Thursday's formula is Phillies' only real path to playoffs


If J.T. Realmuto started hitting like this earlier in the season, he might've found himself squarely in the NL MVP conversation in September.

If the Phillies started hitting like this earlier in the season, they'd have a more realistic chance at making the playoffs.

Realmuto provided the final insurance in a 9-5 Phillies win over the Braves Thursday night. The Phillies split this four-game series and avoided falling farther back of the second wild-card spot after the Cubs, Brewers and Mets all won earlier in the day.

The Phillies homered four times after going deep five times in Tuesday's win. In between was a weak offensive performance, just five singles, which exemplifies the 2019 Phillies' offensive inconsistency.

I think everyone's being more aggressive at the plate," Realmuto said. "We feel like we're starting to get to where we needed to be all year long. We feel like we could've done a lot better offensively the first half of the season, but we feel like we're clicking at the right time. The teams we have coming up have good pitching but also have really good offenses so we're gonna need to continue scoring runs.

Realmuto will win a Gold Glove but won't win MVP. He won't finish in the Top 3 but could finish in the Top 6 or 7. Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon will be the top three vote-getters. But the only player on the list who comes close to Bellinger defensively is Realmuto, who has graded out as the best defensive player in baseball according to Fangraphs and also a Top 10 baserunner.

"Certainly (been an MVP) for us," Kapler said. "I don't think there's a Phillies player, staff member, front office member or fan who wouldn't say the same."

Drew Smyly started the game for the Phillies but lasted only four innings. So did Braves starter Julio Teheran. Both allowed hard contact and multiple home runs early. The key for the Phillies' pitching staff in this one was Jared Hughes, who came in and picked up five huge outs in the fifth and sixth innings (including Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson) to settle the game down and give the Phillies' offense a chance to win it.

Ranger Suarez, Blake Parker, Jose Alvarez and Hector Neris followed. All told, the Phillies' bullpen allowed two runs in 16⅓ innings the last three nights. Without the surprising success from that group, the Phillies wouldn't have split this series and wouldn't still be a position to strike over the final 16 games.

"It allowed our offense to get in a rhythm. We throw up zeroes, our offense becomes more confident, our plate discipline becomes better and we attack fastballs more," Kapler said. "That's just the ebb and flow of the game. When zeroes are put up in the middle innings, our offense feels like it has the chance to win late."

For the Phillies to vault past the Cubs and Brewers, they will need to use Thursday's formula: power from the lineup, zeroes from the bullpen.

"It goes without saying what a tremendous job our bullpen did this entire series. The guys who weren't expected to contribute ... guys like Blake Parker and Jared Hughes stepped up in huge situations for us. Those are really tough lineups, tough hitters. They're getting big outs for us in a pennant race."

Sixteen games remain.

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