Here we go again: Philadelphia Phillies' September collapse puts playoff hopes in danger

Hello September collapse, it’s the Philadelphia Phillies knocking at the door again.

The Phillies have a rich recent history of choking in a pennant race, but 2022 may be the worst of the bunch.

There was the infamous meltdown in 1964, blowing a 6 ½-game lead with 12 games remaining, but that was when only the pennant winners reached the postseason. In the shortened COVID-19 season in 2020, the Phillies had to go just 2-6 in their final eight games to reach the postseason. They went 1-7. They entered 2018 just two games behind Atlanta in September, and proceeded to go 8-28.

This time, baseball has a record six teams in each league qualifying for the postseason, including two wild cards, and the Phillies still are about to blow it.

Once again.

Phillies outfielder Brandon Marsh sits on the field after being tagged out at second base against the Cubs.
Phillies outfielder Brandon Marsh sits on the field after being tagged out at second base against the Cubs.

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It was nearly 40 years ago when Minnesota Twins third baseman Gary Gaetti booted a routine ground ball in September, costing his club the game against Cleveland, and ultimately the AL West title.

After the game, he delivered the infamous quote:  “It’s hard to field the ball when you have both hands around your throat.”

It was a blatant and unabashed admission that he was choking under the pressure of a pennant race.

Well, say hello to the Phillies, who are making this a complete team effort.

They have lost five consecutive games, and 10 of their last 13, after an embarrassing three-game sweep to the lowly Chicago Cubs.

They enter the four-game weekend series with a doubleheader Friday against the Nationals in Washington D.C., just one-half game ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers for the final wild-card berth, and also own the tiebreaker advantage.

Yes, the same Brewers who have been mired in mediocrity (26-29) since trading All-Star closer Josh Hader at the deadline, and trailed the Phillies by 4 ½ games on the morning of Sept. 15.

Then again, who knew that the Phillies would blow it again with a star-studded team, the largest payroll in franchise history, fortifying their team at the trade deadline, 21 games over .500 since Rob Thomson replaced Joe Girardi as manager on June 3 and be completely embarrassed at Wrigley Field? They scored a grand total of three runs in 27 innings against one of the worst teams in the National League.

“We’ve got way too many good hitters here to score three runs against that team,’’ Phillies shortstop Jean Segura told reporters. “To be honest, it’s embarrassing.’’

Certainly, Segura was humiliated too when he committed a base-running blunder that epitomizes this Phillies’ stretch of awfulness. He was on first base when he looked at the hand-operated Wrigley Field scoreboard, and saw that the count on hitter Nick Maton was 3-and-1. Well, it was actually 2-and-1. So when the next pitch was a ball, Segura strolled to second base, believing it was a walk. Oops. He was tagged out by Cubs pitcher Javier Assad, ending the rally.

There’s just something about September.

The Phillies haven’t had a winning September since 2017. Let’s see, they were 8-20 in September of 2018; 12-16 in 2019; 13-17 in 2020; 14-16 in 2021.

The Phillies are following a similar path this September, going 10-14, and mounting two five-game losing streaks in just two weeks. They lost eight games this month to three non-contenders: San Francisco Giants (78-78), Miami Marlins (65-91) and Cubs (70-86).

Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber walks off after striking out against the Cubs.
Phillies outfielder Kyle Schwarber walks off after striking out against the Cubs.

This is a team built on offense, but they suddenly have forgotten how to hit. They ranked first in batting average (.277) and third in slugging percentage (.462) with runners in scoring position two weeks ago, and suddenly can’t buy a hit in the clutch. They rank 25th in batting average (.206) and 28th in slugging percentage (.299) with runners in scoring percentage the last 13 games.

In Chicago, they hit .095 (2-for-21) with runners in scoring position without an extra-base hit.

They haven’t hit a home run since last Sunday.

Little wonder why James Seltzer, a host and producer for Philadelphia sports station WIP, tweeted back in May: “There is no team in the history of sports more frustrating to root for than the Philadelphia Phillies.’’

In the eighth inning of Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Cubs, he retweeted it, and added: “Still true.’’

The Phillies, of course, should take care of business this weekend against the Nationals (54-101) who stink to high heavens. But considering the way the Phillies have played and with their September history, you have little confidence that they’ll punish the Nationals.

The Phillies close out their season with three games in Houston against the Astros. They can take solace that the Astros (102-54) have nothing to gain, clinching the AL West along with home-field advantage through the American League playoffs, but manager Dusty Baker announced that he will play their regulars all three games.

And, oh yeah, Astros Cy Young favorite Justin Verlander is scheduled to pitch one of those three games.

The Brewers, meanwhile, won’t leave the comfort of their home the rest of the regular season, closing it out with three more games against the Marlins and three against the Arizona Diamondbacks (72-84). The two teams are a combined 69 games out of first place.

So could this season be the worst collapse in Phillies’ history, assuring that their playoff drought extends to 12 years.

The Phillies have seven games to see if their stars perform like stars. They have seven games to exorcise the ghosts of previous Septembers.

“We can’t let those thoughts creep into the head,"’ Schwarber told reporters.

It may be too late.

“I don’t think any guy on this team,’’ Bryce Harper said Thursday, “has that mindset of, 'Oh, here we go again.' Different group of guys. Different team. …We have some work ahead of us, we know that. But at the same time, we’re in this.’’

Says Thomson: “We have to come out of it.

“We will.’’

History awaits.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Phillies' September collapse puts wild card, playoff hopes in peril