CINCINNATI -- Say this for the Phillies: They won't just bow out of the playoff race.
Never mind that they aren’t being given much of a shot. Between a road-heavy September schedule, an overflowing injury list, and pitching deficiencies that have kept them from winning more than four games in a row all season, they entered a Labor Day matinee here at Great American Ball Park with only a 4.6 percent chance of claiming a National League wild-card spot, according to Fangraphs. Even general manager Matt Klentak conceded that it’s “going to take a really impressive September run” for the Phillies to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.
It’s OK. Isn’t it almost time to fire up those E-A-G-L-E-S chants anyway?
Don’t look now, though, but the Phillies continue to put the heat on the Chicago Cubs for that second wild-card berth. They came back to beat the New York Mets on Sunday night in Philadelphia, hopped on a quick flight to Cincinnati, caught a few zzzs, then bashed four home runs -- two by resurgent slugger Rhys Hoskins -- in a 7-1 rout of the Reds to remain 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with 26 games remaining.
Hey, crazier comebacks have happened.
"We all know our backs are against the wall," manager Gabe Kapler said. "To have our guys come out after a long night like last night and bring such strong energy, guys were really up from the first pitch of the game. That speaks to the character of the guys in that room."
Playing without shortstop Jean Segura, who was attending his grandmother's funeral in the Dominican Republic, and catcher J.T. Realmuto, who was received a rare breather, the Phillies scored all of their runs on homers. Scott Kingery and Hoskins clocked two-run shots in the second and third innings, respectively, against Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani before Bryce Harper tacked on a two-run homer in the eighth and Hoskins followed with a solo blast.
Hoskins' homers were particularly notable. The first baseman has struggled badly since the All-Star break, making him the focus of interim hitting coach Charlie Manuel.
"Hey, look, we need Rhys Hoskins to hit," Manuel said last week. "He's a big part of our lineup, of course. We need him to hit. We need for Harper to hit. Those are our big machines. Stop and think about it: When Harper and Rhys Hoskins hit, we usually win."
Harper has been hitting. He has 12 homers in his last 23 games and 30 for the season, marking the third time in his career that he has reached the 30-homer mark.
At last, Hoskins seems to be heating up, too. He typically likes to digest as much information as possible by watching video and studying scouting reports. Lately, though, he has taken a simpler approach. And in the last five games, he's 8-for-17 with two doubles, one triple and two homers.
"I mean, something had to change," Hoskins said. "It's funny. You talk about the definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over and over again, trying to get different results. But I think there's something to doing that in this game. I think we often screw ourselves in the ground by trying to change things all the time. I tried to change something that wasn't really a change. Just tried to change the thought process."
Kapler also dropped Hoskins back to the cleanup spot, where his career numbers are considerably better than any other position in the batting order, including his frequent No. 2 spot.
Oh, and Hoskins got a haircut, too.
"I'm going to go with the haircut," Hoskins said as the reason for his surge.
Whatever it is, the Phillies need it to continue.
They finally got a solid start from lefty Drew Smyly, who gave up little more than a solo homer to Reds rookie phenom Aristides Aquino in 5 1/3 innings. After a miserable August in which he posted a 7.20 ERA in five starts, Smyly featured a sharp curveball and worked effectively above and below the strike zone. The bullpen was solid, too, recording 11 outs without giving up a run.
But if the Phillies are going to buck the odds, their heaviest hitters will need to lead the way. Just like they did on Monday.
“Even when things weren’t going good you still felt like they could come up with that big hit every night, every AB,” Kingery said of Harper and Hoskins. “Obviously when they’re hot we get a lot of runs on the board. That’s what we need.”