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The Phillies are choosing “the hard way.”

While still in control of their own destiny, the Phillies are making things hard on themselves down the stretch.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

While not engaged in a full-blown September “collapse,” the Phillies are not making things easy on themselves as they try to break a decade-long postseason drought.

Sunday’s 10-inning, rain-delayed 8-7 loss to the Braves was particularly frustrating, given the multitude of ways the Phils could have won the finale and taken three out of four from an outstanding Atlanta team.

  • The Phillies gave up leads of 3-2, 4-3, and 6-5.
  • David Robertson, after getting the first two outs of the 8th inning, walked a batter, allowed a double, then uncorked a wild pitch on an 0-2 count to tie the game 6-6.
  • After holding Atlanta scoreless in the top of the 10th, the Phils couldn’t convert in the bottom half.
  • Instead of walking Ronald Acuna Jr. with a runner on 3rd and one out in the 11th, Andrew Bellatti gave up a go-ahead single to their best player, then proceeded to allow an RBI single to Dansby Swanson to make it 8-6.
  • That extra run proved costly when J.T. Realmuto hit a two-out RBI single to make it 8-7, only to be followed by a Nick Maton strikeout to end the game.

After getting blown out 18-11 in the first game of their final, six-game homestand, the Phillies won three straight, including a season-saving, come-from-behind, 10-inning, 4-3 win on Wednesday against Toronto, a taut, 1-0 win over Atlanta on Thursday, and a blowout 9-1 victory on Friday.

What could have been a 5-1 or 4-2 homestand to springboard them into their final 10 games of the season instead became a deflating end to a 3-3 homestand that sees the Phillies treading water while allowing the Milwaukee Brewers to stay in the race.

Yes, the Phils are still in control and the odds are in their favor. Fangraphs gives them an 86.6% chance of reaching the playoffs. Baseball Reference is at 82.4%. They are 1.5 games behind the Padres for the 2nd wild card and hold a 1.5 game lead over Milwaukee for wild card No. 3, although a tiebreaker over both teams essentially gives them one extra game’s advantage. That half-game will disappear when the Phillies play a doubleheader against the Nationals in Washington on Saturday.

Both the Phils and Brewers have favorable schedules the rest of the way, with the combined winning percentage of Milwaukee’s opponents at .465 and the Phillies’ at .468. San Diego has three games at home against the Dodgers, pushing their opponents’ winning percentage to .560, 5th-toughest the rest of the way.

Milwaukee’s advantage comes in that they play their final nine games at home (2 vs. Cardinals, four vs. Marlins and 3 vs. Diamondbacks), while the Phillies now embark on a 10-game road trip, with three against the Cubs, four against the Nats and three in Houston against an Astros team that one hopes will have wrapped up home-field advantage in the American League playoffs by the time the Phillies come to town.

It will be important for the Phillies to clinch ahead of Houston as it would allow them to set Zack Wheeler up to start Game 1 and Aaron Nola to start Game 2 of the wild card round, but based on how things have gone the last few weeks, the Phillies aren’t going to make it easy on themselves.

Their magic number is down to eight, so Milwaukee must go 7-2 over their last nine games if the Phillies play just .500 ball (5-5) the rest of the way. Although the Phils are just 36-35 on the road, that might be enough for them to gain entry into the dance.

The Phils are 14-2 against the Nats this season, and winning three out of four is a must. They are 0-3 against the Cubs, having been swept in the opening series of the 2nd half, but Chicago is 67-86, with a 31-44 home record. The Phillies must go 5-2 in these next two series to keep Milwaukee at arm’s length.

It didn’t have to be this close. The Phils have had injury issues with which to deal, but so have other clubs, and their 10-11 September record thus far ate up any margin they had or any thoughts of clinching early. Losing two out of three in Arizona and getting swept in San Francisco was bad, as was the sweep last weekend in Atlanta. Winning an additional two of the games in those three series would have the Phillies in a much better position, and finishing the job yesterday would have given them a 2.5 game lead (3.5 with the tie-breaker) over the last 10 games of the season.

The Phillies are choosing to earn their postseason berth the hard way.

If it was easy, anyone could do it.