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The Phillies are letting the rest of the NL wild card teams hang around

The Phils had a chance to open up some distance but didn’t take full advantage.

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Washington Nationals Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

First, the good news.

Entering their huge three-game series against Gabe Kapler’s Giants at Citizens Bank Park this week, the Phillies are 67-57 and hold a two-game lead over San Francisco for the No. 1 wild card spot in the National League, with a 2.5 game lead over the Cubs, who hold spot No. 3. According to Baseball Reference, they have a 90.1% chance of reaching the playoffs and Fangraphs has them at 81.4%, 4th-best in the NL (Braves, Dodgers, Brewers).

They are 19-16 since the All-Star Break, one of only two teams in the wild card hunt with a winning record.

  • Cubs 22-12
  • Giants 16-18
  • Padres 16-19
  • Reds 14-20
  • Diamondbacks 12-22
  • Marlins 11-22

The Phils have beaten some pretty good teams along the way these last few weeks, too, with series victories over the Orioles at home and the Marlins in Miami, but they’ve also had perhaps their easiest slate of games of the season over these last 25 contests. Here’s how they fared:

  • vs. Padres - W 3/4
  • vs. Brewers - L 2/3
  • @ Guardians - L 2/3
  • vs. Orioles - W 2/3
  • @ Pirates - L 2/3
  • @ Marlins - W 3/4
  • vs. Royals - W 2/3
  • vs. Nats - W 3/4
  • vs. Twins - L 2/3
  • @ Blue Jays - S 2
  • @ Nats - L 2/3

One can’t help but get the feeling the Phillies have lately been impersonating a good Eagles team that is allowing an inferior opponent to hang around into the 4th quarter.

Sometimes, those types of games end very badly for the better team.

And make no mistake, the Phillies are a more talented, more complete team than the Giants, Reds, Cubs, Marlins, Diamondbacks or Padres. They have postseason experience, star players up and down the lineup, a deep starting rotation and a solid bullpen. They are built for October.

So why haven’t they been better?

Since returning from the All Star Break, the Phils have played six of their 11 series against teams with a losing record. In those 20 games, including last night’s 4-3 loss to the Nationals at the Little League Classic, they are just 11-9 against losing teams. They are 8-7 against winning teams. The most egregious of series losses was to the going-nowhere Pirates and this weekend’s stumble against the Nationals, against whom the Phillies went just 7-6 this year.

All six of their losses against the Nationals was by one run. In their seven wins, they outscored Washington by 49 runs. That doesn’t seem possible.

To be fair, the Phils happened to catch the Royals and Nats when both teams were playing decent ball, but there’s no doubt the Phillies should have done a little better than two games over .500 against those losing ballclubs. A series sweep or two would have been nice, but certainly winning series against the Pirates, Guardians and Nationals would have been highly beneficial.

The last time the Phillies swept an opponent was in Tampa against the Rays, from July 4-6. It’s certainly been a while, and they’ve had opportunities, but it’s fair to note the Phils also haven’t been swept themselves, not since a two-game series at home against the Braves June 20 & 22. The last time it happened in a three-game series was against the Mets, May 30-June 1, in New York.

The importance of the No. 1 wild card can’t be overstated. Sure, the Phillies managed to sweep the Cardinals in St. Louis last year, but it would be difficult to repeat that performance in San Francisco, a house of horrors where the Phillies have not won a game since June of 2021 and are 2-14 in since 2018. As the Inquirer’s David Murphy noted, the Giants are a bad match-up specifically for the Phillies. You also really don’t want to play a red-hot Cubs team in Wrigley Field in October, either.

Luckily for the Phillies, the Giants’ schedule doesn’t get any easier following their three-day jaunt in Philadelphia.

  • 3 vs. Braves
  • 3 vs. Reds
  • 3 @ Padres
  • 3 @ Cubs

Meanwhile, the Phils have a chance to bank some more wins against inferior opponents once the Giants leave town during this nine-game homestand.

  • 3 vs. Cardinals
  • 3 vs. Angels
  • 3 @ Brewers
  • 3 @ Padres

The schedule is generally in their favor, although they’re now done with the supposed cupcakes.

You just have to hope the Phillies didn’t miss their golden opportunity to lock in a 5-6 game lead for the top wild card spot and that they haven’t allowed the Giants, Cubs, Reds, Marlins and everyone else hang around long enough to get hot and steal it from them. Sweeping the Giants would go a long way towards erasing that disappointment, and even a series victory would be huge.

Whatever happens this week, the Phillies aren’t likely to go into a tailspin over the last three-dozen games, but a long winning streak doesn’t seem to be in their DNA, either. They are destined to frustrate and confound us, but outside of the Braves and Dodgers, parity is all the rage in the National League this season.

If that holds true, the Phils will be fine. But if someone gets hot, the Phillies will need to get hot, too, against a tougher slate of opponents than the ones they just finished playing.