Bryce Harper’s bat warms as Phillies look for series win against Braves on Sunday

Harper’s bat warms as Phillies look for series win against Braves on Sunday originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

If someone had told you a week ago that the Phillies had a chance to win a four-game series against the Atlanta Braves, you’d have run to the bank with it.

Heck, after the way things went for the Phillies last weekend in Atlanta, you’d have taken a split.

It’s all about perspective, even in these crucial final days of a regular season in which the Phillies are trying to nail down their first playoff berth in a decade.

The Phils suffered a 6-3 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday. The Braves roughed up Bailey Falter for 10 hits and six runs over 3 2/3 innings and got a fine start from Kyle Wright, who won his 20th game of the season after taking a no-hitter into the sixth.

As discouraging as it was to suffer the loss and be out-hit, 14-3, in front of a good crowd of 36,692, the Phils had to be mindful of the big picture.

They beat the Braves in the first two games of the series to guarantee at least a split. They can still win the series with a victory behind Kyle Gibson (he’ll face Charlie Morton) in the final home game of the season Sunday.

Certainly, the Phillies would take a series win after being swept by the Braves in a three-game series last weekend in Atlanta.

“It would be huge for us,” said Bryce Harper, whose bat showed signs of life Saturday.

These two teams could see each other again in the first round of the playoffs in 13 days. But first, the Phils must get there. There are 11 games left in the regular season and the Phils will play 10 of them on the road, where they are 36-35. They enter Sunday a half-game behind San Diego and 1 1/2 up on Milwaukee in a three-team race for the final two NL wild card spots. San Diego and Milwaukee both won Saturday. It's a tight race, but the Phils do hold tiebreakers against both the Padres and Brewers. The Phils' magic number for entry to the playoffs remains 9.

The Phils beat Atlanta by scores of 1-0 and 9-1 in the first two games of the series. The Braves were still without offensive dynamo Ronald Acuña Jr. (sore back) on Saturday and slugger Matt Olson also did not start. That didn’t stop the Braves’ offense. William Contreras belted a solo homer against Falter in the third inning. Michael Harris II followed with a two-run shot in the fourth to key a four-run rally. Falter relied heavily on his fastball and the Braves did some damage on it in the fourth.

“He’s a spin rate guy, an extension guy, and when he’s not up above the barrel, it’s hittable,” manager Rob Thomson said. “He was kind of in that happy zone.

“He’s been so good for us. He was just a little off today.”

Falter helped keep the Phillies afloat while Zack Wheeler was down. The team had won six straight games started by Falter before losing the last two, both to the Braves.

Falter took no solace in his previous contributions.

“I didn’t do my job today,” he said.

Meanwhile, Wright cruised for the Braves. He did not allow a hit until Rhys Hoskins doubled with one out in the sixth. Harper followed with a homer to cut the Braves’ lead to 6-2 and Wright exited at 97 pitches.

The Phillies rallied for a run in the seventh to make it a three-run game and Hoskins missed a three-run homer that would have tied the game by just a few feet when he lined a ball down the left-field line. He ended up striking out and the Phils went quietly in the eighth and ninth.

Lulled to sleep by Wright’s good work over the first five-plus innings, the crowd really got into the action in the seventh inning. It kind of made you think it would be fun to see the Braves and Phillies meet in the first-round playoffs, though all the games would be in Atlanta if that were to happen.

“It was really cool to have a crowd out there today that was in it with us and in it for us,” Harper said. “I can’t imagine if that ball had gone out for Rhys. The place would have gone berserk. It was fun to see that crowd and be part of it.”

Even in defeat, there was one big positive for the Phillies. Harper’s homer was a line drive to left field. Maybe, just maybe, it was the bolt that will get him going. He was 10 for 68 (.147) in the month of September before that at-bat. If he were to get hot over the last 11 games, it could be a magic-carpet ride into the playoffs for the Phils.

“He had great at-bats, completely different than I’ve seen the last few days,” Thomson said. “He was balanced and on time. His swing was aggressive and his head was still.”

Asked if he found something, Harper said, “I felt good. Every day, I’m trying to find something. I’ve said it for the last month: I need to not miss pitches in the zone and stop swinging at pitches out of the zone. If I can do that, just simplify everything, I’ll be right where I need to be.”

One more game remains in the regular-season series between the Phillies and Braves. The Braves have won 10 and the Phillies have won eight. The Phils can’t win the season series, but they can win this series and that would be a great way to close out the home portion of the schedule and head out on the road for a final 10-game sprint that will determine if the postseason drought lives or dies.

“We’ve got to dust ourselves off and try to win a series,” Thomson said.

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