ATLANTA — The Phillies were still clinging Thursday afternoon to their slimmest of playoff chances, but it was no longer possible to deny that the end was near. They watched the Truist Park scoreboard flash a night earlier that the Braves’ magic number was just one.

Atlanta had a fourth straight division title practically clinched and the Phillies were headed toward another playoff-less October. It was a dismal finish, but was there any reason for Joe Girardi to feel optimistic following another disappointing September?

“I am,” Girardi said before Thursday’s series finale. “We’re not where we want to be today, but I think there’s progress. I do. I think there’s been improvements in this club. I know we still have improvements to make, but I’ve seen areas of improvements. We need more and we need to make more improvements and we need to have young players come up and have impacts. But I do see optimism. You look at the rotation that we’re forming here, I think it’s pretty good. You look at some of the power arms that we’ve had in the bullpen, I think they have a chance to be pretty good. It’s really hard to win in this game if you don’t have pitching.”

Girardi managed against the Phillies in 2009 when they became the first National League team in 13 years to reach the World Series after winning it the previous season. The Phillies won four straight division titles and made the playoffs five straight years. It was the greatest era in franchise history. And Girardi was across the field from the Phillies at their height.

Now their playoff drought is headed for a 10th straight year. A decade ago, the Phillies were the class of the N.L. But now they can’t even crack October as they’re reminded each season how difficult it is to return to the success they once became accustomed to.

“It is really hard. It takes for a lot of things to go right to maintain success,” Girardi said. “Your minor leagues have to be a feeder. It has to be a lifeline. I always call the minor leagues a lifeline because when you need someone to come up and replace someone, they’re there. Or if somebody goes down for three weeks, that piece is there for you to do it.

“You can’t just go out and sign every free agent. You just can’t do it. As much as we would love to and John Middleton is extremely generous, he just couldn’t afford it. So you have to have help from all different directions. Some of it is luck. Some of it is the luck of draft picks staying healthy and their development. Some of it is the health of the team that’s here. There’s so many things that go into it, but you have to be somewhat fortunate to have years and years of winning. Or you have to have a young core that wins and they stay together. It’s impressive what some of these teams can do.”

Good news for Brito

The Phillies announced that minor leaguer Daniel Brito was transferred this week to a rehabilitation facility in Philadelphia after suffering a medical emergency and collapsing during a triple-A game two months ago in Rochester, N.Y.

“He has shown progress in his recovery,” the Phillies said. “And while there is still a long road of rehab ahead, his medical staff has marveled at his determination and competitive spirit throughout his process.”

Extra bases

Ranger Suarez will start Friday’s series opener in Miami against right-hander Sandy Alcantara. The Phillies will use a bullpen game on Saturday and Zack Wheeler will start Sunday. ... Hector Neris entered Thursday three strikeouts shy of Ron Reed’s career mark of 519, the most by a Phillies reliever.