After the Phillies dropped to five games under .500 in a harrowing walk-off loss to the Braves last Saturday in Atlanta, Bryce Harper acknowledged that this short 2020 season was racing by and the team's playoff chances would evaporate quickly if it didn't do something remarkable like ...
"We have to go on a streak and win nine of 10," Harper said. "It needs to happen. That's very tough to do in baseball, but to get where we need to be, it needs to happen."
Win nine of 10?
This inconsistent team?
Yo, Bryce, have you seen this bullpen?
Well, since Harper made that comment, the Phils have won three in a row to pull within two games of .500
So, there's still a chance that the Phillies could do the remarkable. They open a three-game series with the Braves Friday night at Citizens Bank Park. The Phils are in third place in the NL East, four games behind the first-place Braves and two back of the second-place Miami Marlins. The top two teams (plus the next two best league-wide) make the playoffs. The good and smart people at Baseball-Reference.com put the Phillies' current playoff odds at 40.8 percent.
Those odds will jump with a series win over the Braves and that's pretty much a must, hence the decision to rig the rotation so Zack Wheeler would start Game 1 Friday night.
Something else could help the Phillies' chances of making the postseason for the first time since 2011:
More action at the trade deadline, which arrives Monday afternoon.
The Phils added three veteran relievers in a pair of trades last week and they will soon get Ranger Suarez back in the bullpen with an outside chance of playoff-tested David Robertson being ready to help sometime in September.
Still, Harper is hoping for more help.
"I think we're going to go out and get more guys and get better," he said after the additions of relievers Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and David Hale last week. "I mean, you're going to have to do it. If we're going to go for it and get it done, then I believe that's what's going to happen."
At the time of last week's trades, GM Matt Klentak did not make any promises of more deals. The number of teams in contention in this short season has limited the number of sellers, and the uncertainty of how COVID-19 will impact the rest of this season and next has tightened the market.
But Klentak will continue to try to make the moves needed to push this team into the playoffs. His job might be riding on it.
Klentak will pursue upgrades right up until the deadline when more teams could declare themselves sellers and the market could loosen. He is operating with some restriction — the Phillies are less than a half-million under the $208 million competitive-balance tax threshold — but he has called that number more of a "guide than a hard barrier" and said, for the right move, the Phillies would go over the tax line.
So, what is the Phillies' biggest need as the deadline steams toward them?
It could be a bat to complement an offense that is already pretty solid. The Phils rank third in the majors in batting average (.264), second in on-base percentage (.347), fourth in OPS (.799) and fourth in runs per game (5.35).
The biggest need, however, probably still lies in the pitching staff. With five doubleheaders next month, the Phils could certainly use starting pitching depth to go along with more options in the bullpen. A swingman pitcher might be a nice addition, but the prices are still high and the Phils aren't going to shed top prospects for that type of guy. There are also financial considerations that would require some creativity.
Someone like Arizona lefty Robbie Ray might make some sense for the Phils. He will be a free agent at the end of the season and could start or relieve. The Phillies have liked him in the past. The problem now, however, is he has not been good this season. He leads the majors in walks and has an ERA approaching 8.00. Could Bryan Price figure out a way to get a good month out of Ray? Who knows? But it might be worth a shot, depending on the cost. And with Jose Alvarez out for three more weeks, it might be nice to add another lefty to the bullpen.
The possible need to add another lefty would make Tony Watson attractive, but it's unclear if Gabe Kapler's fighting San Francisco Giants will sell. If they do, righty Kevin Gausman could be the type of swingman that could help the Phillies.
It's not clear how these last few days before the deadline will shake out. What we do know is that the Phillies are out there, telling teams they're in it and they want to add. Stay tuned.