Baseball, it is often said, is a marathon, not a sprint.
A long view of a season that lasts six months and encompasses 162 games requires the patience and the understanding that every single game on the calendar cannot be life and death. One should not approach every Phillies game with the intensity of an Eagles game, at least not if you want to maintain some semblance of mental health.
But for the Phillies, it could start getting very late, very early, and very soon.
After being swept in a quick two-game series by the Texas Rangers at home this week, the Phils welcome the first place Mets to Citizens Bank Park for a crucial four-game series that could be a game-changer. New York has already won four of the six games between the two teams and enter their series with solid vibes and a record of 18-9, six games up on the Phillies in the NL East.
If the Phils are swept, they will find themselves 10 games back with the month of May not even 10 days old. A series loss leaves them 8 back, a split keeps them at 6, a series win moves them within 4 and a series sweep gets them to 2 back.
But the Phillies can’t exhale once the Mets leave town. Check out their schedule through the first two series in June.
- 5/5 - 5/8: vs. New York Mets (18-9, .667) - 4 games
- 5/9 - 5/11: @ Seattle Mariners (12-13, .480) - 3 games
- 5/12 - 5/15: @ Los Angeles Dodgers (16-7, 696) - 4 games
- 5/17 - 5/19: vs. San Diego Padres (16-9, .640) - 3 games
- 5/20 - 5/22: vs. Los Angeles Dodgers - 3 games
- 5/23 - 5/26: @ Atlanta Braves (12-15, .444) - 4 games
- 5/27 - 5/29: @New York Mets - 3 games
- 5/30 - 6/1: vs. San Francisco Giants (14-10, .583) - 3 games
- 6/3 - 6/5: vs. Los Angeles Angels (16-10, .615) - 3 games
- 6/7 - 6/9: @ Milwaukee Brewers (17-8, .680) - 3 games
The eight teams above have a combined record of 121-81 and a winning percentage of .599. Four of those teams are currently in first place. Fortunes and circumstances over the next 30+ days certainly could change things, rendering seemingly difficult series now less so by the time they roll around, but at the moment, it’s a daunting challenge.
For a Phillies team that has underachieved so far, and an embattled manager whose hot seat grows warmer with every lost series (6 of 8 so far this season), this gauntlet feels more like a Medieval quest, a thing to be survived, not conquered.
What if the Phils are swept by the Mets this weekend? What if they fall 10 games out? What if they lose the series and are eight back before they travel to the farthest reaches of the continental United States for a three-game series with J.P. Crawford and the Mariners, and then four games against the league’s juggernaut in L.A.?
Does Joe Girardi survive? How can the Phillies improve upon their place in the standings with this schedule staring them in the face?
Of course, Jon Middleton has assembled a $230 million roster of players that should be every bit as good as the teams they’ll be playing and perhaps the uneven offense will find some un-deadened baseballs and hit some three-run homers over the next few weeks. Perhaps the starters, led by a resurgent Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler, will continue to keep them in games, and perhaps the bullpen will continue not to set things on fire.
Fans are doubtful their baseball team will excel during this stretch, a pessimism earned through one disappointing season after another. Regardless, these next 30+ days are likely the key to the 2022 season, a stretch that could bury the Phils in a hole out of which they cannot dig, or springboard them into a very fun summer.
On the latest episode of Hittin’ Season, I talked a bit more about the schedule, the future of Joe Girardi, and dove into some Statcast data that shows perhaps what has befallen the Phils offense more than anything else, is simple bad luck. Check it out!