ATLANTA -- For the past week, the Phillies clung to the notion that they controlled their destiny.
As long as they kept themselves within striking distance of the Braves and then beat them this week at Truist Park, they could find a way to win their first National League East title in a decade. But the Phillies entered the week with no margin for error, either. Indeed, Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to Atlanta put their postseason hopes on life support. They are 3 1/2 games behind with five games to play. Atlanta’s magic number is three, meaning any combination of three Braves victories and Phillies losses the rest of the season will clinch Atlanta’s fourth consecutive division title.
“We have to win out,” Phillies first baseman Brad Miller said. “I think that’s pretty much it. I think it’s cut and dried. We take care of business and win out and kind of see what happens, but that’s really all we can do.”
Miller is correct. The Phillies (81-76) have four more losses than the Braves (84-72), which means they essentially need to win their final five games and pray the Braves lose four of their remaining six just to force a one-game playoff.
“Tomorrow’s not out of our hands,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “And that’s what we have to focus on.”
The Phillies needed a special week to turn their postseason dreams into reality. It could have started with a couple more runs on Tuesday.
Odúbel Herrera and Jean Segura started the game with a pair of singles against Braves right-hander Charlie Morton, but the Phillies did not score. They did not get another hit until Herrera’s two-out single in the fifth.
The Phils threatened in the ninth. Bryce Harper walked and Matt Vierling reached on a two-base error when Braves left fielder Eddie Rosario let a ball clang off his glove in left-center field, putting runners on second and third. The Braves intentionally walked Andrew McCutchen to load the bases. Didi Gregorius’ sacrifice fly scored Harper to make it 2-1. It was the Phillies’ first run since the fifth inning on Saturday against Pittsburgh, snapping a 20-inning scoreless streak.
But the Phillies’ fourth hit never came. Freddy Galvis struck out swinging to end the game.
“I don’t think tonight we did anything egregious as far as having terrible plate appearances,” Miller said. “I can think of some balls hit pretty hard at people. But just looking at tonight, I don’t think there was anything crazy. There were two really good pitchers on the mound. Shoot, I think Zack [Wheeler] pitched his [butt] off too. I wish we could have gotten something for him. A guy like that shouldn’t have 10 losses to his name. It’s not on him.”
Wheeler allowed only two runs on four hits and one walk in seven innings. He struck out seven.
He allowed a double to Travis d’Arnaud to start the third. It was an 0-1 sinker in and off the plate, but d’Arnaud got the bat on it. Dansby Swanson followed with a first-pitch single to center field to put runners on the corners with no outs. Morton’s sacrifice bunt moved Swanson to second. Jorge Soler then hit a first-pitch sinker to left field to score both runners to make it 2-0. Like the pitch to d’Arnaud, it was a sinker in and off the plate.
"These guys are really aggressive,” Wheeler said. “Yeah, they were off the plate, but maybe they have to be a little bit more off the plate. I knew that coming in. The ball with Travis, right when I was going to start my motion, I saw him take a little shuffle backwards like he was expecting that two-seamer in. I should’ve just stepped off like I wanted to, but I didn’t. He was looking for it and he hit it well. Soler was in, but it was up at the mid-thigh, belt line so it could’ve been higher or a little bit lower and he probably wouldn’t have done the same thing with it."
It was all Atlanta needed. Now the Phillies need a minor miracle.
It can only happen if they beat the Braves on Wednesday and Thursday. Then they need to sweep the Marlins in Miami.
Wheeler is scheduled to start the final game of the regular season. He hopes it means something.
“If I’m pitching that meaningful game on Sunday, that means we’re doing something right,” Wheeler said.