"Over? Did you say 'over'? Nothing is over until we decide it is!"
— John Blutarsky, Animal House
Sorry, Bluto. When it comes to the National League East race, it's pretty much over. Look, stranger things have happened than a team rallying from 6 1/2 games down with 18 games remaining, especially when seven of those games will be played against the leader of the division. Eleven years ago, in fact, a Phillies team overcame an even larger deficit in less time to win the division.
But these Phillies are not those Phillies. After getting swept by the Nationals in a doubleheader Tuesday, these Phillies have lost 22 of their last 33 games. They are 0-10-1 in their last 11 series. And their odds of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs, have dwindled to 5.9 percent. A month ago, the Phillies were being given a 62.1 percent chance of qualifying for the postseason.
"It's not over until we're eliminated," pitcher Jake Arrieta said.
But with every loss, that day draws closer.
You're signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the Phillies season. If you like what you're reading, tell your friends it's free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber. Thank you for reading.
— Scott Lauber (email@example.com)
It took the better part of five months and 144 games to realize it, but here's the cold, hard truth about the 2018 Phillies: They seem to be who we thought they were.
When the season began, the Phillies were nobody's pick to make the playoffs, much less win the NL East. They were coming off a 96-loss season and had averaged 92 losses over the past five years. The rebuild was taking shape, but contention still seemed to be one more year away. With the youngest roster in the majors and a first-year manager, finishing with a .500 or better record felt like the definition of success.
Somewhere along the line, though, the bar was raised. The Phillies got off to a good start, especially at home. They hung with the Dodgers and Cubs on the road and won series against the Rockies, Brewers, Cardinals and Nationals. They were in first place at the all-star break and spent five consecutive weeks atop the division. They went toe-to-toe with the Red Sox, baseball's best team, both at Fenway Park and in Philly.
And while general manager Matt Klentak didn't make a blockbuster move in July or August, he did trade for veterans Asdrubal Cabrera, Wilson Ramos, Justin Bour and Jose Bautista to strengthen the offense and infuse a young clubhouse with experience in a playoff race.
But the Phillies' warts have still been exposed. Rhys Hoskins is the only true middle-of-the-order slugger in a lineup that walks a lot but doesn't hit nearly enough. The defense has been porous all season. Hard-throwing rookie Seranthony Dominguez wore down in his first season as a reliever. The starting pitching, consistently strong for most of the season, faltered down the stretch. Even indomitable ace Aaron Nola has given up five homers in his last two starts.
Suddenly, it's worth wondering if the Phillies can even go 8-10 over the last 18 games and finish with a winning record.
"I don't think there's anything specific to pinpoint," manager Gabe Kapler said of the Phillies' downturn. "It's definitely not one person's fault. We are all collectively responsible — and me, at the end of the day."
At the end of the day, the Phillies are better than they have been in years, but still not as good as they likely will be in another year or two. In other words, after all this time, they seem to be exactly who we thought they were.
All season, the Phillies have been adept at "turning the page," as manager Gabe Kapler likes to say, in the face of adversity. Matt Breen chronicled a long day and night in which the page never turned.
For more than a month now, things have been trending badly for Kapler's crew. But the one-two punch by the Nationals clinched it for Bob Brookover: The season will not end well for the 2018 Phillies.
Scary moment in the eighth inning when third baseman Maikel Franco flipped over the railing near the visiting dugout while chasing a foul ball and fell headfirst into a camera well. Within the game story, you'll find an update on Franco's condition.
This was supposed to be the year that J.P. Crawford proved he really is the Phillies' shortstop of the future. But at the most important time of the season, Crawford is having a hard time getting off the bench.
The sparse crowd that attended the matinee portion of the doubleheader didn't take kindly to Kapler's using four pitchers in the fifth inning. Don't blame Kapler, writes David Murphy. Baseball's strange September roster rules are at fault here.
Tonight: Aaron Nola Day. Phillies ace vs. Stephen Strasburg, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Last regular-season day off for Phillies.
Friday: Struggling Zach Eflin starts series opener vs. Marlins, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Vince Velasquez aims to stop two-start losing streak, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies, Marlins conclude their three-game series, 1:35 p.m.
A day after a doubleheader deserves two stats, so here goes:
— When Jose Bautista got traded to the Phillies last month, he became the third player ever to appear for three teams in the same division in a single season, joining Kelly Johnson (2014) and Bob Reynolds (1975). When Bautista went deep last night, he became the only player to homer for all three of those teams.
— Make no mistake, it was a tall order for reliever Luis Garcia to enter a tie game with the bases loaded and two out in the ninth inning last night. But he had stranded his first 15 inherited runners to open the season. Since then, Garcia has stranded only 13 of 20.
Question: Was Pete Mackanin's post-All-Star Game record better than Gabe Kapler's? — John K., via e-mail