earned run average to 3.73. He struck out nine. He’s a legit Cy Young candidate. It happens.
Their most immediate threat at the moment, the Cubs, lost their second straight Wednesday to the Rockies, who have the National League’s worst record. They trail by a game-and-a-half but and have by far the tougher remaining. They have three more games against the Rockies and three against the going-nowhere Pirates at home. But they also have series on the road against the Braves, the first-place Brewers and the wild card-contending Diamondbacks.
The Phillies have those three games against Atlanta. . .but otherwise close out with the Cardinals, Pirates and seven games against the Mets, teams that started play Wednesday night a combined 40 games under .500.
The third and final wild card spot is now held by the Diamondbacks, who are three-and-a-half behind the Phillies, who have already won the tiebreakers with both the Cubs and D-Backs.
Anything can happen, of course. You never know when traffic will come to a screeching half on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut. The Reds, Giants and Marlins all remain in the hunt.
But if the Phillies win just half their remaining games that gives them 87 wins and a pretty doggone good chance of continuing to play on in October, maybe even starting from the pole position.
Of course, at that point, there are no detours. And the road to the World Series could very run through Atlanta. Which looks as though it could be a very rough patch of road.
Said Schwarber: “We believe in ourselves. If that were to happen, I think it would be a dogfight. But we’ve got to get there and we’ve got to focus on ourselves. And make sure we find a way into the postseason and take care of business.