After a homestand that saw them lose four of six games, and with a killer, 11-game road trip looming, the question no longer seems to be will the Phillies make the playoffs, it's will they even have a winning season?
They have done neither since 2011.
Making the playoffs became the longest of long shots after the Phils lost a pair of games over the weekend to the Boston Red Sox. The Sox completed a two-game sweep with a 6-3 win on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies scored just four runs in the series. Only two of their 12 hits were for extra bases and they struck out a staggering 25 times.
With 14 games remaining, the Phils are 4 ½ games back in the NL wild-card race and their overall record is 76-72. They need to go at least 6-8 to finish with a winning record and that won't be easy with this remaining schedule:
Three games in Atlanta.
Three games at Cleveland.
Five games at Washington.
Three games at home against Miami.
Atlanta, Cleveland and Washington entered Sunday a combined 74 games over .500 and Miami gives the Phillies fits.
Finishing with a winning record will be a challenge.
But for now, manager Gabe Kapler remains focused on keeping the Phillies' faint playoff hopes a-flicker.
"My only concern is the step right in front of us," Kapler said after Sunday's loss. "That's winning the game (Tuesday night) in Atlanta. I'm already past what happened in this Boston series. It's going to sting. It's going to suck. The plane ride's going to be difficult, and we'll start game-planning for Atlanta. One game at a time, one step at a time.
"We have no choice but to continue to fight. You know what? Sometimes you see the best come out in people when their backs are against the wall. Ours are against the wall. My expectation is that you'll see our best."
The Phillies were not at their best on Sunday.
Starting pitcher Jason Vargas did not keep his club in the game and lasted just three innings for the second straight start. His ERA over his last four starts is a plump 7.63.
"It's one of those things where you don't want to say one game means more than the other but it's easier to say that earlier in the year than later in the year," said Vargas, who surrendered a third-inning grand slam to Christian Vazquez. "When it comes down to it, you really feel like you're in a spot where you have to put Ws on the board and when it doesn't happen you feel like you let everybody down."
The Phillies were also not at their strongest on Sunday. At least they did not have their strongest personnel on the field, not after Bryce Harper got ejected for protesting a called third strike with home plate umpire Gabe Morales in the fourth inning.
Morales missed the call and Harper retreated to the video area behind the dugout. He watched the replay of the pitch, saw that it was outside the zone, returned to the dugout and shouted, "It's not even bleeping close," to Morales.
The umpire ejected Harper.
"Then I kind of let him have it," Harper said. "It just sucks. You're in the middle of a race and you're in a 1-2 count and (Boston starter Rick) Porcello throws a front-hipper like he did in my first at-bat, which was a good pitch. I'm going to tip my cap when he throws me a good pitch, but I disagreed with that call and I kind of looked back at him and said, ‘That's not a strike.' He kind of looked at me like, ‘Yeah, right, stupid.' It was that kind of look and I went back and thought, ‘Maybe he's right.' I went back and looked at it and it wasn't close."
Kapler was also ejected for defending Harper.
"I think everybody can look at the pitch and see why both Bryce was upset and I was upset on his behalf," Kapler said. "It's an enormous game, obviously, with a lot of implications and I thought, obviously, Bryce was right about the pitch, but just as importantly, I thought, in a game of this magnitude there could have been a little bit of a longer leash to allow him to stay in this game and allow it to play out on the field."
A pool reporter attempted to speak with Morales shortly after the game. Morales was present but said he could not speak because crew chief Jerry Meals had already departed for the airport. Talk about your quick getaways.
Harper did not dispute that his getting ejected left his team in a bind.
"You can't get thrown out in that situation, of course," he said. "I don't want to get thrown out in that situation. But, you know, it happened.
"I usually don't complain unless it's there. I'm pro pitcher, too. If a pitcher throws a good pitch, I'm all about it. Like I said, first at-bat Porcello threw that front-hipper and punched me out, so I tipped my cap to him right there. So the next at-bat, I'm kind of sitting on the same pitch because he kind of did the same thing and it wasn't close. You get into a 2-2 count against him and you see another pitch. He might have punched me out on the next pitch, but also I might have hit a double in the gap and I'm on second base.
"On both sides, you have to be better, especially in these games right now. You have to be better back there. I know he's not trying to call a strike or not call a ball, but he just has to be better for me."
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