It happened again. The Phillies managed to lose another game to a team that they most certainly should have beaten, for the second night in a row. Starter Nick Pivetta was once again frustrating and Seranthony Dominguez continues to struggle out of the bullpen. Despite seeming to lose all the favor that came from a brilliant pitching performance from Aaron Nola against ace Max Scherzer, the Phillies are in it.
The Phillies open Sunday three games behind the Atlanta Braves in the National League East. But while the Phillies had two bad losses against the Toronto Blue Jays, the Braves managed to lose to the Miami Marlins 1-0 and 3-1. The Braves have been unable to consistently score runs at a time that they could be capitalizing on the struggles are having.
While the Phillies lost two of three to the Washington Nationals, the Braves picked up a sweep of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had an offensive outage of their own. Two of the victories against the Pirates were 1-0 and 2-1 victories. In each game the Pirates came literally very close to tying games; a close Adeina Hecchivaria play at the plate could have gone the way of the Pirates, and on Wednesday night a ninth-inning double by Gregory Polanco that was far and high fell just below the home run line.
In other words, it was close.
And the play may remain close, particularly looking ahead at the schedules the Phillies and Braves. There are two stretches that may make all the difference. The first is the stretch from September 3 through September 9 when the two teams play very different schedules. Also very important are the final 11 games.
September 3-9: Phillies play the Marlins (3) & Mets (3) September 3-9 Braves play Red Sox (3) & Diamondbacks (4)
As it stands now, the Phillies likely face Jacob deGrom, who if the season ended today would be a Cy Young winner. And Mets starters Zach Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard of course are no one to write off, either. But The Phillies saw first hand how tough the Red Sox are, and the N.L. West-leading Diamondbacks are fighting for first place every day.
Should the Phillies show up to play the Marlins and Mets, they could pick up a game or two.
The Phillies should be aided by rosters expanding on September 1. Starter Jerad Eickhoff made two impressive starts in a row for the Lehigh Valley IronPigs and could return soon, trying to eliminate some of the inconsistency of the Phillies 3-4-5 starters. The Phillies will likely activate extra relief help, too, giving the team more options if a starter struggles. It is not inconceivable that 35 players of the 40-man roster can be with the team.
And who knows: the Phillies showed with the acquisition of Luis Avilan that they are still willing to add pieces. You never know who might clear waivers and be able to help the Phillies via trade. The Phillies could add reinforcements in the bullpen and offensively on August 31 and have a large variety of options down the stretch.
The Phillies have to clear space on their 40-man roster this offseason and getting some expiring contracts in exchange for some lower-end prospects would help them clear space when they might lose those players anyway. Keep an eye out for that this week. The likelihood depends upon who is available, but maybe they do take a flyer on a Josh Donaldson-type since Justin Bour will be out an undefined period of time.
Donaldson will begin a rehab assignment on Monday in the Toronto Blue Jays system. The Phillies already showed they will take a player on the disabled list as they did with Wilson Ramos. Another veteran bat who cleared waivers is Andrew McCutchen of the San Francisco Giants. The Phillies have been loosely linked to him in the past.
The good news for the Phillies is that they have shown signs they are breaking out of their offensive funk. That, unfortunately, has coincided with inconsistent starting pitching and losses from the bullpen. Had Dominguez not blown two saves this week, there might not be anger and panic.
But even though the bad has been bad, the Phillies are still very much in the N.L. East race.