The Philadelphia Phillies have a really big game ahead of them today.
No, it won’t determine if they go to the playoffs and, should they lose, it won’t kill their season. Symbolically, however, it’s big.
When the calendar flipped to September in 2018, the Phillies, under the guidance of first-year manager Gabe Kapler, were 72-62 and in 2nd place, two games out of first in the National League East. The team went 8-20 in a disastrous final month of the season that ultimately landed them in 3rd place, 10 games back of the eventual division-winning Atlanta Braves.
Last year, the Phillies were in worse shape, 69-65, in 3rd place, 12.5 games behind Atlanta once again, but they were still battling for the NL’s final wild card spot as the season’s final month began. The team endured a 12-16 September that sank them into 4th place in the highly competitive NL East.
This year, the Phils entered September as the hottest team in the National League. After beating the Mets on Friday, Joe Girardi’s Phillies had won 10 of 11 and were alone in 2nd place, 2.5 games up on the Marlins and just two games back of Atlanta for the division lead. Over the weekend, the Phils dropped two straight to the Mets in New York in ghastly fashion, outscored on Saturday and Sunday 19-2.
Even after those losses, the Phillies remain in a great position to reach the playoffs. With the postseason rosters expanded to eight teams per league, the Phils hold the No. 5 spot, alone in 2nd place, three games behind the Braves, 1.5 games up on Miami and 2.5 ahead of New York.
That’s what makes today’s game against the Mets so important. With co-ace Zack Wheeler and his 2.20 ERA taking the mound at Citi Field for the first time since he left the Mets as a free agent this off-season, the Phils have a chance to make a statement.
Will September 2020 be different than the last two? Will this two-game losing streak over the weekend just be the typical blips that postseason teams suffer through during the course of a season, or is this the beginning of a third-straight September collapse?
Wheeler’s performance today will go a long way in determining which direction the season will go. The Phils teams of 2018 and ‘19 would likely fall down the rabbit hole of doom and go on a four or five-game losing streak, muting all the momentum gained from the 10-out-of-11 streak that was accomplished just a week before.
If the Phillies can get up off the mat and play with urgency, precision and confidence and beat the Mets today, it could be the difference between another promising season washed down the tubes or the team’s first postseason berth since 2011.
On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, Justin Klugh & I previewed today’s important match-up, what it will mean to the 2020 season, the insane week ahead, as well as more Ump Show from Cowboy Joe West and the 25th anniversary of Cal Ripken’s 2,191 consecutive games-played streak.