NEW YORK -- Gabe Kapler left his office Friday afternoon outside the visitors’ clubhouse at Citi Field with hopes of watching right-handed reliever Seranthony Dominguez throw for the first time since feeling discomfort last month in his already-injured pitching elbow.
The Phillies arrived in New York with the slimmest odds -- 1.9%, according to FanGraphs -- of making the playoffs among the 16 major-league teams that have odds better than zero. The Phillies waited all summer to string together a stretch of wins. But that hot streak never came. With just three weeks left, each loss seems to push the season to the brink.
Yet Kapler -- as he walked from his office to the field -- allowed himself to dream about the Phillies playing meaningful baseball into the end of September. His team had just lost the final two games of a four-game series against a hapless Reds team, and he was giving Jose Pirela his first major-league action this season with a start in left field.
But Kapler was not thinking about this weekend as he left his office. If Dominguez returns this season, it will be during the season’s final stretch.
Friday began a stretch of 20 straight games against teams with winning records. The Phillies no longer get the luxury of playing the Reds and the Pirates and the Padres. But the Cubs, whom the Phillies are chasing for the wild card, do. And that is why the Phillies’ odds are so slim. But say this for Kapler: He’s not giving up. And that’s why he walked Friday afternoon to watch a pitcher who is still weeks away from a possible return.
“I’d really like to be in the postseason, and I think about that more than I think about anything else,” Kapler said. “I just care deeply about pushing this team deep into September, playing meaningful games and having a chance to go to the postseason. ... I believe in this team, and I expect us to make a strong push here.”
Five months ago, it was easy to imagine this early September weekend in Queens being a pivotal series for the Phillies in a race for a division title. Instead, they play each day to stay alive in the race for the National League’s second wild card.
The Phillies have woefully underperformed. Their offense was built to do damage but has just the ninth-best slugging percentage in the National League since the All-Star break. Their pitching, they hoped, would at least hang in there. Instead, they have used 31 pitchers this season and have the fifth-highest ERA in the league.
They will face the Mets’ Marcus Stroman on Saturday and Noah Syndergaard on Sunday. They then have four games against the Braves. Then there are 13 games in 13 days against the Red Sox, Braves, Indians, and Nationals. It will be enough to test the manager’s faith.
When Kapler reached the dugout Friday afternoon, Dominguez was taking cover from a storm that poured over the ballpark. The tarp was on the field. The sky was gray, and the chances that the Phillies could reach the playoffs remained cloudy. The rain eventually stopped long enough for Dominguez to throw in the outfield. He said it went well. His return seems just as hazy as the team’s chances to play meaningful games for the rest of the month. But Kapler is keeping his hopes for both.
“One of the questions that I’ve been asked recently and frequently is, ‘How do you stay focused on the step right in front of you, the task in hand, which is winning tonight’s baseball game?’ The direct answer to that question is there’s not enough energy to do anything else,” Kapler said. “That’s not to say that I don’t know what the schedule is. I know who we have coming up. … There’s just enough time to zoom out, zoom in, zoom out, zoom in. We have to stay zoomed in.”