The Phillies may have been sleepless in Cincinnati on Monday, but that didn’t stop them from taking care of business and pummeling the Reds. Drew Smyly pitched into the sixth inning, the bullpen combined for 11 scoreless outs, and Rhys Hoskins blasted two homers as he continues to pull himself from a second-half funk. That’s the recipe - just enough pitching to keep the Phillies in a game long enough for their offense to win - for how the Phillies can reach October. The challenge will be doing it for four more weeks and then keep their fingers crossed that the Cubs stumble.
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Scott Kingery’s alarm went off Monday morning in his Cincinnati hotel room and he began doing the math in his head to figure out how much longer he could stay in bed before boarding the team’s 10 a.m. bus to the ballpark. A few hours earlier, the Phillies arrived in town after rallying past the Mets on Sunday Night Baseball. Now they had an afternoon game to play.
It was just another challenge of a September that appears to be a stiff test. The Phillies woke from their slumber, beat the Reds, and Kingery said his eyes were half closed when he hit one of the team’s four home runs. They met the challenge, but they were unable to pick up ground in the wild-card race as the Cubs won. And that - picking up ground against a team who they don’t play - could be the biggest challenge this month.
“We all know our backs are against the wall,” manager Gabe Kapler said.
The Nationals, who hold the first wild-card spot, are six games ahead of the Phillies. So it’s possible the Phillies pass them. But the Cubs are who they are targeting. Last year, the Phillies played the Braves seven times in September. They controlled their own destiny. This year, the Phillies have to root for teams like the Mariners, Padres, and Pirates as they try to climb the standings. They need the Cubs to stumble, but the Phillies also have to power through a difficult schedule.
The Phillies have 26 games left this month, 17 of which are on the road. After leaving Cincinnati on Thursday, they will play 20-straight games against teams with a winning record. The Cubs play 12 of their final 25 games at home and play just 11 games against teams with a winning record.
The Cubs are on pace for 87.5 wins and the Phillies are on pace for 84.5. Last year’s second wild-card winner won 91 games, but 87 wins was enough for a wild card in 2017. If 87 is the number this season, the Cubs can get there by finishing just 13-12 this month. If that happens, the Phillies would have to go 17-9 to pass the 87-win Cubs.
According to FanGraphs, the Phillies have a five-percent chance of making the playoffs while the Cubs have a 79.3-percent chance. The Phillies, in order to reach the playoffs, need the Cubs to play average against an easy schedule while the Phillies play well-above average against a difficult schedule. The rest of this month could make Monday’s wake-up call seem like a breeze.
Say this for the Phillies: They won’t just bow out of the playoff race, Scott Lauber writes from Cincinnati. Rhys Hoskins talked about what he changed recently to get himself going again at the plate. The most drastic change was a haircut. Maybe the Phillies should make sure a barber travels with them this month.
Matt Klentak said before Sunday night’s game that it will take “a really impressive September run” for his team to make the playoffs, Bob Brookover writes. He’s not wrong. But the general manager said the Phillies are well positioned for next season. “What I like about this year’s team is that it’s a team that’s built to compete not just this year, but it’s also a team that’s built to compete in future years,” Klentak said.
Scott Kingery, Lauber writes, has been the team’s most improved player and he put himself in rare company on Monday by becoming just the seventh player in baseball history to have 50 extra-base hits in a season in which he played all three outfield positions, second base, third base, and shortstop, joining a group that includes Al Smith (1955), Felix Mantilla (1964), Kirby Puckett (1990), Jose Hernandez (1998), Ben Zobrist (2009), and Danny Santana (2019).
Tonight: Vince Velasquez faces righthander Lucas Sims, 6:40 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola starts against righthander Trevor Bauer, 6:40 p.m.
Thursday: Jason Vargas pitches against righthander Sonny Gray, 12:35 p.m.
Friday: Zach Eflin opens a three-game series against the Mets at Citi Field, 7:10 p.m.
Sunday: The Phillies end a seven-game road trip in Queens, 1:10 p.m.
Bryce Harper’s homer in Monday’s eighth inning gave him 30 homers for the season. He is just the seventh right fielder (at least 60-percent of games played in right) in Phillies history to hit 30 homers. He joins Chuck Klein (1929, 1930, and 1932), Bobby Abreu (2001 and 2004), Johnny Callison (1964 and 1965), Olney High’s Del Ennis (1948 and 1950), Jayson Werth (2009), and Cy Williams in 1927.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: The Reds made a pitching change for Tuesday. Why? - David L. via email.