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June 23, 2021

If Phillies can't change their luck this week, they could be toast

The Phillies squandered an opportunity Tuesday night that they may live to regret.

Trailing the Nationals by a run in the ninth, the Phillies had two chances with the bases loaded to eek out a win and pull closer to the Mets at the top of the division.

But the Phillies went down with a whimper, as they often do, and now find themselves in a three-way tie for second place and four games behind New York.

It's still June, and any blanket statement about the state of the Phils is probably a bit premature, with the trade deadline firmly six weeks away. However, if the Phillies can't keep it close in the division, they may wind up unable to justify pushing to contend at the deadline.

And if they don't win this week, they may be too far behind to consider buying.

The Phillies will probably be four behind the Mets when their four-game set begins this weekend with a double-header Friday, meaning that anything short of a series win will lengthen their deficit behind their rivals from Queens. They will not face the Mets again before the end of July, though they will face the Marlins, Braves and Nationals.

The optimism surrounding this squad following a 7-2 start to the month of June has given way to the mediocrity this city has become accustomed to, with Philly going 2-5 in their last seven games. For the first time this season, their ace Zack Wheeler was less than stellar, surrendering three runs in his shortest outing of the year in their most-recent loss.

The Phillies have been treading water and very little has gone their way. Some simple bad luck — luck which statistics suggest will turn around — could be in play here. 

Wheeler has been a victim of bad luck all season. His 2.36 ERA, one of the best in the majors, has been wasted on a great many occasions, as he ranks 117th of 132 starters with just 3.5 of runs support per game. It's hard to win in those circumstances. And yet the Phillies score 5.3 runs per game (33rd best) for Aaron Nola.

Take Bryce Harper as another example. The Phillies' star outfielder has been battling not only injuries, but a lack of base-runners. His nine home runs this year have all come with no one on base. They have all been solo shots. He has 51 hits this year, and 57% of them have come with the bases empty. Compare that to Rhys Hoskins, who leads the team in homers with 16. He's had 10 solo shots himself, six of which with men on base, and 43 RBI on 64 hits — compared to Harper having 19 RBI on 51 hits.

Or take Alec Bohm as another example. He's hit the ball harder this season than all but 11 players in the entire MLB at 92.7 mph on average. And yet, he is hitting just .233. 

The problem is, if their luck doesn't turn soon, they could find themselves 5, 6 or 7 games behind the Mets in the NL East. And if that happens, it'll be a really tough hole to dig out of before the end of July, when Dave Dombrowski and the front office will have to justify being buyers to try and push for a playoff spot.

The oddsmakers aren't very high on the Phillies chances of doing just that. They have the third-best chance of winning the NL East, at +900 according to FanDuel, via Pickswise. The Mets are way ahead at -330, with the Braves in between at +450.

It may seem premature to say it, but this weekend's series between the Mets and Phillies couldn't be more significant and may wind up being an inflection point on the entire 2021 season.

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