The Phillies entered play Tuesday night holding one of the three NL Wild Card spots after their recent surge -- but there is still plenty of work to be done before the club can secure its first postseason berth since 2011.
The good news is the Phillies have one of the easiest remaining schedules of any of the teams in the race. Of course, that was also an oft-discussed topic last season, when the Phils had the easiest second-half schedule among any of the contenders -- but failed to make the postseason.
In fact, it was around this time last year during a three-game sweep at the hands of the D-backs -- a team that ultimately lost 110 games -- that then-manager Joe Girardi finally declared: "I don't want to hear about the schedule -- no more."
Well, it's a new year -- so, let's talk about it.
As it stands now, there are essentially three teams -- the Phillies, Padres and the NL Central runner-up (currently the Brewers) -- battling for the final two playoff spots. That said, the Giants aren't completely out of the picture just yet and the Braves, who hold the top NL Wild Card spot, also haven't completely distanced themselves from the rest of the pack.
For our purposes, however, we're going to take a look at the remaining schedules for the Phils, Padres, Brewers and Cardinals (NL Central leaders).
Easiest stretch: Aug. 22-Sept. 15
Seven of the Phillies’ next 12 games are against the first-place Mets, but after that, they will go more than three weeks without playing a team with a winning record. The 22-game stretch starts with a seven-game homestand against the Reds and Pirates, then -- after six games in Arizona and San Francisco -- ends with nine straight against the Marlins and Nationals.
Toughest stretch: Sept. 16-25
Immediately following the aforementioned 22-game stretch, the Phillies will head to Atlanta for three against the Braves, then return home for two against the Blue Jays and four more against Atlanta.
Easiest stretch: Now-Aug. 31
Though the Padres have been scuffling recently, they are in a perfect spot to turn things around and go on a run for the rest of August. They have only two games remaining this month against a team with a winning record -- and those come at home against the Guardians on Aug. 23-24. Their other games come against teams .500 or worse, including seven against the MLB-worst Nationals.
Toughest stretch: Sept. 27-Oct. 5
San Diego finishes the year with a nine-game stretch against the Dodgers, White Sox and Giants -- though all nine are at home. Overall, the Padres still have nine games remaining against the Dodgers, who not only have the Majors’ best record, but carry an 8-2 record vs. San Diego this season.
Easiest stretch: Aug. 16-Sept. 11
It’s plain to see why the Cardinals have the easiest remaining schedule in the NL. During this 27-game stretch, they play only three games against a postseason contender (Aug. 26-28 vs. Braves). Outside of that, they play eight games against the Cubs, four vs. the Nationals and three apiece against the Rockies, D-backs, Reds and Pirates.
Toughest stretch: Sept. 20-28
Though the Cards hope to use the above stretch to open up a lead in the NL Central, they could be in trouble if they still find themselves in a tight NL Wild Card race in late September. They have an eight-game road trip from Sept. 20-28 that will take them west to play the Padres and Dodgers three times apiece before a two-game set in Milwaukee.
Easiest stretch: Aug. 26-Sept. 11
After their current gauntlet (more on that below), the Brewers play 18 straight against sub-.500 teams, including four games against the D-backs and three apiece against the Cubs, Pirates, Rockies and Reds.
Toughest stretch: Now-Aug. 24
After finishing up their current series with the Rays, the Brewers have a three-game set in St. Louis before playing seven of their next 10 against the Dodgers. Milwaukee also plays six straight against the first-place New York teams in September, hosting the Yankees from Sept. 16-18 and the Mets from Sept. 19-21.
With the already-slumping Brewers having the most difficult remaining schedule of the NL contenders, the Phillies seemingly have a clear path to snap their postseason drought -- but last year proved it’s not always that simple.