If Freddie Freeman ruled the world — at least the baseball world — he would gather his Atlanta Braves teammates and their Phillies counterparts, stuff them into a time machine, and speed off to Sept. 20, the night when the surprise National League East contenders are scheduled to play the first of seven games in the season's final 11 days.
"It's starting to build up to the point where those last games of the season when we're going to be playing against [the Phillies], it could mean a whole heck of a lot," said Freeman, the Braves' all-star first baseman. "Those last 10 games could be real sweaters."
But Freeman also knows there are a lot of games to be played before then. And he expects that both the Braves and Phillies will have to hold off a hard charge from the Washington Nationals, the two-time defending division champion.
Of the Phillies' 67 remaining games, 35 will be played at home, where they have a league-best 30-16 record. Twenty-two of their last 26 games will be against NL East opponents. And 11 of their last 21 series will be played against teams that had a .500 record or better at the all-star break.
Here's a look at five of the most important series in the season's final 2 1/2 months.
Ordinarily, we wouldn't highlight a series at home against a non-contending team. But the Marlins have been a thorn in the Phillies' side, taking five of the nine games between the teams so far. The Phillies have 10 games left with the Fish, beginning with these four at Citizens Bank Park, and must take advantage of every chance they get to beat up on the Marlins and New York Mets, the division's weaklings.
If, as most pundits believe, the addition of Manny Machado puts the Los Angeles Dodgers over the top in the NL West, the Diamondbacks will be left to duke it out for a wild-card berth, which gives greater weight to these three games at Chase Field. Grabbing an early lead with be critical for the Phillies. Led by Brad Boxberger, Archie Bradley, Yoshihisa Hirano, and lefties Andrew Chafin and T.J. McFarland, Arizona has the best bullpen ERA (2.85) in the league.
The Phillies built a 5 1/2-game lead over the Nationals at the all-star break by winning five of seven games against them in back-to-back weekends in late June. The rivals will play six times in a nine-day span in August, first in Washington and then at Citizens Bank Park. If the Phils are able to take care of business at home, they could built a cozy lead over the Nats by Labor Day.
How's this for a scheduling quirk? The Phillies don't make their visit to Coors Field until the 156th game of the season. And this four-game trip to the Rocky Mountains is wedged between a pair of series with the Braves. It's never easy to play at altitude, but with the Rockies hovering in the wild-card race, these games could have as much impact as the ones against Atlanta.
It's difficult to separate this series from the weekend before in Atlanta. Both are shaping up to be, in Freeman's words, "sweaters." But if the division title or a wild-card berth comes down to the final weekend, the Phillies will have the benefit of playing at home. Want to bet Citizens Bank Park won't be packed for these games?