It basically all comes down to this for the Philadelphia Phillies, who didn’t make their lives any easier by dropping their series finale on Sunday to the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Phillies head down to Atlanta for a three-game series against the NL East-leading Braves, who are on the cusp of winning their fourth straight division title.
With six games remaining, the Phillies are all but out of National League Wild Card contention, making the division their only path to the postseason — meaning nothing less than a series sweep will suffice, or else it will be a playoff-less fall for the 10th-straight season.
“Of course we want to be better,” Phillies slugger and NL MVP candidate Bryce Harper said. “Of course we wanted to be able to sweep this whole homestand. We weren’t able to do that, so we have to put this behind us and get ready to go to Atlanta.”
Should the Phillies sweep the Braves, they would be a half-game out of first place with three games to play against the last-place Miami Marlins. Meanwhile, the Braves host the New York Mets — a team limping to the finish line after a second-half collapse.
It makes this series all the more important; though a Braves sweep would clinch the division and eliminate the Phillies.
“You get to the end of the year and you look for an opportunity to get into the playoffs and that’s exactly what we have,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “We have an opportunity to get there and I think we’re all really looking forward to it.”
Philadelphia will turn to its ace, Zack Wheeler, to put together a strong outing to keep their season alive in the series opener on Tuesday night.
The potential NL Cy Young candidate has stabilized in September after a rough August, allowing just three earned runs over his last four starts (23.2 innings pitched, 1.14 ERA).
He’s been solid against the Braves, too, allowing three or fewer runs in three of his four starts against the Phillies’ division rivals this season.
His outing is even more of a must-win considering Aaron Nola is expected to get the ball on Wednesday during another disappointing season from the once-perceive ace of the rotation. The challenge gets even tougher considering he’ll face off against Max Fried, who has a 1.78 ERA since the All-Star break. That’s tied for the best mark in the majors with Max Scherzer.
For the Phillies, the hope is that Harper can remain red-hot to spark the offense against such a stalwart of a second-half pitcher.
In 67 games since the All-Star break, the lefty has been scorching, batting .347 with 19 home runs, 48 RBIs, and a 1.225 OPS.
“I mean, every time you play somebody you want to sweep them. We’d be up a half-game or something like that if we went in there and swept,” Harper said. “As a team, as a whole, I think we’re confident going into Atlanta.
“We have to go down there, we have to do our job, we have to be ready to go from pitch one, get 27 outs a game, and we have to be very good with all 27 of those outs.”