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How do the Phillies get back to the playoffs? Here are the (bleak) scenarios.

The Braves' magic number is three, and the Phillies' chances are getting minuscule but here's where they stand.

Bryce Harper and the Phillies have virtually no margin for error over the final five games of the season.
Bryce Harper and the Phillies have virtually no margin for error over the final five games of the season.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

At this point, it comes down to merciless math. And we’re not talking about the quadratic formula or advanced calculus here. For the Phillies, making the playoffs equates to one solution.

“We have to win out,” first baseman Brad Miller said. “I think that’s pretty much it. It’s cut-and-dried.”

Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss in the series opener in Atlanta dropped the Phillies to 3½ games behind the division-leading Braves with five games to play. Another loss Wednesday night with Aaron Nola on the mound against Braves ace lefty Max Fried would leave them at the brink of elimination.

But here’s the simplest way to digest it: Any combination of Braves wins and Phillies losses totaling three will give Atlanta its fourth consecutive National League East title.

» READ MORE: Phillies’ playoff hopes take a hit as a ninth-inning rally falls short in a 2-1 loss to the Braves

So yes, it’s bleak. The margin for error is nonexistent. A nine-year absence from the playoffs -- the longest active drought in the National League -- has a 96.1% chance of reaching 10 years, according to Fangraphs.

“If I’m pitching a meaningful game on Sunday, that means we’re doing something right,” said ace Zack Wheeler, who is lined up to start the Phillies’ regular-season finale against the Marlins. “We need to get there first and win these next two games and go into Miami strong.”

The Braves have a firewall, too. They have played one fewer game than the Phillies as a result of getting rained out Sept. 16 at home against the Colorado Rockies. That game will be made up Monday in Atlanta only if there’s a half-game separating the Braves and Phillies after Sunday.

Here’s a look at the remaining possible outcomes in Atlanta and where those would leave the Phillies going into the three-game series against the Marlins that begins Friday night in Miami:

Win two out of three

Two out of three ain’t bad, as Meat Loaf crooned, unless you’re the Phillies. In that case, two out of three may not be enough.

If the Phillies win the next two games, they would pick up one game on the Braves but still trail by 1½ games heading to Miami. Although they would have a pulse (the Braves’ magic number would be frozen at three), they would have to gain another game on the Braves over the weekend just to force them to play Game 162.

But this exercise will be futile if the Phillies can’t score runs against Fried, who has a 1.78 ERA since the All-Star break and is coming off a 98-pitch, three-hit shutout of the San Diego Padres last Friday night.

Lose two out of three

Atlanta’s magic number would be down to one, which means the Phillies would have to sweep the Marlins — and the Braves would have to get swept by the Mets. Even then, the Braves would still get a chance to claim the division outright with a win in Game 162.

Stranger things have happened, but not very often.

And wait, there’s an even crazier scenario that could play out next week.

The Game 163 scenario

When Bryce Harper addressed the fans before the home finale last Sunday, he said he hoped to see them on Oct. 11 for Game 3 of the division series.

» READ MORE: Alec Bohm returns to the Phillies as a bench player for the season’s final week

But what if the Phillies end up having one more regular-season home game after all?

It could happen. If the Braves and Phillies are within a half-game of each other after Sunday, and if they’re tied after the Braves win or lose Monday, they would square off in a winner-takes-the-division tiebreaker on Tuesday.

Game 163 would be hosted by the winner of the head-to-head season series. Since the Phillies were 9-7 against the Braves entering this week, a tiebreaker would be played at Citizens Bank Park.

How’s that for a potentially wild finish?

After Tuesday night, though, the math is decidedly against them.

“You just have to keep grinding,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s all you can do. You have to find a way to win [Wednesday], then we have to go from there. Obviously, we need some help now. We have to go out and play a good game. We need a good game out of Nola, and we need to score some runs.”