The ballpark in South Philadelphia should be abuzz Tuesday and Wednesday with the Boston Red Sox in town. You can call the Phillies' two-game series against the best team in baseball a measuring stick, but that's not really a game you want to play.
Those are some mighty big sticks the Red Sox have carried to home plate this season. Even the New York Yankees, at 31 games over .500 and with the second-best record in baseball, face a severe case of stick envy, not to mention a 9 1/2-game deficit in the American League East, when standing next to the Red Sox.
The Phillies faced Boston twice at the end of last month and did well to split with them, thanks to pitching gems from Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. The high-powered Red Sox scored just three runs in the two games, but since then, they've gone 10-1 and swept a four-game series from the Yankees to all but cement their third straight division title. During that recent 11-game stretch, they have hit .292 and averaged 7.9 runs. They have scored double-digit runs four times this month.
With Nick Pivetta scheduled to go against Rick Porcello on Tuesday night and Vince Velasquez going against Nathan Eovaldi on Wednesday, the Phillies would do well to get another split against the best team in baseball.
Regardless, the Phillies have reached the middle of August as a contending team, and in all likelihood, general manager Matt Klentak is done making trades to upgrade the offense. Seven weeks and 14 series remain for the Phillies. They are competing against the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals for the National League East title and seven other teams that still have a legitimate chance to either win their division or make the postseason as a wild card.
On paper, the Phillies appear to be the most flawed of the three NL East contenders even though they had been alone in or shared first place in the division every day since July 5 before Monday's games. The Phillies have had the best pitching staff of the three this season. Their 3.74 overall ERA is third in the National League and sixth in baseball, but the Braves (3.85 ERA) and Nationals (3.83) are also solid in the pitching department.
The Phillies, on the other hand, lag far behind both teams in offense. In fact, they lag behind every National League team that is in wild-card contention. It's nice that they see more pitches per plate appearance and draw more walks than every other team in baseball except the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they rank 29th in batting average, 20th in runs per game and 22nd in OPS. That makes them last in all those categories among the 10 NL teams with winning records.
Add in the fact that they have the third-highest error total in baseball and you have the basis to argue that Gabe Kapler deserves both the NL manager of the year award and criticism for not having his team fundamentally ready to play. Yes, it sure has been a fascinating first season for the rookie manager and his team.
And now they have a chance to either win a division or earn a wild-card playoff berth, a position not many people thought they would be in this season. So how does the schedule look for them over their final 45 games? Pretty good, actually.
It's not ideal to start that stretch against the best team in baseball, but the Phillies do play 25 of their last 45 at home. OK, it's actually 24 because they have to go to Williamsport for Sunday night's series finale against the New York Mets, but they do still get the last at-bat in that one. Only the Braves (with 27) and the St. Louis Cardinals (26) have more home games remaining than the Phillies among the NL contenders. That's important for the Phillies since their 38-18 home record is by far the best in the National League.
Eight of the Phillies' final 14 series will be against teams with winning records. By comparison, the Braves have 11 series remaining against winning teams and the Nationals have nine. The Phillies have 17 games remaining against the Mets (11) and Miami Marlins (6). That's the most remaining games against teams at least 10 games below .500 among the 10 National League teams with winning records. The Braves have nine and the Nationals have 10.
On paper, of course, that looks good, but the Phillies are only 3-5 against the Mets this season and they will have to face both Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard at least twice each in that stretch.
The Phillies have six games left at home against the Nationals and three at Nationals Park. They will finish the season, of course, by playing seven of their final 10 against the Braves, including the final three of the season at Citizens Bank Park. In between, they'll have a four-game series against the Rockies in Colorado.
That's the stretch that will likely decide if Kapler can become the first rookie manager since Pat Moran in 1915 to lead the Phillies to the postseason.