When you look and see that the Phillies are just 2 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East, you feel pretty good. Then, you look at the schedule and realize that there are just six games remaining to be played and suddenly, things don’t look quite as good. The good news is that in a small way, the Phillies control their own destiny with three games in Atlanta before heading to Miami to finish up the season against the Marlins. Let’s run some of the numbers and scenarios to see how this could play out. Keep in mind that the Phillies tragic number – the total of Phillies losses or Braves wins to be eliminated – stands at just five.
Even if the Phillies go 6-0 the rest of the way, if Atlanta finished the season with three wins at home against the Braves the Phillies would be 1/2 game ahead of Atlanta when their season ends, which would trigger a makeup game between the Braves and Rockies on Monday. A Braves win in that game would trigger a one-game playoff between Atlanta and Philadelphia and a Rockies win would give the Phillies the division. If the Phillies drop even just one game in Atlanta, the scenario for the Phillies heading into Atlanta would be that they would be 1 1/2 games back and would need to sweep the Marlins and have the Mets take two of three games in Atlanta, which would again trigger Monday’s makeup game, but the difference would be that if the Braves won, they would clinch the division.
Thinking about that Rockies/Braves makeup game, consider how encouraged Colorado players would be to fly to Atlanta from Arizona where they finish out the season to play one game against the Braves. The good news is that the Braves are 2-4 against Colorado this season and 0-2 in Atlanta.
To put it a different way, if the Phillies lose tonight, they would have to finish with five straight wins and Atlanta finish their season with five straight losses for Philadelphia to win the division outright and not have to worry about makeup games or play-in games. Basically, the Phillies have to sweep in Atlanta, because even one loss makes things much more difficult.
In case you’re wondering the Phillies are 9-7 against Atlanta this season, but are 2-4 at Truist Park. Against the Marlins, the Phillies are 8-8 this season and 3-4 in Miami, while the Braves are also 8-8 against the Mets and are even in both parks, having won three of their six previous meetings with the Metropolitans in Atlanta.
As for the pitching matchups against Atlanta. Tonight, it’s Zack Wheeler (14-9, 2.79) against Charlie Morton (13-6, 3.53), followed by Aaron Nola (9-8, 4.64) against Max Fried (13-7, 3.12) and then the series winds up with Kyle Gibson (10-8, 3.60) facing Ian Anderson (8-5, 3.60) on Thursday. Down the road, Ranger Suarez (7-5, 1.45) would open the series in Miami before the Phillies would have a bullpen game Saturday and then turn to Wheeler on Sunday.
You have to think that the bullpen game would have to go if the Phillies are still in striking position on Saturday. In days of old, pitchers could step up and throw on three days rest to pitch in a big game and as veterans, both Wheeler and Nola should be able to come back for the Phillies, if needed. An ideal situation would be for Wheeler and Nola to both get big leads in their games against the Braves so they could come out a little early and have a better shot at pitching against Miami on short rest.
Speaking of the bullpen, some of the blame for the season has to fall on them – again. The Phillies have blown 34 saves this season, tying a major league record. If the Phillies were to have converted just a small percentage of those games into wins, they wouldn’t be in the mess that they find themselves in right now. Converting just five of those games – especially losses to bad teams – would have the Phillies up by 2 1/2 games heading into the final six games instead of down by the same margin.
There are plenty of places to point to for blame. Losing to bad teams, playing horrible baseball on the road, injuries, prolonged slumps, lack of starting pitching depth, etc. When you have to resort to saying things like “Thank God for Ronald Torreyes,” you know it’s been a harrowing season. While optimism is a wonderful thing, the fear is that for the Phillies, any of the next three nights could become the night the lights went out in Georgia.