It’s not an exaggeration to say that the next nine days will determine the future of the Phillies franchise. Philadelphia has a 1.5 game lead plus the tiebreaker over the Milwaukee Brewers for the final postseason spot in the National League. They have ten games remaining, seven of which against teams that are well out of contention. The Phillies are in the driver’s seat with the end of their 11-year playoff drought right in front of them.
First up is a three-game set at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. The Phillies were swept at home by those same Cubs in their only other meeting this season, a three-game series immediately after the All-Star Break in which Philadelphia was outscored 25-7. Despite this, Chicago is just 67-86 on the season.
|Zack Wheeler (11-7, 2.98 ERA)||Marcus Stroman (4-7, 3.80 ERA)|
|Aaron Nola (10-12, 3.28 ERA)||Hayden Wesneski (2-1, 2.45 ERA)|
|Ranger Suárez (10-5, 3.38 ERA)||Javier Assad (1-2, 4.28 ERA)|
Philadelphia will face Marcus Stroman in game one. Stroman easily handled the Phillies in the second game of that July series, going 6 IP with one run allowed on five hits and throwing just 86 pitches. Philadelphia lost that game when José Alvarado allowed five runs in the tenth inning in what was a 1-1 tie.
However, since then, Alvarado has turned into a dominant reliever. In 23 games since that night, Alvarado has allowed 2 runs in 21.2 IP while striking out 42% of his batters faced. The Phillies will need to lean on Alvarado in the coming days, as their bullpen is running on fumes due to injuries and poor performances. Philadelphia has the fourth worst bullpen ERA (4.92) and WHIP (1.47) in the month of September. Alvarado showed in an electric four out save against the Braves that he can get “big boy” outs. He will certainly be called upon to do it again.
Philadelphia will then travel to Washington for four games against the lowly Nationals. The Nats have been a punching bag for the Phillies this season, as Philadelphia owns a 13-2 record against Washington this season. Their offense in particular has feasted on the Nats poor pitching staff which is next to last in MLB in ERA with a dreadful 4.96 mark. Philadelphia is hitting a collective .274 with a .905 OPS against the Nats in 16 games this season.
Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber have in particular victimized their former club. Harper is hitting .412 with a 1.230 OPS in 5 games against Washington this season. Schwarber has 8 home runs against the Nats in 15 games. The Phillies will need these two to lead the way offensively despite recent struggles. Harper especially has struggled mightily in September, hitting .153 in 20 games with 27 strikeouts. Philadelphia needs Harper to perform at or above his MVP form over this final road trip.
Finally, the season will wrap up with three games in Houston against the Astros. The Astros currently have the American League’s best record at 101-53. However, there’s a good chance they could have home field advantage locked up by the time the Phillies come to town. In that event, Houston would have nothing to play for and would most likely be setting its rotation. Regardless, the Phillies need to win a minimum of 5 of the previous 7 games so that this series may not matter for either team.
In their own hands
Philadelphia’s magic number is down to eight games. That means any combination of Phillies wins and Brewers losses that add up to 8 gets the Phillies to the postseason. Milwaukee also has a light schedule remaining, with seven games against teams under .500. The Phillies are 51-29 this season against teams at or below .500. However, they are 36-35 on the road and all of their remaining games will be away from Philadelphia. All of Milwaukee’s games are at home where they are 42-30 on the year and 15-11 since the start of August. Even just a 5-5 Phillies record over these 10 games would mean the Brewers can only lose three games. That said, it would behoove the Phillies to win at minimum 7 of these final ten games. Their fate is completely in their own hands.
For a team that’s struggled to have its fanbase fully buy in due to recent collapses, it is absolutely vital for the Phillies to hang onto this spot. Just making the postseason will do a world of difference in the eyes of many skeptical fans. The offseason discussion could shift to hopeful planning instead of distraught apathy.