With the Mets off and the Phillies losing Thursday's series finale in Atlanta, the Phils enter the weekend four games behind Milwaukee for the second wild-card and looking up at three teams: the Brewers, Cubs and Mets.
It was a productive series at SunTrust Park but winning two out of three simply won't be good enough for the Phillies over these final 11 games. They need to mix in a couple of sweeps.
That won't be easy over the next two series. The Phillies are in Cleveland this weekend to face an Indians team that is 27 games over .500 and tied for the second AL wild-card.
The Indians, despite losing all three of Corey Kluber (forearm), Trevor Bauer (trade) and Carlos Carrasco (now in the bullpen), have been carried by their starting pitching this season. Carrasco, the one-time Phillies prospect, missed three months after being diagnosed with Leukemia.
In Game 1, it's Drew Smyly for the Phillies and budding ace Shane Bieber for the Indians. Bieber is 14-7 with a 3.26 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 201⅓ innings. He's been a couple of notches better than Aaron Nola in 2019 and the Indians are as excited as about Bieber as the Phillies were with Nola after his breakout season.
In Game 2, the Phillies face Zac Plesac, the nephew of Dan Plesac. The younger Plesac is a contact-based righty coming off of a four-hit shutout of the Angels in his last start. Cleveland gave Plesac 11 days in between starts to recover. Jason Vargas pitches for the Phils. Vargas is winless and the Phillies are 3-6 in his nine starts.
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Vince Velasquez goes in Game 3 against another contact righty with a short leash, Adam Plutko.
The Phillies will also face Carlos Santana in this series. Santana has had a tremendous year, hitting .282/.398/.526 with 34 homers, 91 RBI and 106 runs scored. Career-highs in batting average, OBP, slugging, homers, RBI and runs. He's also on track to set a new career-high in walks. Santana has a higher OPS (.924) than every Phillie.
Outside of Santana and dynamic leadoff man Francisco Lindor, the Indians don't have much offense. They need Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes, their two trade deadline acquisitions, to hit. Puig went 9 for 14 against the Tigers this week and Reyes broke a long homerless drought with a long homer Thursday. Jose Ramirez made up for an ice-cold start by hitting .327 with a 1.068 OPS in the second half before breaking his hand on Aug. 24.
Speaking of hands, Cleveland could also be without its lights-out closer, Brad Hand, who hasn't pitched since Sept. 8 because of arm fatigue. Hand did throw a bullpen session on Wednesday.
The Phillies need to sweep the Indians. Even if they win two of three, the Brewers would have to lose two of three to the lowly Pirates just for one game to be trimmed off the deficit.
After Cleveland comes a five-game series in Washington, which will include all three of Patrick Corbin, Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
The Cubs have the first-place Cardinals this weekend but the Nationals play the Marlins and the Brewers host the Pirates. Miami and Pittsburgh are the two worst teams in the National League. Not an ideal time for the Phillies to be chasing clubs that get to face such inferior competition.
If only the Phillies fattened up on those teams themselves. They are just a game over .500, 18-17 this season against the Marlins, Pirates, Rockies and Padres - the four worst teams in the NL. The difference in the season.
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