PHILADELPHIA -- Zach Eflin has helped keep the Phillies' playoff chances alive over the past week.Eflin delivered his second strong start in a row Wednesday night, throwing five shutout innings as the Phillies topped the Mets, 4-0, at Citizens Bank Park. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera both homered to lead
PHILADELPHIA -- Zach Eflin has helped keep the Phillies' playoff chances alive over the past week.
Eflin delivered his second strong start in a row Wednesday night, throwing five shutout innings as the Phillies topped the Mets, 4-0, at Citizens Bank Park. Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera both homered to lead the Philadelphia offense. The victory kept the Phillies 5 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East before the teams start a four-game series Thursday night in Atlanta. With the Cardinals' loss, the Phillies are five back of St. Louis for the second Wild Card spot.
The win over the Mets also gave the Phillies their second series victory in a row -- marking the first time the Phillies have won consecutive series since July 25.
"We won two series straight, that feels good," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "We have a job to do in Atlanta. We're prepared for it, we've been thinking about it quite a bit. We know their team, they know ours, so we're ready."
The Phillies took two of three against both the Marlins and Mets to close out their penultimate homestand of 2018, and Eflin had a win against each team.
The 24-year-old righty tied a career high with nine strikeouts Wednesday night. Eflin struck out three consecutive hitters in the third and fourth innings, including Todd Frazier, who tipped his batting helmet to Eflin after chasing a sweeping slider out of the zone in the fourth.
Eflin got his ninth and final strikeout against Michael Conforto, the last hitter he faced. Eflin, who registered 17 swinging strikes (including seven with his changeup), punched Conforto out on a 3-2 changeup to strand two runners.
"In years past, he's seemed to like hitting off me," Eflin said of Conforto, who entered with an .824 OPS against him. "So, I had to switch it up a little bit. Sequencing speaks to that. I was able to throw him some offspeed pitches in a 3-2 count in the fifth inning. I felt really good about it and it paid off."
Eflin walked three batters in the start and surrendered three hits, only one of which left the infield. Eflin has given up just one run and eight hits over his last two starts (11 1/3 innings).
The pair of sharp outings are a promising sign for Eflin, who had a 7.71 ERA in five starts between Aug. 16 and Sept. 8. He is in line for two more starts in the regular season: Monday against the Rockies at Coors Field and Sept. 29 against the Braves in the Phillies' next-to-last game of the regular season.
"In an atmosphere like this, being so close to the playoffs, you really have to elevate your game and do whatever you can on the mound," Eflin said.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Rhys Lightning strikes early: Hoskins hit his 32nd homer of the season, taking Noah Syndergaard deep to the opposite field in the first inning. Hoskins turned around a 98-mph offering from the right-hander for his 11th first-inning homer in 2018.
"The big hit doesn't have to come in the ninth inning," Kapler said. "It doesn't have to come with runners in scoring position. Sometimes it's just a boost to the dugout and a boost to our confidence, and I think Rhys has provided those all year."
Hoskins also doubled off Syndergaard in the third inning. He became the first player to record two extra-base hits off Syndergaard in a game since Freddie Freeman did so exactly two years earlier on Sept. 19, 2016.
Herrera homers: Herrera hit a towering homer to right field off Syndergaard in the fourth inning. Herrera's blast, his 22nd of the season and first since Aug. 28, went a projected 357 feet and had a 37-degree launch angle, according to Statcast™.
"He got in the batter's box ready to hit from the jump. I thought it was a great performance from him," Kapler said of Herrera.
Hoskins' home run was the 50th of his career. It came in his 192nd career Major League game and his 686th at-bat.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
J.P. Crawford made the defensive play of the night, getting Jay Bruce at first base on a softly hit ground ball. Bruce hit a weak grounder to the right of the pitcher's mound, and it got by a diving Luis Avilan. Playing on the right side of the infield in a shift, Crawford, the shortstop, picked up the grounder on the run and dove as he threw out Bruce.
HE SAID IT
"We're in a pretty unique position, exciting position that doesn't happen all that often. But I think as a competitor, it's really all you can ask for. You control your own destiny." -- Hoskins, on the Phillies' mindset being 5 1/2 games back of the Braves with seven games remaining against Atlanta
The Phillies have a chance to close some of the gap between themselves and the Braves this weekend, starting with a 7:35 p.m. ET game Thursday in Atlanta. Vince Velasquez (9-11, 4.50 ERA), who pitched just two innings in his last outing, will be on the mound for the Phillies. Right-hander Kevin Gausman (10-10, 3.92) will start for the Braves.
Stephen Pianovich is a contributor to MLB.com based in Philadelphia.