By Connor Thomas
It’s a big week for the Phillies as they return from a rough West Coast trip that saw them get swept by one of the worst teams in baseball, the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Phils now have 6 straight home games, 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays and 4 more against the Diamondbacks, and boy do they need a good showing. Right now the Atlanta Braves are leading the NL East by 4.5 games, and have been red hot for the past couple weeks, so if the Phillies want to stay alive, they need to start making inroads now. The Rays are far from pushovers; they lead the AL East and were the American League’s representative in the World Series last year. That being said, Zack Wheeler is scheduled to throw in game 2 against Tampa Bay, so regardless of how the opener goes later today, the Phils should be able to steal one of those two games. Worth noting, the Rays have given up 100 more runs on the road this season than at home. Hopefully thanks to this, Rhys Hoskins and company can continue the hot hitting they showed off on Sunday against the Padres.
The split with Tampa Bay is just a small piece of the puzzle for the big week ahead of the Phils, however. The real test, even though it shouldn’t be much of a test at all, is the 4 game set with the Diamondbacks coming up from Thursday through Sunday. It’s as simple as this: playoff teams DO NOT lose series to teams that are 39 games back and 42 games under .500. Not only did the Phillies lose their series this past week in Arizona, but they were unceremoniously swept out of Chase Field. It was a completely unacceptable performance from a team in the midst of a pennant race, and may very well be the series that defines the season for Joe Girardi’s squad if they do end up on the outside of the playoffs looking in. If the Phils want to prove that they actually have the ability to take advantage of having the easiest schedule in baseball the rest of the way, they desperately need to win at least 3 of their 4 games against the D-backs. It doesn’t matter that Wheeler won’t throw in the series; Arizona has been that bad this year. If that series is split, or worse, lost, it’s time to put the Phillies completely in the body bag.
A split and a series win brings you to 4 wins, which is an important mark to get to considering Atlanta’s schedule this week. The Braves have already dropped 1 game to the Yankees, and have to play another in New York before heading back to Atlanta to take on the best team in baseball in the San Francisco Giants for 3 games. If the Braves lose 3 more games this week, the Phillies could pull within striking distance, and that’s with 3 more against the Dodgers coming up for Atlanta. If the push isn’t made this week, though, it may never come. The Braves open September with 4 games against the sub-.500 Rockies, 3 games against the tanking Nationals, 3 against the last place Marlins, then 3 more against the Rockies. That’s 13 straight against teams in 4th place or worse in their division. While the Phillies don’t really have a hard stretch the rest of the way, that schedule for Atlanta will make it very difficult to catch them once this week is done. There is still over a month left of baseball, but without 4 wins this week, the Phillies might as well start packing the golf clubs early.