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Why the next three weeks, not the Mets, will determine the Phillies season

The schedule does the Phils some big favors over the next 19 games, can they take advantage?

MLB: New York Mets at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

By the time Mark Canha’s flipped bat had completed its final revolution before plopping to the ground after his go-ahead, two-run homer in the top of the 9th of yesterday’s crushing 10-9 loss to the Mets, a sobering realization implanted itself into the minds of most Phillies fans watching that train wreck of a series.

The Mets just have their number.

The two teams played each other 19 times this season. The Phillies won four of those games. The Mets won 15 and outscored the Phils 100-63, a staggering run differential of +37, and beat them every which way a team can do it — blowouts, pitchers’ duels, extra innings and come-from-behind wins.

It was truly a demoralizing sight to see.

This weekend, New York (and their fans) came into Philadelphia and, without Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, Taijuan Walker or Carlos Carrasco, outpitched Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Kyle Gibson. With runners in scoring position, Phils’ hitters went 11-for-42 (.208) that included a ghastly 4-for-17 performance in Saturday night’s 4-3 win, their lone victory of the series.

Even the wins were hard to watch.

Here’s the good news: the Phillies are done with the Mets in 2022, unless they somehow match up in the postseason, should the Phils get there. And as everyone knows, regular season records often aren’t predictive of what can happen in the playoffs. In 1983, the Phillies went 1-11 against the Los Angeles Dodgers, then beat them in four games in the National League Championship Series. The playoffs are a crapshoot.

So even though this series left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, the odds are still very much in the Phils’ favor that they will get there.

Baseball Reference calculates the Phillies’ postseason odds at 87.8%, while Fangraphs has it at 73.1%. They currently occupy the 3rd and final wild card spot, 0.5 games behind the also-struggling San Diego Padres, and hold a 1.5 game lead over the treading-water Milwaukee Brewers.

With just a 1.5 game lead over Milwaukee for that final playoff spot, why are the Phillies’ odds as high as they are? Coming into play Tuesday, the next team down the standings, the San Francisco Giants, are 6 full games behind the Phillies, so Philadelphia is essentially in a three-team race for the final two spots. There’s no way the Phils are making up 8 games against the Braves for that first wild card spot, so it’s essentially going to come down to who plays better over the last five weeks between Philly, the Brewers and the Padres.

Philadelphia’s schedule over the next three weeks also plays into their favor and is perhaps the key to breaking their decade-long postseason drought. Their next 19 games are all against teams with losing records; the next time they play a team with a winning record will be when they travel to Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves, beginning on September 16.

Three weeks of baseball all against losing teams (although the Giants may not be a losing team by the time they take the field on September 2). If the Phillies are going to get hot and make a run, it will likely have to be here, because the schedule after these 19 games gets hairy for a while.

That’s a nine-game stretch against some very good competition, to be followed by 10 straight on the road to finish the season.

Fortunately, 7 of those 10 are against the Cubs and Nationals.

The Phillies will likely need to have a postseason spot mostly secured by the time they’re done with the penultimate series of the year against Washington because they finish up with three games in Houston against another juggernaut Astros squad that could pose real problems, even if Houston doesn’t have much to play for.

The Phillies have survived injuries to Bryce Harper, Kyle Schwarber, Zach Eflin and Jean Segura in 2022, but now the bullpen has lost Corey Knebel for the season and will be without closer Seranthony Dominguez until at least early September. Rob Thomson’s handling of the ‘pen over the next few weeks will be more difficult. However, if Dominguez’ IL stint isn’t extended, the Phillies will likely add both Harper and Dominguez in time for their west coast trip to Arizona and San Francisco in early September, two very welcome additions that will help them down the stretch. And while they weren’t able to figure out the Mets this season, the Phillies are 61-41 against everyone else they’ve played this year, a .598 winning percentage.

We’ve all seen the Phillies struggle in September the last few seasons, specifically against bad teams. They cannot afford to do that again. If they can take advantage of the soft underbelly of their schedule over the next three weeks, they will almost certainly win one of the final two wild cards and reach the postseason for the first time since 2011.