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August 06, 2021

Kevin Cooney: As Phillies look ahead to Mets, they can't ignore the Braves behind them

A few thoughts, notes and observations before the Phillies biggest August series since the glory years ended in 2011…

It is easy to look at the team directly in front of you and project them to be the ones that you have to keep an eye on to end a 10-year playoff drought.

For the Phillies, however, that may not be the case. Oh sure, the Mets are the immediate focus and winning two out of three this weekend to take the National League East would sure wake up a town that has been cold to warm up to an August pennant race.

But the real threat to Philadelphia right now is lurking just behind them in Atlanta.

Yes, the Braves had spent exactly zero days this season above .500 coming into Thursday night’s game in St. Louis. They are without their best starting pitcher (Mike Soroka) and best hitter (Ronald Acuna Jr.). There are times when the Braves bullpen is just as bad as anyone else in the division.

But the Mets and Phillies have allowed a three-time division champion and the team that was one win away from going to the World Series last October to just hang around. According to Pickswise, Fanduel has the Mets as the division favorites at +110, with both the Phillies (0.5 games back) and the Braves (1.5 back) hot on their heels at +210. 

With Francisco Lindor and Jacob deGrom still out, the Mets are now feeling like a team without an identity and trying to find any lifeline they can grab onto. While the Phillies are on their best roll of the year, it also feels like this house of cards is one more bad Aaron Nola start away from crumbling.

Here’s the biggest thing that the Phillies and Mets should worry about with Atlanta — the immediate schedule tilts dramatically in the Braves favor. Twenty nine of the Braves remaining games are against the Marlins, Nationals, Rockies, Orioles and Diamondbacks. That includes 12 of the next 15 games with only a three-game home set against the Reds mixed in as a potential contender. At that same time, the Phillies will have 14 of 17 games against the Mets, Dodgers, Reds (all of those home), at San Diego and home against Tampa Bay. The Mets have 16 of the next 19 against the Phillies, Dodgers (home and home) and Giants (home and home).

So while the Mets are the ones in the immediate windshield this weekend, the team in the rearview mirror is the one you better watch. Because they're the ones who know how to close this division out. They're coming in a hurry. And objects in the rearview are always closer than they appear.

Number Crunching

Alumni Weekend is one of the best weekends of the year in Philadelphia sports. It is the time when the sport that relies on the ultimate sentimentality tug gets to embrace it fully. And this weekend’s sessions — the tribute to David Montgomery on Friday and the Wall of Fame enshrinement of Manny Trillo (long overdue) on Tuesday — will be no different.

But Sunday will be the ultimate tug on the heartstrings when Roy Halladay’s No. 34 will be retired. Halladay’s 2010 is arguably the second greatest pitching season in franchise history behind Steve Carlton’s incomparable 1972 campaign. (Carlton’s 1980 season and Grover Cleveland Alexander’s 1915 are also on the short list.) And while Halladay’s Phillies career was brief – four seasons, only two being stellar — it is pretty tough to argue that he isn’t worthy of the honor.

Then again, it would also help if the franchise made it clear that three other franchise icons were going to get their numbers retired – Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard.

That grouping is the best that the franchise has ever produced at their position. And while it not certain that any of the three will make it to Cooperstown – Rollins should get a really serious look, Utley will get some consideration as well — placing their name on the bricks above Ashburn Alley should be a given.

Heading Home

• Bryce Harper’s numbers since July 1 have been out of this world — a .356 average, five homers, 19 RBI, a .469 OBP. And the Phillies are 19-11 in those games. That’s how you get your name vaulted into the MVP conversation.

• What has to scare the Phillies, however, is Aaron Nola’s inability to be consistent. On Thursday, he became a curveball happy pitcher. And as Kevin Frandsen mentioned perfectly on the radio broadcast, when you become too reliant on a secondary pitch, you are going to get burned.

• Finally, a word about David Montgomery, who was honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame Awards Ceremony two weeks ago and will be remembered on Friday night. To put it simply — David Montgomery was a man who made no enemies in a sport where it is easy to ruffle feathers. He was devoid of ego, fiercely loyal and dedicated to his hometown.

Some links provided in this content are sponsored by Pickswise, a Sports Betting Partner, independently created by PhillyVoice. 21+ Please gamble responsibly.

Kevin hosts the “Working The Beat” podcast with Mike Kern, available on iTunes, Google Play and everywhere podcasts are heard. A regular on WIP, Kevin loves to interact with readers on Twitter. Follow him there at @KevinCooney.

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