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September 23, 2021

Phillies playoff hopes hang by a thread

The Phillies are down by three games with 10 remaining. 

It sounds possible, but it's also an astronomical undertaking and one that this particular version of the Phillies may not be adept for achieving.

After taking two of three from the Orioles in torturous fashion, the Phillies embark on their final three series with more urgency than they've had in quite some time.

In theory, they control their own fate. But they need to be absolutely, positively flawless in their last 10 games.

With the Wild Card all but out of reach — they trail the red hot Cardinals by 4.5 games with the Reds tied with them, and the Padres technically in the mix — the Phillies are focused on catching the Braves.

This weekend will be critical. The Phillies need to handle the Pirates, and will likely need to win at least three of four, if not sweep them. That's because the Braves will be playing the Padres — who are technically in the playoff mix still and are the Phils' best hope of having some help down the stretch — and the Phillies need to gain some ground before they head to Atlanta early next week.

 at D'backs, 4th NL West (1) 
Pirates, 5th NL Central (4)at Padres 3rd, NL West (3)
at Braves, 1st NL East (3)Phillies, 2nd NL East (3)
at Marlins, 4th NL East (3)Mets, 3rd NL East, (3)

The Phillies need to be at least three back when they face the Braves this coming Tuesday — and preferably they'd be closer than that. The Padres are not playing their best baseball and Phillies fans can only hope they put up a fight in San Diego.

Against the Pirates, the Phils lost two of three earlier this year in Pittsburgh, one coming on a walk-off. 

Philadelphia will finish with six games on the road, where they are seven games below .500. The Braves have actually not been great at home, with a 37-36 mark so far. 

Pitching is where you have to worry most, as the Phils will send Aaron Nola, Kyle Gibson, Ranger Suarez and then what is likely a bullpen game up against the Pirates. However, it does set up a Wheeler-Nola-Gibson trio of games in Atlanta before the bottom of the rotation handles Miami. 

It will be interesting to see what Joe Girardi would choose to do for Game 161, the middle game against the Marlins. With Wheeler slotted to pitch the season's final game, Girardi couldn't possibly call on the bullpen if the Phillies have a chance at a playoff spot on October 2, could he? Wheeler and Nola starts on short rest could be his only choice.

But the Phillies have to get there first.

It would be hard to put it better than The Athletic' Phillies' beat writer Matt Gelb did, as he looked at the tough road ahead, particularly for the teams bullpen (which has blown a spectacular number of saves):

The whole thing, right now, has an element of trudging to a conclusion everyone expects but doesn’t want to discuss. That is September in South Philadelphia. The Phillies can at least capture a winning season for the first time in 10 years. Before the season, they looked like a team that could win 83 games, maybe a few more if things went right. Six months later, they look like an 83-win team. The path they traveled to reach this point was exasperating. What is there to say about a 78-74 team that, if they played in any other division, would be near elimination by now?

They tried. [The Athletic]

It's also possible that Thursday night's series opener is rained out, giving them a double-header this weekend. As if things weren't tough enough.

After giving the Phils a 25% chance of making the playoffs at the start of the week, FiveThirtyEight gives them a 13% chance now, despite their series win against Baltimore. Baseball Reference gives them a 15.4% chance. 

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