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