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Rhys Hoskins, Ranger Suárez, and a soft schedule: Why the Phillies can still make the playoffs | Marcus Hayes

Losing two series at home left the team bummed, but light competition, some unexpectedly strong performances and their slugger's possible return make the next few weeks ripe for the picking.

Rhys Hoskins (right) celebrated a home run with teammate Bryce Harper against the Washington Nationals on July 26. Hoskins, sidelined by a groin injury, could return to the lineup this week.
Rhys Hoskins (right) celebrated a home run with teammate Bryce Harper against the Washington Nationals on July 26. Hoskins, sidelined by a groin injury, could return to the lineup this week.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Rhys Hoskins got a cortisone injection in his groin Friday. The Phillies need it to be their shot in the arm.

The Phillies just lost four of six games to the Dodgers and Reds and dropped out of first place in the National League East. But surprisingly good starting pitching, surprisingly bad opponents on their coming road trip, and the benching of overmatched third baseman Alec Bohm are all good signs. No sign is better than Hoskins’ improving injury.

Hoskins is more than just the big right-handed bat in the lineup, the team spokesman in good times and bad, and, lately, the chief cheerleader. He’s the glue guy.

“I’d agree with all of that. We miss him,” said Phillies manager Joe Girardi, who watched Hoskins go 5-for-9 with five RBI in wins against the Nationals in the last two games before he landed on the 10-day injured list. “You saw what he did before he went down again in Washington, and how important he was to us. We really need him back.”

Hoskins’ absence resonates as much as would any player’s, and that includes star right fielder Bryce Harper and All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto. Hoskins’ absence certainly resonates with them. Hoskins last played Aug. 5. Since then, Harper and Realmuto are each 5-for-26, hitting .192.

Hoskins injured his groin July 29, missed four starts, made the next three, but has been shut down for the last nine. The Phillies scored just 27 runs in those nine games; not coincidentally, Hoskins leads the team with 24 home runs and 68 RBIs.

He might soon add to those numbers. Hoskins could return as a pinch hitter when the Phillies play three games beginning Tuesday at atrocious Arizona. He could return to the lineup full-time by the time they hit sliding San Diego for three more this weekend.

There’s more good news.

A friendly calendar

Yes, going into Monday’s action, the Braves had won six of seven and surged into first place, a game ahead of the Phillies, and the third-place Mets have shown faint signs of life. But the Braves were three games into a nine-game road trip before playing eight games against the Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers. The Mets started a stretch Monday in which they play either the Dodgers or the Giants 10 times in 10 days. Their rows are considerably harder to hoe.

Meanwhile, only two of the Phillies’ next 18 games are against a formidable opponent — when the Rays visit next week. After that, only three of the Phillies’ following 20 games are against a really good team; they kick off that stretch with three in Milwaukee. So, that’s just five out of 38 games against top-notch teams. They’ve paid their dues: The Phillies, at 61-57, have played the third-toughest schedule to date, and they have the easiest schedule remaining, according to

So what if they dropped four of six to the Reds and Dodgers? If they beat the bad teams they’ll face in the next six weeks, then October baseball will be theirs.

“Arizona — we gotta take care of business there,” Harper said after Sunday’s loss to the Reds. “We have to. The Braves are going to keep playing well.”

Bad news, good news

The Phils lost four of the last six ... but they won five of nine during the homestand. Former No. 1 starter Aaron Nola continued his inconsistency Sunday ... but occasional starter Matt Moore pitched six no-hit innings Saturday.

Better still, former closer Ranger Suárez, who moved to the rotation when the Phillies traded for Ian Kennedy, has surrendered just one run in the 10 innings that comprise his three starts. He’s thrown 33, 61, and 82 pitches, and has earned at least 90 pitches in his next start, Girardi said. But Suárez seems ready to shed pitch-count restrictions completely.

The emergence of Suárez and bonus innings from Moore have made it easier to manage the absence of No. 3 starter Zach Eflin, who last pitched July 16 due to chronic knee tendinitis. That issue had largely cleared up as of Sunday, when Eflin threw two practice innings to hitters. This means that Eflin could return to the rotation in time for a September push.

There are other, less tangible reasons for optimism.

On Wednesday, left fielder Andrew McCutchen, 34, returned from his latest knee issue, and while he’s just 2-for-19, one of those two hits was a home run.

Bohm, a butcher in the field whose power remains more promise than product — he has five errors in his last five games and has 37 extra-base hits in 151 career games — finally has been benched. Ronald Torreyes, his replacement, is 7-for-21 playing third base in place of Bohm.

Girardi knows the weak schedule only matters if the Phillies “grind out every game.”

“Every day’s a challenge,” Girardi said.

More so if you play sloppy and dumb.

Less so if your big, right-handed bat comes back.