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How a photo finish in the Phillies-Braves divisional race could be even wilder than expected | Extra Innings

It could take two days after the scheduled end of the regular season to determine the NL East champion.

Phillies star Bryce Harper, Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies, and their respective teams could be headed for a wild finish to the season.
Phillies star Bryce Harper, Atlanta Braves second baseman Ozzie Albies, and their respective teams could be headed for a wild finish to the season.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

Two out of three ain’t bad? Meat Loaf must not be a baseball fan.

OK, to be fair, the Phillies gained one game in the NL East race by taking two of three from the Mets over the weekend in New York. And if they win two-thirds of their final 13 games, they probably will make the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

But after Bryce Harper skied a fly ball to left field to end Sunday night’s 3-2 loss with the tying run on base, the Phillies slipped to two games behind the Atlanta Braves (three in the loss column) in what’s shaping up to be a photo finish.

And it could be even crazier than that.

The Phillies come home this week for three games against the Orioles (47-102) and four against the Pirates (56-93), then play three in Atlanta (77-70) and three in Miami (63-86). The Braves are in Arizona (48-101) for four games and San Diego (76-73) for three plus the resumption of a suspended game before heading home for three against both the Phillies (76-73) and Mets (73-77).

If, after all that, the Phillies and Braves are separated by less than one game, Atlanta will play a makeup game at home against the Rockies on Oct. 4. And if the teams wind up tied, they will settle the NL East with a 163rd game on Oct. 5, with the winner moving on to Game 1 of the Division Series on Oct. 8, likely in Milwaukee.

Got all that?

Oh, and the tiebreaker would almost certainly be played in Philadelphia. The Phillies are 9-7 against the Braves and can lose the head-to-head series only if they get swept in Atlanta next week. If they get swept in Atlanta, it’s difficult to imagine them finishing tied for first place.

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The rundown

Joe Girardi let starter Kyle Gibson bat in the seventh inning of a tied game because the Phillies bullpen was taxed. It didn’t work out.

Harper claims he doesn’t look at his stats. Well, Matt Breen does, and he offered five that make Harper the NL MVP favorite.

The Phillies fired minor-league field coordinator Chris Truby, the latest in a series of sweeping changes to their farm system.

Top prospect Bryson Stott’s big season was marked by home runs at double-A Reading — and dinners with Harper.

Gabe Kapler is the overwhelming favorite to win the NL Manager of the Year award after learning several lessons from his two years with the Phillies.

Important dates

Tonight: Ranger Suárez starts at home vs. Orioles lefty John Means, 7:05 p.m.

Tomorrow: The Phillies bullpen faces Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.

Wednesday: Zack Wheeler starts the finale vs. the Orioles, 7:05 p.m.

Thursday: Aaron Nola face the Pirates in the series opener, 7:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

The Phillies have won 11 of the last 15 games when Harper gets at least one plate appearance with a runner in scoring position. Since July 1, they are 28-14 (.667 winning percentage) when he bats at least once with a runner in scoring position and 11-18 (.379) when he doesn’t.

That trend didn’t hold Sunday night. Harper batted with a runner on third in the fifth inning and drove in Freddy Galvis with a sacrifice fly for the Phillies’ second run.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: Love Extra Innings! Is it just me or have our hitters been striking out significantly less than earlier in the year but at the same time walking less? Runners left on base seem as high as ever, so not sure if we’re better or worse off? Any thoughts/stats to support? — Andy R., via email

Answer: Thanks, Andy. It isn’t (entirely) just you! Your question sent me down a statistical rabbit hole, and here’s what I found:

Your observation about strikeouts is spot-on. The Phillies’ strikeout rate by month: April, 26.9%; May, 27.4%; June, 21.9%; July, 20.3%; August, 19.6%; September (through Saturday night), 18.3%. Their walk rate spiked in July (11.4%), but otherwise has been consistent, ranging from 8.5% in April to 9.2% in August. Likewise, their per-game average of runners left on base has ranged from 6.4 this month to 7.0 in June.

Generally, though, I believe a lower strikeout rate is absolutely a positive thing. As Girardi often says, you never know what will happen if you put the ball in play. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Phillies have averaged at least five runs per game in June, July, August, and September after averaging 3.7 in April and 4.0 in May.