The Phillies had a brutal weekend in Miami yet didn't lose ground in the wild-card race. And so the charade continues.
The second wild card remains reachable for flawed teams like the Phillies, Brewers and Cubs. And one of them, or the slightly-less-flawed Mets, has to finish in that spot.
This weekend, the Phillies lost two of three in Miami. The Mets were swept at home by the Braves. The Cubs were swept at home by the Nationals. The Phillies actually gained a game, silly as that may sound.
The Phillies are 1½ games behind the Cubs, but at 67-62 the Phils are on track to win 84 games and that won't get you into the one-game playoff. Even if you assume that 87, typically a low number for the second wild-card spot, is high enough, that would still require the Phillies to go 20-13 over their final 33 games.
Do you see the Phillies going 20-13 over their final 33 games?
The Phils have three at home with the Pirates this week, an off-day Thursday, then three at home with the Mets. The Phillies have not faced the Mets since the last series before the All-Star break. The Mets ended that series 10 games under .500. They're four over now.
The Phillies' September schedule is daunting. After four games in Cincinnati to begin the month, they have their final three with the Mets at Citi Field, four with the Braves, two vs. the Red Sox, three more in Atlanta, three in Cleveland, five in D.C. and then the Marlins to close out the regular season.
After the Reds series, that's 20 straight games the Phillies will play against teams over .500 and fighting for the playoffs. None of those games will be made easier by a team sitting key players.
The season is now 80 percent complete. The Phillies are what they are — a team slightly above .500. Removing passion or optimism from the equation, their likeliest range is 82 to 85 wins.
Unless the Phils make a run they haven't made since the fourth week of May, those nine losses against Miami will stick out. The Phillies need to sweep the Marlins the final weekend of September just to avoid a losing record against the National League's worst team.
The injuries will stick out, though if you were told at the beginning of the season that the Phillies would lose Andrew McCutchen for the season along with six of their top seven relievers, 82 to 85 wins would have sounded reasonable.
The 2019 Nationals are a much better team than the 2019 Phillies. They have the deep, powerful and multidimensional offense the Phillies thought they had. Their rotation is far superior. Their bullpen, with the deadline additions of Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland, is not the nightly sieve it was in the first half.
The Mets, as of this moment, also have the better roster. They have three dangerous hitters in Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto, a red-hot Amed Rosario and useful offensive pieces in J.D. Davis, Wilson Ramos and Todd Frazier. The offenses of the Mets and Phillies are pretty even, but the Mets have the huge edge in starting pitching and therefore pitching altogether.
The Cubs have a decent but disappointing rotation, a bad bullpen and an offense that has been stale much of the last two months. They're still probably a slightly deeper team than the Phillies, and down the stretch, you'd rather be the team with Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester and Yu Darvish than the team with Aaron Nola, Jason Vargas, Drew Smyly, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez.
The Phillies' run differential of minus-17 suggests they've outperformed their true talent level this season. There are 14 teams with negative run differentials and only the Phillies and Brewers have winning records.
To finish ahead of the Cubs, Mets and Brewers, the Phillies will have to play the kind of baseball they have not played with this group, the kind of baseball the underlying numbers illustrate they're probably incapable of.
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