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MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Chicago Cubs
Aaron Nola can write his own narrative
Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

Endgame: Phillies vs. Astros series preview

The Phillies need to win just one game to make the playoffs. Easier said than done.

159 games down, and the Phillies find themselves one victory away from a long-awaited return to the playoffs. Sure, they could backdoor their way into the postseason without winning a game - and considering the Brewers’ brutal week, that seems very possible - but where’s the fun in that?

No, I don’t want to see their lengthy drought end due to the ineptitude of Brewers. I want to see the Phillies earn their way into the postseason with an on-field victory. And to do so, all they need to do is beat a 103-win team one out of three times. That shouldn’t be too tough, right? Right???

Houston Astros

Record: 103- 55 (First place in American League West, 15.5 games up)

The last time they met

These teams haven’t crossed paths since 2017 when the eventual World Series champion Astros came to Philadelphia for three games. The Astros knocked the Phillies around pretty well in the first two games before the Phillies shut them out in the finale. The starting pitcher for the Phillies in that game was Aaron Nola who struck out ten batters in six innings. It would be really nice if he could duplicate that effort this series.

What’s the deal with the Astros?

The Astros franchise is on a bit of a roll, having played in three of the past five World Series, winning one of them. It isn’t clear how fairly those pennants were earned since the Astros have famously been caught cheating once and are suspected of bending the rules on other occasions too.

Cheaters or no, the Astros continue to win a lot of games, and have already tallied 103 victories this season. They are third in the AL in runs scored and have the league’s best ERA. Many years, designated hitter Yordan Alvarez would be a favorite for the MVP award. In other words, this will be a slight step up in competition from the Washington Nationals.

Playing to win

Astros manager Dusty Baker says his team will be playing to win despite these games being meaningless for them.

The Phillies should still have an edge in the motivation department. Rob Thomson (presumably) will be treating these games like playoff games, while I’m not sure if Baker will want to micromanage as much. Also, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Astros players were looking ahead to the playoffs. They have their top starters lined up to pitch, but will those pitchers be going full bore, or treating these starts more like tune-ups?

Game by game preview

Game 1: Monday, 8:05 PM - Aaron Nola vs. Lance McCullers, Jr.

It may not be an overstatement to say that this game will define Aaron Nola’s legacy with the Phillies. If he pitches them to victory, then most of the “September Nola” narrative goes away. And if he falters, I think there’s a non-zero chance he is on a new team next year.

I am not advocating for them to trade Nola, even if he pitches poorly on Monday. While he may not be an ace, he is one of the better #2 starters in baseball and would be nearly impossible to replace. I just think that the team might look for SOMETHING to change, and Nola might be the easiest big piece to move.

Game 2: Tuesday, 8:05 PM - Ranger Suarez vs. Justin Verlander

Despite a few rough moments along the way, Suarez has solidified his status as a good mid-rotation starting pitcher. I’d like to see him pitch deeper into games next season, but I could say that about just about every major league pitcher. (It’s just not the way the game is played anymore.)

If the Phillies don’t clinch on Monday, they’ll just need Suarez to out-pitch Verlander, a future Hall of Famer who is the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award this season. Suarez did go toe-to-toe with Max Scherzer earlier this season, so the possibility can’t be immediately dismissed.

Game 3: Wednesday, 4:10 PM - Bailey Falter vs. Framber Valdez

And if the Phillies are still in need of another win on Wednesday, they’ll simply need to beat Valdez, who has developed into an excellent starter, and will likely receive Cy Young votes himself this season. No big deal, really. (Valdez has been roughed up in his last two starts, and if he wants to make it three in a row, I won’t complain.)

Wednesday is Yom Kippur, and for all my Jewish readers, if you spend any time at temple that day, and this game does turn out to be necessary, maybe try to sneak in a prayer or two for the Fightins?

Trivia

Last series’ answer: In the Phillies’ first game at Nationals Park, Geoff Jenkins hit two doubles for the only extra base hits in the game. SLDH was correct.

Thanks to everyone who played along this season. I had originally intended to keep track of whoever got the most right, but...I didn’t. I’m not sure how many of you actually knew the answers, how many of you made lucky guesses, or how many of you blatantly just looked up the answers. (And I know some of you must have at times.) Either way, hope you had a little bit of fun.

Win or be forgotten

Philadelphia is a football city and based on how the Eagles look so far this season, that isn’t changing anytime soon. But if the Phillies want to avoid becoming a complete afterthought in the minds of the city’s sports fans, they need to make the playoffs this season.

Closing thought

It usually isn’t easy being a Phillies fan. But every so often, they do reward our faith. We just need one win, guys.

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