The Phillies begin their final series of the regular season Monday night with a magic number of one and a chance even to rise in the standings.
The Padres are 87-72. The Phillies are 86-73. The Brewers are 84-75 and the first team out of the playoffs.
The Phils have a two-game lead with the tiebreaker over the Brewers, meaning Milwaukee’s only path to the postseason is to sweep the Diamondbacks at home while the Phillies get swept in Houston. Anything short will result in the Phillies ending their 10-year playoff drought.
But the Phils also own the tiebreaker over the Padres so the second wild-card spot is attainable. All they have to do to move past the Padres is finish a game better over the final three to tie them in the standings. The Padres host the Giants Monday through Wednesday.
In terms of first-round opponents, the Phillies would probably be better off finishing as the 6-seed. If they finish in that spot, they’ll play the Cardinals in a First Round Best of Three matchup with all three games in St. Louis. If they finish as the 5-seed, they’d play the Mets on the road in that Best of Three.
The Mets are almost certain now to end up with the top wild-card spot after being swept out of the NL East lead this weekend by the Braves. The Braves have not only a two-game lead over the Mets but the sweep won Atlanta the season series, 10-9. The only way for the Mets to win the division now is to sweep the Nationals while the Marlins sweep the Braves.
Thus, if the Phillies end up with the 5-seed, they’d face the Mets. They went 5-14 against the Mets this season and 4-3 against the Cardinals, who are six games behind the Mets overall.
In a playoff series against the Mets, the Phillies would see Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer right out of the chute, which could wrap things up quickly. DeGrom and Scherzer pitched Friday and Saturday so they will be on normal rest to start the first two games of a first-round series.
The Phillies did beat the Mets the last two times they faced Scherzer, but there’s a marked difference between drawing deGrom, Scherzer and Chris Bassitt vs. drawing Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery and Miles Mikolas.
And if you do win that series against the Mets…your reward is the Dodgers. The playoffs don’t re-seed, so the winner of the series between the 4- and 5-seeds draws top-seeded LA
The Phils aren’t going to mess around, however, they’re just focused on clinching. Once they do, maybe then they can look ahead to the matchup situation. If the Padres win their own series this weekend, it’s probably a moot point as the Phillies would need to sweep a 104-win Astros team to change the standings.
The most dangerous aspect of the Cardinals is the middle of their order with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Goldschmidt, though, has slowed down after raking in his first 120 games. Over his last 29 games and 120 plate appearances, the likely NL MVP has hit .231 with a .681 OPS, striking out 30 times. Arenado in September has hit .220 with a .649 OPS.
That’s not to say plenty of other hitters in St. Louis’ lineup can’t hurt you, just that their two biggest bats would be entering a playoff series relatively cold. The Cardinals have scored two runs or fewer in eight of their last 13 games.
But before worrying about the Cardinals or Mets, the Phillies have to do their part in Houston. They don’t even need to win a game to clinch but it would make things easier than scoreboard-watching days in a row.
Aaron Nola (10-13, 3.36) opposes Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1, 2.38) Monday at 8:10 pm The Brewers play at 7:40 pm and the Padres at 9:40.
In Game 2, the Phillies will see Justin Verlander, who is 17-4 with the best ERA and WHIP in the majors. In the season finale, they’ll face Framber Valdez, who set the major league record this season with 25 consecutive quality starts. Even if their appearances are abbreviated, they’ll be difficult on the Phils.
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