Incredibly, the Phillies are still in it.
They found themselves on the brink of postseason elimination following Saturday night’s 4-3 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field. But the Giants lost to the Padres a couple of hours later in San Francisco, giving them a possible, yet wild, route to the postseason.
If the Phillies (28-31) win on Sunday and both the Giants (29-30) and Brewers (29-30) lose, the Phillies will make the postseason for the first time since 2011 because they own tiebreakers over both teams by virtue of a better intradivision record.
“It’s not the best place, but it could always be worse,” Phillies left fielder Andrew McCutchen said.
The Phillies could be just the second team in baseball history to make the postseason with a losing record. The 1981 Royals finished 50-53 (.485) in a split season.
It should not have come to this, but here they are.
“Ten days ago it looked like we were in a pretty good spot and we have not played well,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said.
Less than 10 days, even. The Phillies were 27-25 on Sept. 19 and had an 87 percent chance to make the postseason, according to FanGraphs. But they lost six of their next seven games and now have a 13.3 percent chance entering Sunday’s finale slate.
“It’s frustrating because you see the team that you have around you, and you know that we should be there,” McCutchen said. “We should easily be there. To be on the outside looking in right now, it can be frustrating at times. It’s a really sucky situation to be in, honestly.”
Wheeler could not get them there Saturday. Maybe Nola can on Sunday.
Wheeler was outstanding in his first season with the Phillies. Wheeler and Curt Schilling are the only two Phillies pitchers since 1900 to begin a season with 10 consecutive starts (no relief appearances) with at least 5 2/3 innings and three or fewer runs allowed. Schilling had 11 consecutive starts of that sort in 1998.
Wheeler just needed a lead, right? McCutchen scored on an error in the first inning and hit a solo homer to left in the fifth to hand the Phillies a 2-1 lead. He nearly scored a run in between. He ripped a ball to right-center field in the third, reaching third for a triple, but returned to second for a ground-rule double once umpires ruled the ball got struck underneath the wall after a review.
Moments later, he was thrown out at the plate trying to score from second on a J.T. Realmuto single to center.
“That was a big hit that could’ve turned into a run, and we weren’t able to get that run,” McCutchen said. “That was tough.”
Wheeler allowed three runs in the fifth. The inning unraveled after he allowed a two-out, game-tying single to Rays catcher Mike Zunino, who entered the game slashing .125/.222/.347.
Wheeler hit Randy Arozarena with a pitch and allowed back-to-back singles to Brandon Lowe, whose single beat the defensive shift, and Willy Adames to make it 4-2. It was the first time Wheeler allowed four or more runs in a start since Aug. 24, 2019.
“When you get a ground ball and you think it’s going to be an out and you turn around and nobody is there, that’s frustrating,” Wheeler said. “You’ve just got to go out there and make your next pitch. Just forget about it and make your next pitch. I really wasn’t able to do that, minimize the damage there. That’s what you have to do in those situations. That inning I didn’t do a good job of that.”
Girardi pushed Wheeler as far as he could, keeping Tampa Bay from seeing the Phillies’ bullpen. Wheeler threw 118 pitches, two short of his career-high of 120 in 2014.
He gave his team a chance.
But hey, the Phillies aren’t out of it yet. They left the ballpark on Saturday hoping for the game in San Francisco to go their way. They got that. They need far more luck on Sunday.
“I still think we’ve got a shot,” Girardi said.