When you’ve been wandering in the desert for 10 years, the timing of your arrival at an oasis is certainly less important than just finding it in the first place. Unless there are other challenges of course. In this case, it is better to take the shortest possible path to the water, and then turn away and continue moving.
The PhyllisYou know, you haven’t done the playoffs in 10 years. There is a wild card in their hand despite a four-game losing streak that went into Tuesday night against the Toronto Blue Jays, the opening game of their last regular season. But with two weeks left, they will have to snatch the elusive playoff spot no later than Game 160.
Otherwise, a sip from the oasis may quench their thirst but it won’t even give them a chance to survive the rest of the journey.
When it’s all over—after the Wild-Card Series or Division Round, later (or (gulp) sooner)—a question will be asked: What constitutes a successful season for the Phillies? Is it enough to end the National League’s longest active post-season drought, if they do? Or, given the club’s $240 million payroll record and the accompanying luxury tax bill, do they need to do more?
Judging by the September crowds at Citizens Bank Park, it will take more than a possibility, indeed a possibility, to berth a wild card in an expanded extension court to turn back the clock to 2011 and prove that the Phillies are more than third. The best team in their department.
There will be time to have this discussion and loop in all heads, from owner John Middleton to head of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and even Bryce Harper. But the Phillies can speak up with their play for the next two weeks. Put your foot on the pedal and run over people, to paraphrase the July dictates of interim manager Rob Thomson, and they’ll show that a place in the championship isn’t enough. Make things interesting along the stretch, and they might be happy to get there.
Because advancing beyond the best-of-three wild card series, whether it’s against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Atlanta Braves, or even the New York Mets (all three games on the way), will require two things: first, Zach Wheeler must be healthy, second, he must Wheeler and Aaron Nola start the first two matches.
There will be more clarity about Wheeler’s condition Wednesday night. He is expected to return from the injured list and face the Blue Jays in his first start since August 20. Night in Chicago and October 2 in Washington before lining up for the start of Game 1 of the Wild-Card series at regular break on October 7.
NOLA is set to start Friday night at home against the Braves and September 29th against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. His next start will be on October 4 in Houston, the penultimate game of the season.
If it’s anything more than what baseball players call “touch and feel,” a glorified Bulls session in a pointless game against the power of the Astros that will have the NBA top seed sewn together by then, NOLA won’t be available to start a regular rest until game 3 of the Wild-Card series. This is assuming Phillies haven’t been kicked out by then or you don’t push him to rest for three days in Game 2.
(Nola has never started to rest for less than four days, although he has started more than any player in baseball since 2018).
And before anyone argues that Velez would be better off not leaving his NOLA and his 4.47 ERA in September and October anywhere near a watershed streak, consider this: The Cardinal, led by two nominees Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado, slug 472 with .821 OPS against Left-handed pitchers, compared to .411 and .732 against the right; The Braves, with Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley and Dansby Swanson, have a great right-hand squad as well.
So, what are the chances of the Phillies putting their bow in a famous spot before Nola has to give them six or seven runs in Game 161?
Entering Tuesday night, they led the Milwaukee Brewers by two and a half games (3½, including the tiebreak) for the last wild card spot. Any combination of 14 Phillies wins and Brewers losses (from a total of 27 games between Tuesday and October 4th) will clear the champagne from the ice before Nola takes the hill.
maybe? Can. But only if Velez plays better against good teams. Toronto had 19 games over the .500 entry Tuesday; Atlanta, who came to town for four games starting Thursday night after sweeping the Phillies last weekend, was 37 years old. The Phillies have played only 15 games against the winning teams since the All-Star break and they were 5-10.
A strong back of the wheeler would help calm the stomach. When Al Velez put him on the injured list in late August, Dombrowski said the ace would only miss two entries. I turned five due to elbow inflammation.
Velez was shy about how many pitches Wheeler would throw against Jay. He threw about 55 throws, including warm-up exercises, at Friday’s simulation game in Atlanta.
“It’s going to be shorter at first,” Wheeler said last week. “As long as I’m in 90 pitches and seven games by qualifying time, I’ll be fine.”
The Phyllis always thought so. From the start, team officials have emphasized that the club could prove dangerous in the post-season if Wheeler and Nola are able to start games 1 and 2.
It’s now up to the Phillies to make it happen by treating the season as if it were 160 games – and not one more day.