The Phillies will travel to New York for this weekend’s important series against the Mets not so much on the New Jersey Turnpike, but on a fault line that threatens to gobble up their season if they don’t start stringing together wins in a hurry.
Wednesday’s ugly loss to the Washington Nationals was the Phillies’ sixth in the last eight games. They are 34-37, five games out of first place in the National League East, but closer to last place than first.
Though technically not make or break, the four-game series against the division-leading Mets will go a long way in determining the path that Phillies management takes in addressing the team’s roster during the July trading season.
Cut into the Mets’ lead and maybe management looks at improving the roster with a modest trade or two.
Fall farther behind and maybe management starts fastening For Sale signs to a good chunk of the roster.
Bryce Harper knows the math.
“You can flip a switch real quick and win nine of 10,” he said. “We’re in that moment where we need to do that and start winning games, on the road, at home. Start winning games that we’re supposed to win. And not lose games that we’re not supposed to lose. I know teams struggle at times and we’re going to struggle at times as players and make mistakes, but we can’t afford to do that at this given time.”
Harper mentioned that the team will have to prove to management that it is worth upgrading, or, at the very least, keeping together.
He knows the math on that one, too.
The Phillies’ farm system is poor. The team has to be protective of the few prospects it has. A couple around-the-edges tweaks would help this club, but it’s not worth mortgaging the future in a year when the wild card will likely come out of the NL West and the NL East champ, whoever that ends up being, might not stick around long in October.
“We're kind of depleted in the minor leagues and can’t really trade anybody and we don’t really have anybody to trade down there to get guys who are really, really good,” Harper said. “Dave Dombrowski needs to have faith in his team that we can go out there and win games, [that] if he goes out and adds somebody and if it’s worth it when that time comes.
“I, of course, want to put pressure on him to do that and as a team, we need to. But that’s only if we’re winning games. If we’re not winning games, then there’s no point in doing that, right?
“As a team, we can never think that we’re out of it. We can never think that this at-bat doesn't matter or this game doesn't matter. Every at-bat, every inning counts.
“We need to go into this weekend, get through it and hopefully win the series. Take it one game at a time, and we need to come out on top up there because if we don’t, it’s going to be miserable coming back from that and we can’t afford to do that right now.”
The Phillies will send Aaron Nola and Matt Moore to the mound against Taijuan Walker and David Peterson in Friday’s doubleheader. Zach Eflin will oppose all-world Jacob deGrom on Saturday and Zack Wheeler will pitch against former Phillie Jerad Eickhoff on Sunday.
On most occasions, the Phils would feel good having their top three starters pitching in a four-game series, but Nola, Eflin and Wheeler are all coming off poor outings in which they combined to allow 15 earned runs in 10 1/3 innings (13.06 ERA). That hardly inspires confidence.
Neither does this: Since their 5-1 start, the Phillies are 29-36. That hardly feels like a team on track to break a nine-year postseason drought.
Maybe the Phils will inspire a little hope this weekend.
“It’s important because you have the ability of a four-game swing,” Dombrowski said. “That’s a lot.”
But even a good showing in New York won’t lift the Phillies from the fault line that separates contention from doom.
The series against the Mets starts a run of 18 games in 17 days leading up to the All-Star break against two first-place clubs (the Mets and Red Sox) and three others with .500 or better records (the Padres, Cubs and Reds). The Marlins are the only team with a losing record that the Phillies will face in this stretch and they have won four of seven games between the two teams this season and generally enjoy inflicting pain on the Phils.
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