Play­offs within reach

But Phillies need out­side help in or­der to catch Cubs for NL’s 2nd wild card

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Matt Breen

The Phillies may have been sleep­less in Cincin­nati on Mon­day, but that didn’t stop them from tak­ing care of business and pum­mel­ing the Reds.

Drew Smyly pitched into the sixth in­ning, the bullpen com­bined for 11 score­less outs and Rhys Hoskins blasted two homers as he con­tin­ues to pull him­self from a sec­ond-half funk. That’s the recipe — just enough pitch­ing to keep them in a game long enough for their of­fense to win — for how the Phillies can reach Oc­to­ber. The chal­lenge will be do­ing it for four more weeks and then keep their fin­gers crossed that the Cubs stum­ble.

Scott Kingery’s alarm went off Mon­day morn­ing in his Cincin­nati ho­tel room and he be­gan do­ing the math in his head to fig­ure out how much longer he could stay in bed be­fore board­ing the team’s 10 a.m. bus to the ball­park. A few hours ear­lier, the Phillies ar­rived in town af­ter ral­ly­ing past the Mets on Sunday Night Base­ball. Now they had an af­ter­noon game to play.

It was just an­other chal­lenge in a Septem­ber that ap­pears to be a stiff test. The Phillies woke from their slum­ber, beat the Reds, and Kingery said his eyes were half-closed when he hit one of the team’s four home runs.

They met the chal­lenge, but they were un­able to pick up ground in the wild-card race as the Cubs won. And that — pick­ing up ground against a team they don’t play — could be the big­gest chal­lenge this month.

“We all know our backs are against the wall,” man­ager Gabe Kapler said.

The Na­tion­als, who hold the first wild-card spot, are six games ahead of the Phillies, so it’s pos­si­ble the Phillies pass them. But the Cubs are who they are tar­get­ing.

Last year, the Phillies played the Braves seven times in Septem­ber. They con­trolled their own destiny. This year, the Phillies have to root for teams like the Mariners, Padres and Pi­rates as they try to climb the stand­ings. They need the Cubs to stum­ble, but the Phillies also have to power through a dif­fi­cult sched­ule.

They have 26 games left this month, 17 on the road. Af­ter leav­ing Cincin­nati on Thurs­day, they will play 20 straight games against teams with a win­ning record. The Cubs play 12 of their fi­nal 25 games at home and play just 11 games against teams with a win­ning record.

The Cubs are on pace for 87.5 wins, the Phillies for 84.5. Last year’s sec­ond wild-card win­ner won 91 games, but 87 wins was enough for a wild card in 2017. If 87 is the num­ber this sea­son, the Cubs can get there by fin­ish­ing just 13-12 this month. If that hap­pens, the Phillies would have to go 17-9 to pass the Cubs.

Ac­cord­ing to Fan­Graphs, the Phillies have a 5% chance of mak­ing the play­offs while the Cubs have a 79.3% chance. To reach the play­offs, the Phillies must play well above av­er­age against a dif­fi­cult sched­ule while the Cubs play av­er­age against an easy sched­ule.

The rest of this month could make Mon­day’s wake-up call seem like a breeze.

GARY LAN­DERS/AP

The Phillies’ J.T. Real­muto scores on a sac­ri­fice fly by Rhys Hoskins as Reds catcher Tucker Barn­hart takes the throw dur­ing Tues­day night’s game. The Phillies won 6-2. For cover­age, see the­morn­ing­call.com/sports.

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