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Phillies unable to finish off sweep of the Marlins, as big series with the Braves looms

A big test awaits with seven of the next nine games against Atlanta.

Noah Syndergaard stands on the mound in Miami.
Noah Syndergaard stands on the mound in Miami.Read moreLynne Sladky / AP

MIAMI — The stretch drive begins ... now.

With three weeks to go, the Phillies remain well positioned to end their decadelong playoff drought, even after a 5-3 dud Thursday night against the Miami Marlins. They have 19 games left and a four-game cushion — plus, the tiebreaker — over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The odds are good — 94.6%, according to Baseball Prospectus.

But, well, let’s just say the road is about to get much tougher, with seven of the next nine games coming against the powerhouse Braves beginning Friday night in Atlanta.

» READ MORE: Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins hopes to play in Atlanta after bruising his right hand on hit by pitch

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said center fielder Brandon Marsh, who went 4-for-4, accounting for half of the Phillies’ hits. “It’s why we wake up and we do what we do. You want to play the best of the best and see where you stand.”

Look, for years, the Phillies had their playoff hopes torpedoed by their inability to beat up on bad teams. It’s unfair, then, to point to their 28-5 record since the middle of July against the Marlins, Cincinnati Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates, and Washington Nationals — the league’s four worst teams — and call them a paper tiger.

It’s also true that after playing 22 games in a row — and 42 of the last 54 — against losing teams, the Phillies (80-63) will play their next nine games against the Braves (88-55) and Toronto Blue Jays (81-63).

So, yes, they’re closing in on a playoff spot. It just won’t come easy.

“I feel as confident as ever with our ballclub,” interim manager Rob Thomson said. “We’re playing good. They’re battling. There’s a lot of energy in the dugout. Everybody’s pulling for each other. So, I’m really confident.”

The Phillies ran over a speed bump in their final meeting with the Marlins before another intimate gathering (announced crowd: 7,877). Noah Syndergaard created a 4-0 hole by giving up Jordan Groshans’ first major league homer in the third inning and a titanic three-run crusher to Bryan De La Cruz on a full-count in the fourth.

“Just tried to throw the crap out of a changeup,” Syndergaard said. “and it just ended up on the wrong part of the zone.”

When the Phillies acquired Syndergaard in a deadline trade, there were questions about how he may hold up down the stretch after barely pitching the last two years while coming back from Tommy John elbow surgery and working in a six-man rotation with the Los Angeles Angels.

It has been a mixed bag.

» READ MORE: Phillies’ Zach Eflin makes successful return, could be ‘Swiss Army knife’ down the stretch

In eight starts, Syndergaard has posted a 4.79 ERA and allowed five homers in 47 innings. But he has completed at least six innings five times, and the Phillies are 5-3 in his starts.

Given the possibility that Zack Wheeler will return next week and the way lefty Bailey Falter has pitched in his stead, the Phillies may face a decision on whether to keep Syndergaard on a regular turn.

But the Phillies head to Atlanta with bigger concerns. They faced three tough Marlins starters — Sandy Alcantara, Edward Cabrera, and Pablo López — and scored a total of 10 runs. It won’t get easier against the Braves, who will send lefty Max Fried to the mound Friday night followed by Jake Odorizzi and rookie phenom Spencer Strider on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

Since the All-Star break, the Phillies have played only four series against winning teams. They went 3-2 in two series against the Braves and 2-5 in two against the New York Mets. They’re 6-6 overall against the Braves.

“I think we’ve just played well against them,” Thomson said. “It’s going to be a good seven games, I’m sure.”

Say this for the Phillies: They’ve proven that they’re good.

Now, everyone’s about to find out how good they really are.

Big series for Marsh

Marsh punctuated a solid series in Miami with his second career four-hit game. He also hauled in several balls on the warning track in center field.

In his last five games, Marsh is 10-for-19. Since he came over in a deadline trade for catching prospect Logan O’Hoppe, he has worked with hitting coach Kevin Long on widening his stance to use his legs more. They have tried to eliminate Marsh’s stride to improve his timing and cut down his strikeouts.

It’s a work in progress. Marsh is 24-for-80 (.300) with 24 strikeouts in 25 games with the Phillies.

“I’m just trusting the process and grinding out in the cage and all the stuff behind the scenes,” Marsh said. “A lot of credit goes to a lot of other people. But it’s been a fun little run so far.”

» READ MORE: There’s ‘more to give’ for Brandon Marsh as a hitter, and the Phillies are up to the challenge

38 Special

After shutting out the Phillies for five innings, López gave up a solo homer to Kyle Schwarber in the sixth.

It marked Schwarber’s league-leading 38th homer and matched his career high, set in 2019 with the Chicago Cubs. Schwarber has a two-homer lead over Atlanta’s Austin Riley for the NL crown.

Sosa leaves early

With Rhys Hoskins out with a bruised right hand, the Phillies lost another infielder. Edmundo Sosa exited in the sixth inning with right hamstring tightness after running out a grounder to third base.

Sosa, who will be reevaluated Friday, was limping around the clubhouse after the game. Asked if he believes the injury is serious, he said, “I couldn’t tell you right now. It’s hurting. The hamstring’s hurting.”

In his previous five starts, Sosa was 10-for-18 with four doubles, one triple, and two homers.

» READ MORE: Phillies’ Rhys Hoskins hopes to play in Atlanta after bruising his right hand on hit by pitch