Sizing up the three teams chasing the Phillies with three weeks left | Extra Innings
If the season ended today, the Phillies would be in the playoffs. So let's take a look at the teams they need to hold off — the Marlins, Mets, and Nationals — to reach October.
In September, a win is a win. The Phillies blew a six-run lead on Monday afternoon and looked poised to waste a Zack Wheeler start a day after losing an Aaron Nola start. But they tied it in the eighth and Jean Segura hit a two-run homer in the 10th.
If that wasn’t enough drama, Hector Neris allowed an RBI single in the bottom of the 10th before retiring two batters for the save. It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. And the Phillies will take that. The playoff chase is underway.
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A look at who’s chasing the Phillies to October
The Phillies have completed more than 60% of their 60-game season, and they stand in second place. In a normal season, it would be time to focus on the team that’s in first. But in 2020, second place is good enough for a playoff berth.
So let’s forget for a moment about the Braves, who have won two straight division titles and do not play the Phillies again this season. Let’s talk about the teams that the Phillies (20-17, 14 games left vs. the National League East) have to hold off in the NL East if they want to secure one of the division’s two guaranteed playoff spots.
If the Phillies do not finish second, they could then win one of the two wild cards awarded to the best National League teams that don’t finish first or second. There are three weeks left in a season that was often referred to as a 60-game sprint when it began. The chase is coming down the stretch.
Marlins (18-18, 21 games left vs. NL East)
The Marlins lost 105 games last season, weren’t expected to contend this season, and then suffered a coronavirus outbreak during the first weekend of the season that sidelined 18 of their players. But instead of folding, the Marlins find themselves in the thick of a September playoff race.
They’re in position thanks to their pitching. Pablo Lopez has been solid and the Marlins recently returned Sandy Alcantara and Jose Urena, who both had COVID-19. Sixto Sanchez, the pitching prospect the Phillies traded to get J.T. Realmuto, has been electric. Their front office was aggressive at the trade deadline as it added center fielder Starling Marte, and the Marlins will soon welcome back infielder Isan Diaz, who opted out of the season in July but has since decided to play.
But the final month could be a grind for a team that has already overcome a lot. The Marlins play four doubleheaders in September, and their final off-day of the season was Sept. 3. Playing 28 games in 24 days might be too much. Thursday begins a stretch of seven games in five days against the Phillies. One of the teams could look like a pretender after Monday’s series finale.
Mets (19-23, 10 games left vs. NL East)
How different the weekend would have felt for the Mets if they were able to hold off the Phillies on Monday after erasing a six-run lead. Instead, they settled for a four-game split and didn’t pick up any ground on the Phillies for second place in the division.
The Mets have struggled this season to get much from their starting rotation outside of Jacob deGrom, which is hard to believe from a team that had the luxury of letting Zack Wheeler walk in free agency. But Noah Syndergaard underwent Tommy John surgery and Marcus Stroman opted out. Steven Matz was struggling before being placed on the injured list, offseason acquisitions Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha have been inefficient, and Robert Gsellman has moved back to the bullpen.
The Mets have Pete Alonso, Dominic Smith, and Michael Conforto, but it’s going to be tough for the lineup to overcome the pitching woes. The Mets have a favorable week — five games against the Orioles and Blue Jays — before their season heats up again with three against the Phillies and three against the Braves. That stretch will determine if they have enough for October.
Nationals (15-25, 17 games left vs. NL East)
You never want to count out the Nationals, as we all remember they were 19-31 last season after 50 games before rallying to win the World Series. But, things are looking pretty bleak right now in D.C. General manager Mike Rizzo was ejected from his private suite Sunday in Atlanta as the team fell for the 11th time in 14 games, Stephen Strasburg is out for the season, and Juan Soto has missed the last five games with elbow soreness.
But the Nationals still have Max Scherzer and Patrick Corbin — two of the best pitchers in the National League — and a team that is playoff-tested. If anyone can make a run in the final three weeks, it would be the Nats. Scherzer pitched seven shutout innings Monday night. They’re not done yet.
The Nationals will begin a four-game series Thursday with the Braves. Come Sunday night, we’ll know where they stand.
The Phillies are not ready to give Adam Haseley regular at-bats against left-handed pitching, Scott Lauber writes. Haseley has just three plate appearances this season against lefties and hit just .212 (11 for 52) last season against them.
Jean Segura was in full uniform 90 minutes before Monday’s first pitch, which is rather early for him. But the early start must have worked because he had four hits and a go-ahead home run as the Phillies salvaged a four-game split at Citi Field.
Phillies have some high hurdles ahead after escaping New York with a victory, Bob Brookover writes. The Phillies will play a total of five doubleheaders and 23 games in 20 days between now and the season finale Sept. 27 in Tampa Bay.
Today: Zach Eflin faces Boston in Game 1 of a doubleheader, 4:05 p.m.
Tonight: Vince Velasquez starts Game 2, 7:35 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phillies are off.
Thursday: Phillies open a seven-game series in Miami, 6:40 p.m.
Friday: Phillies play first of two doubleheaders in three days, 5:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
Over the last two seasons, the Phillies combined to go 20-36 (.357 winning percentage) in September as they faded in consecutive seasons. The Phillies have 21 games to go this season, so where did they stand with 21 games left in 2018 and 2019?
In 2018, the Phillies were 3.5 games back of the division and 4.5 games back of the wild card. In 2019, they were 15 games back of the division and four games back of the wild card. In 2020, the Phillies are two games back of first place, 1.5 games ahead of third-place Miami, and two games ahead of the wild-card leaders. The Phillies, with 21 games left, are in much better shape than in the last two seasons.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: What do the Phillies have to do to host a playoff game? — Robert B. via email
Answer: Thanks, Robert. The first round of the postseason this year is a three-game series, and the top four seeds will host all three games. The top three seeds go to the three division winners, and the fourth seed will be the best second-place team.
So the Phillies can still host a playoff game if they finish in second place. Right now, they would be the fifth seed and play a three-game series in San Diego against the Padres.