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St. Louis Cardinals v Philadelphia Phillies
Willson Contreras and the Cardinals have been better of late.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Clear sailing from here: Phillies vs. Cardinals series preview

The Phillies can have the top Wild Card berth if they want it.

The series against the Braves was a bit disheartening. The Phillies lost three of four, including two extra-inning games in which they (once again) wasted late, clutch home runs. But the good news is, they showed they could play about even with the Braves, and their playoff positioning is no worse than it was when the series began.

Now all the Phillies have in front of them are a bunch of games against non-playoff teams like the Mets, Pirates, and this weekend’s opponent, the Cardinals. There’s also another series against the Braves, but they will have nothing to play for at that point.

The Phillies have a 1.5 game lead for the top Wild Card spot. The schedule is manageable. Given the Phillies’ history, there should be nothing to worry about, right?

St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 65-81, Fifth place in National League Central (17 games back)

The last time they met

The Cardinals visited Philadelphia a few weeks ago, and the Phillies mopped the floor with them. They swept the three-game set by a cumulative score of 22-3.

Since then?

The Cardinals have actually done well since then, going 9-6, which includes series wins over the Orioles and Braves. That should serve as a cautionary tale for the Phillies.

The hot streak has been powered by Willson Contreras, who has four home runs in September. Contreras looked like a free agent bust early in the year, but his offensive numbers are on par with his career norms.

I had it in my head that he kills the Phillies, but that’s actually more of his brother’s thing. Contreras’ career numbers against the Phillies are nothing special, and they held him to just one hit in the last series.

Who’s cold?

The team’s improved play has not been powered by their two biggest stars. Combined, Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado are batting .206 with two home runs (both by Goldschmidt) over the past two weeks.

As for the pitching

The Phillies’ offense was rolling until being slowed down by Spencer Strider on Wednesday. The good news is, the Cardinals do not have a Strider or anyone of his caliber on staff. Instead, here are the starters the Phillies are scheduled to face:

Zack Thompson

A solid, if unspectacular, young left-hander who was moved into the rotation in mid-August after serving as a reliever for much of the season. The Phillies - thanks to a Rhys Hoskins-sized hole in their lineup - haven’t always done as well against lefty pitching, but it should help that this series is on the road, where J.T. Realmuto is actually a good hitter.

Miles Mikolas

The Phillies got to him for five runs in six innings when they last met. He’s leading the league in hits allowed and has given up five home runs across his last two starts, so the Phillies should be able to score runs against him.

Dakota Hudson

He’s given up 5+ runs in three of his last starts, including taking the brunt of the damage in the Phillies 12-1 win.

Wake me up...

The “Aaron Nola sucks in September” narrative should have been put to rest last year when Nola had a 2.36 ERA across six September/October starts, including the game that clinched a playoff spot. But after getting rocked in his two most recent appearances, the talk is happening again.

I think we should know by now that Aaron Nola is capable of pitching poorly in any month of the year. He’s also capable of pitching a gem - much like he did the last time he faced the Cardinals - in any month. Perhaps the most maddening thing is that the poor starts and good starts will often follow each other will no real explanation.

While a good start on Friday night would probably make everyone feel better about the Phillies’ postseason chances, it really shouldn’t. Because as I mentioned, if he pitches well tonight, that has absolutely no bearing on how he’ll fare the next time out.

Leftover MCU villains

Since I’ve already done villain analogies for the remaining teams on the schedule, I thought I’d visit some of the teams that didn’t get them earlier.

Seattle Mariners = Sandman

With the Mariners playing in the American League West, and not much history between them, it feels like the Phillies are playing against someone else’s rival when they square off. Much like the Sandman’s appearance in No Way Home, the Mariners are kind of sympathetic due to their history, but in the end, it’s hard to care all that much about them with more interesting opponents around.

Non-Phillies thought

Aside from the fact that the NFL probably shouldn’t regularly schedule games on Thursdays due to player safety, I actually like when the Eagles play on Thursday night. They get an entire media cycle to themselves, and when I stay up to watch them (perhaps enjoying a beverage or two during the game), the following day is a Friday as opposed to a Monday or Tuesday.

As for the Eagles themselves, they have a bunch of problems, and haven’t looked spectacular, but they’re also 2-0, which according to my math, is the best record you can have after two games. The offense has too much talent to continue to look as inconsistent as they have, so I think that will improve with time. The defense is trickier: They’ve suffered multiple injuries in one area, which can hurt a team’s chances. You usually have one solid backup at any given position, but when you start losing two or three players from the defensive backfield, performance starts to suffer.

Closing thought

It’s probably asking too much to expect another sweep, but winning two of three should be doable. The Cardinals have shown they won’t just roll over for teams, but when it comes down to it, the Phillies are the better team.

I realize many of you like to doom about the Phillies playing down to their competition at times, but for the most part, the 2023 Phillies have beaten the teams they should beat. Let’s see that continue all the way to the end of the season.

Ah yes indeed it’s fun time: Phillies vs. Mets series preview

Rise and Phight: 9/29/2023

Just call me Angel: Pirates 3, Phillies 2