This most unusual Phillies season took another unexpected turn Thursday when the players gathered at the team hotel and voted not to play the series finale against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park. It was their way of joining the nationwide racial-injustice protests that were fueled this week by a Wisconsin police shooting of an unarmed Black man.

“Sports provide a distraction that puts us in a spotlight on a daily basis,” Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “I think today we just decided to take a step back from that to make sure that some of these real issues and social injustices were the focus. That was important to the whole group, to both teams today. That’s what we decided to do.”

That decision has tacked another doubleheader onto the schedule for the Phillies. They will play two seven-inning games Sept. 22 at Washington. The Phillies will play a total of five doubleheaders in September. They will also play 30 games in 27 days next month.

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Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. will be back in the lineup Friday night at Citizens Bank Park after missing last weekend's series against the Phillies in Atlanta.
Matt Slocum / AP
Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. will be back in the lineup Friday night at Citizens Bank Park after missing last weekend's series against the Phillies in Atlanta.

Phillies’ last chance to beat Braves

The Phillies’ weekend, three-game series against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park is vital if they want to win the National League East. With 34 games remaining, the Phillies trail the first-place Braves by four games, but this is the last time they will play them in this pandemic-shortened, 60-game season.

So far, the Braves have won four of the seven games between the teams, including a four-game split earlier this month in Philadelphia. The Phillies lost two of three in Atlanta last weekend even though the Braves were without Ronald Acuna Jr. The superstar outfielder returned this week in time for the Braves’ doubleheader sweep of the New York Yankees in Atlanta.

The Phillies’ deficit in the division would be five games if Atlanta wins the series and seven games if they are swept. We know from the Phillies’ 2007 season that a seven-game deficit with a month to play is not insurmountable, but the schedule heavily favors the Braves, the National League East team that has been least impacted by COVID-19 postponements so far this season.

The Braves have already played a division-leading 30 games compared to 24 for the Phillies, and as of now, they have only one doubleheader scheduled for September compared to five for the Phillies. The Braves also will finish their season with seven home games against Miami and Boston. While the Marlins have played surprisingly well, they will have played 21 games in 17 days, including four doubleheaders, before their late September series with the Braves. Boston has the second-worst record in the American League and will be playing for nothing more than a draft pick in their season-finale series with the Braves.

The Phillies will close their season with four games at Washington, including a doubleheader, and three games at Tampa Bay, the team with the third-best record in baseball.

The rundown

In a Zoom news conference after the Phillies decided against playing the series finale Thursday night in Washington, first baseman Rhys Hoskins explained how the team voted for that form of protest against the shooting of Jacob Blake by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis.

Bryson Stott doesn’t know what his batting average is at the Phillies’ satellite camp in Allentown but the team’s top prospect is getting plenty of at-bats during intrasquad scrimmages at Coca-Cola Park.

Columnist Mike Sielski explains how the ripples from the Jacob Blake shooting have expanded beyond Wisconsin and across the country, touching the Phillies, Flyers and Eagles.

Important dates

Tonight: Zack Wheeler is scheduled to face Atlanta’s Robbie Erlin, 7:05 p.m.

Tomorrow: Matinee against the Braves, 1:15 p.m.

Sunday: Braves-Phillies on Sunday Night Baseball for second straight week, 7:08 p.m.

Monday: Start of four-game series vs. Nationals, 7:05 p.m.

Sept. 4: Phillies begin four-game series vs. Mets at Citi Field, 7:10 p.m.

Rick Wise hit two home runs and pitched a complete game in a 7-3 win over San Francisco on this date in 1971.
Rick Wise hit two home runs and pitched a complete game in a 7-3 win over San Francisco on this date in 1971.

Stat of the day

On this date in 1971, Rick Wise homered twice, including a grand slam, and drove in five runs during a 7-3 win over the San Francisco Giants in the second game of a doubleheader at Veterans Stadium. He also pitched a complete game and struck out 11, including Willie Mays to end the game.

“Damn, he could run for mayor, couldn’t he?” Phillies coach Doc Edwards said.

That, of course, was only the second-best game of Wise’s 1971 season. On June 23 that season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Cincinnati Reds and also hit two home runs.

Wise finished that season 17-14 with a 2.88 ERA, and his six home runs were as many or more than 12 of the team’s positional players with at least 100 plate appearances, including rookie Greg Luzinski, who homered three times in 115 plate appearances. Wise had 104 plate appearances.

Wise’s claim to fame in Philadelphia, of course, came the following February when he was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Steve Carlton during spring training.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: If one of the Phillies’ starters were to go down with an injury, who would be inserted into the rotation? — Richard S., via email

Answer: Thanks for reading, Richard, and for the question. It’s an interesting one. With five doubleheaders staring at them over the final month of the season, the Phillies sort of have a six-man rotation right now that includes Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, Spencer Howard and Vince Velasquez. I’m not really sure whom they would turn to if one of those six went down.

The answer probably would have been Nick Pivetta before he was traded to the Boston Red Sox, and it could have been Ranger Suarez before his season was delayed by COVID-19. Suarez is expected to return within the next two weeks, but manager Joe Girardi said recently that Suarez is preparing for a bullpen role. That’s entirely understandable given his success in that role last season and the Phillies’ relief problems so far this season.

Perhaps they would turn to an “opener” in an emergency situation, which in the old days was simply known as a bullpen game. I’m sure Girardi is hoping it does not come to that.