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MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Philadelphia Phillies
With a healthy Zack Wheeler, the Phillies have few excuses
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Do or die: Phillies vs. Cubs series preview

The playoffs are within reach as long as the Phillies do what they need to do

There are ten games left in the season, and the Phillies control their outcome. If they win eight games, they make the postseason. If they win any fewer than that, they’ll need some help. The first three of these remaining ten games are against a team that’s under .500, which sounds great until you remember that they were swept by that team earlier in the season.

Chicago Cubs

Record: 67-86 (Third place in National League Central, 21.5 games back)

The last time they met

It was the first series after the All-Star Break, and the Phillies spent the series acting like they needed a few more days off. This series was the one that featured the stupid Nick Castellanos vs. Jim Sailsbury confrontation in which everyone came off looking bad.

What’s the deal with the Cubs?

After an awful first half, the Cubs have been much better since the break - although not nearly as good as they looked in that Phillies series. They’re coming in hot, having won five of their last six (albeit against the Pirates and Marlins).

Game-by-game preview

Game 1: Tuesday, 7:40 PM - Zack Wheeler vs. Marcus Stroman

This will be Wheeler’s second start post-injury, and the hope is that he both looks as good as he did in his first start and can last a bit longer in the game. That seems like an obtainable goal since the Cubs don’t have the most imposing lineup out there. They rank 12th in the NL in runs scored, and their best hitter, Willson Contreras, is currently injured.

Game 2: Wednesday, 7:40 PM - Aaron Nola vs. Hayden Wesneski

Wesneski is a rookie who will be making his fifth career start. He’s looked good - he even has an immaculate inning - in his first four, but he has yet to face a team with a winning record. (The four starts were against the Pirates, Rockies, Giants, and Reds.) I wish I could automatically rule out the possibility that Aaron Nola gets outpitched by a rookie in a crucial stretch run game. And let’s be honest here: Even though Nola pitched well his last time out, most Phillies fans are absolutely expecting that to happen.

Game 3: Thursday, 2:20 PM - Ranger Suarez vs. Javier Assad

What’s better than facing one rookie starter? Facing two rookie starters! Like Wesneski, Assad is off to a solid start to his career:

Unlike Wesneski, Assad has faced some strong competition, and has pitched better against the good teams than the bad. In starts against the Cardinals, Mets, and Blue Jays, he’s allowed one run over 15 innings. But against the Reds, Rockies, and Pirates, he’s given up eleven runs in eleven innings.

He hasn’t pitched especially deep into games, which is notable since the Cubs do not have a good bullpen. Their relievers have negative wins above replacement over the past month, although it isn’t clear if they made matters better or worse by trading David Robertson to the Phillies.

Trivia

Last series’ answer: In 2017, Ender Inciarte had 17 hits at Citizens Bank Park, the most any Braves player has ever recorded there in a single season. Nobody correctly named the former Phillie.

This series’ question: Mike Schmidt famously once hit four home runs in a single game at Wrigley Field. Since 2000, only two Phillies have hit four home runs at Wrigley in a single season. Who were they?

Non-Phillies thought

With a few milestone home runs in the news, the question has been raised about whether or not a fan who catches the ball is under any obligation to give the ball to the player.

If you caught such a ball, would you give it to the player in exchange for some trinkets, would you keep it as a souvenir, or would you sell it, knowing you could potentially make millions?

While I’m sure my opinion would change if I actually had the ball in my possession, in this theoretical scenario, I would probably ask for season tickets in perpetuity. And we’re talking good Diamond Club seats here!

But I think we can all rest easier knowing that Zack Hample didn’t end up with either ball.

Closing thought

The past decade has given Phillies fans plenty of reasons to feel pessimistic about their chances, but I maintain that they’re still in very good shape to make the playoffs.

Just remember:

The Phillies just went 3-3 against a couple of playoff teams, and for the most part, have done well against non-contenders this season. Maybe the Cubs “have their number” this season, but the Phillies’ struggles in that earlier season seemed somewhat fluky rather than a real matchup issue.

The Phillies did well at Wrigley Field in 2021, going 3-1 in their lone series there, averaging almost ten runs a game. Some stadiums have been houses of horror for the Phillies in recent years (Chase Field and Coors Field come to mind), but Wrigley hasn’t been one of them.

As I’ve talked about in other previews, they have the talent to get the job done. They’ll have Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, and Ranger Suarez pitching against a bad team, and that’s about as good a scenario as you could hope for.

The Phillies should win this series and they should make the playoffs. That is far from a guarantee that it will happen, but they are in about as good a situation as you could hope for at this point.

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