The Phillies blew a five-run, four-run and one-run lead all in a span of nine innings. They somehow found a way to pack a week’s worth of fan misery into Wednesday’s 13-12 loss to the Washington Nationals. It’s there way of making up for having two off days in one week.
The Phillies are now five games out of first place in the NL East. By the end of Sunday, they could be looking at a nine-game deficit and their playoff hopes all but gone.
At best, they could be one game out of first place with a four-game sweep in Flushing over the weekend. Unlike the media who covers them, the Phillies can’t afford to think of doomsday scenarios.
It’s why Bryce Harper, perhaps unintentionally, said the magic words following Wednesday’s game.
“I mean I don’t want to ever think we’re out of anything,” Harper said. “You can flip a switch real quick and win nine out of 10. I think we’re in that moment where we need to be able to do that.”
On Aug. 22, 2020, the Phillies were coming off a miserable 6-5 defeat to the Atlanta Braves. A newly acquired Brandon Workman was tasked with keeping the Braves off the scoreboard and sending the game to extra innings. Instead, Adam Duvall singled home the game-winning run. The Phillies fell to 9-14 and were in last place in the NL East. With expanded postseason, they were still a game and a half out of a playoff spot. Still, it felt like the Phillies were at a crucial point in their season after losing five-consecutive games.
Following the game, Harper declared that the Phillies had to win nine out of 10.
“We have to go on a streak and win nine out of 10,” Harper said last August. “It needs to happen. That’s tough. It’s very tough in baseball to do that, but to get to where we need to be, it needs to happen.”
The Phillies went on to win 10 of their next 11 games. Joe Girardi said he heard someone call Harper a prophet. By the end of their winning streak, they were in control of the second playoff spot in the NL East with the season more than half over. It didn’t matter in the end because they went on to go 10-19 in their last 29, missing the playoffs by one game.
Things are much different now than they were a year ago. Both Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler carried ERAs under three. The Phillies offense ranked in the top ten in batting average, on-base and slugging percentage. José Álvarez was the only key contributor on the short-term injured list. Last year, 10 games accounted for just under 17 percent of the entire season’s schedule.
The Phillies probably aren’t built to win nine out of ten. They’re missing two key hitters in Jean Segura and Didi Gregorius. They struggled down the stretch last year because Harper, Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto dealt with injuries.
Phillies starters have only thrown at least six innings in an outing once in the last eight games. The offense isn’t as dominant as it was last season. The bullpen is better, but that isn’t saying much. The Phillies’ last four-game road series win came in September 2017 against the Marlins. The last Phillies four-game sweep on the road happened in July of 2014. Not a single member of the active roster was on the team at that point.Embed from Getty Images
The Mets have the best home winning percentage in MLB. Five teams have a lower winning percentage on the road than the Phillies. Wheeler, Nola and Zach Eflin are all scheduled to pitch in the series, but the Phillies have gone a combined 7-15 in all of their road outings.
When Mets probable starters Jacob deGrom, David Peterson and Taijuan Walker pitch at Citi Field, the Mets are 15-4. The Mets have yet to lose a game in which Walker has started for them at home. Peterson struck out 18 hitters in his last two starts against the Phillies. deGrom hasn’t given up an earned run since May.
Combined with the fact that the Mets are a much better team that keeps getting healthier on offense and a good outcome for the Phillies over the weekend seems improbable. Since anything less than a series split could spell disaster, the Phillies will need to learn to go against their own grain. They can’t win on the road, but they’ll have to try. They have yet to win a game at Citi Field this year, but that’ll have to change. They can’t hit off of Mets starters, but they’ll have to figure out a way.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re running out of reasons to believe that the Phillies are capable of winning more games than they lose. If logic prevails, than the Phillies have to instill a belief in themselves that they’re better than what they have been with 44 percent of the season in the books. Maybe a challenge on behalf of the team’s superstar to win nine of the next ten could help. Maybe it won’t.
The Phillies have ten more games to play until they are officially halfway through the 2021 season. At some point, a team’s record says exactly who they are. That point has probably already passed, but like a college student who repeatedly fails classes and finds a way to stay enrolled, the Phillies will get a chance to prove that they are better than what their performance has dictated so far.
“We need to come out on top up there because if we don’t, then it’s going to be miserable coming back from that,” Harper said Wednesday. “We can’t afford to do that right now.”
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