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Seranthony Domínguez and the Phillies have been on the wrong side of so many celebrations like Ronald Acuña Jr.’s on Friday. They are one strong run away from all but reaching the postseason. But pulling that off is easier said than done. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Taking Stock Of The Phillies On Day 4,000 Of Their Drought; 7th-Day Stretch

Seranthony Domínguez and the Phillies have been on the wrong side of so many celebrations like Ronald Acuña Jr.’s on Friday. They are one strong run away from all but reaching the postseason. But pulling that off is easier said than done. (Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Taking Stock Of The Phillies On Day 4,000 Of Their Drought; 7th-Day Stretch

If it seems like a lifetime ago that the Phillies last played in a postseason game, that’s because for some it is. There are a lot of ways to measure the second-longest postseason drought in the Majors, one that is once again so close but yet so far from ending. But the number 4,000 stands out in a unique way; well, one that’s unique to most except the Phillies. Big numbers marking bigger disappointments is a part of their history. On July 15, 2007, the Phillies became the first franchise in the history of professional sports to lose 10,000 games. At the time, their most recent postseason game was 5,013 days prior. Their next was less than three months away.

It’s amazing how fast labels can change, but it’s difficult to comprehend that until it happens. There are probably people out there who think of the Phillies as chokers because of their failures the last four Septembers. But that isn’t really true. Except for 2020, a year in which the Phillies weren’t just flawed but bad, the Phillies haven’t held a postseason spot on Sept. 1 or later since 2011. That is different this year. Even after losing four straight games in agonizing fashion, the Phillies are in a decent spot. They still lead the Brewers by essentially three games since they hold the tie-breaker over Milwaukee.

The talk for most of the first two weeks of September centered around the short-term future. It focused on the impending returns of Seranthony Domínguez and Zach Eflin and Zack Wheeler and Nick Castellanos. But time is ticking. Domínguez has struggled with command since returning from the IL on Sept. 11. Giving up a pivotal eighth-inning home run to Ronald Acuña Jr. on Friday would have been tough enough to stomach on its own. But because right before he walked Eddie Rosario, who has an OBP of just .250 versus righties this season, that swing put the Phillies behind. Maybe things wouldn’t have been different this weekend if the Phillies entered the ninth inning even or ahead on Friday. But for the Phillies themselves, it really couldn’t made this weekend turn out any worse.

So far, Eflin has pitched just one inning since his return. The Phillies will need to define a role for him soon. Wheeler is set to return on Wednesday. But he will require a piggyback partner (which will be Noah Syndergaard) for two of his final three regular season starts. Castellanos’s injury appears to be lingering, and the Phillies may need to make a difficult decision about how healthy he needs to be to play.

After a summer of looking forward to a magical moment when all of their pieces would come together at peak powers, the Phillies may have to acknowledge that might not fully come to fruition this season. That is far from a death sentence. The Braves won the World Series last year with Acuña Jr. out from early July on. They just lost Ozzie Albies to a fractured right pinky just two days after he played for the first time since June 13. They still swept the Phillies and have the fourth-best record in baseball. But that doesn’t mean the “what ifs?” aren’t frustrating.

For about the last month and a half, the Phillies have operated from a position of comfort. They have acted as a team not just looking to make the postseason but one looking to maximize its chances of advancing in it. They have relied on their depth and their youth as a result and have largely been rewarded for it. When they beat Sandy Alcántara and the Marlins 2-1 on Tuesday, the two most important pieces were Bailey Falter and Nick Maton. Neither has made an Opening Day roster in their young Major League careers. Both flashed some promise in cameos last season and have built on that progress in 2022. But as the end of the regular season nears, their veterans will be relied upon more.

The Phillies have often been forced to focus on the short-term in previous stretch runs as they tried to push into the postseason from a position of weakness. This year, especially after the last four days, the big picture is more appealing to look at. Forget about the Brewers and the Padres for a second. The Phillies are fifth in the National League with 44 home victories this year. A 4-2 record against the Blue Jays (two games) and Braves (four games) doesn’t feel unreasonable.

Other than their late August/early September West Coast disaster, they have largely beaten the teams they should, even on the road. Pencil (not pen) in their ten-game season-ending road trip starting with a 5-2 run against the Cubs (three games) and Nationals (four games in three days). That puts the Phillies at 89 wins before even seeing if they can pick any victories in their final three games against Houston, who could be resting their stars by that point. They would only need Milwaukee to lose five more times to make the postseason at that point. The Brewers did just win a series against the Yankees. But doing so against the other New York team will be tough. And their offense, while hot lately, has been a weakness for most of the year.

Even if Milwaukee doesn’t provide the Phillies with enough help, perhaps the Padres fall victim to a difficult schedule to end the season. San Diego, who currently leads the Phillies by 0.5 games for the second Wild Card spot, finishes with nine of their last fifteen games against the Cardinals, Dodgers, and White Sox. They also play three games in Colorado, who is 40-34 at home. They too are carrying some baggage after collapsing down the stretch a season ago.

It is easy to assume the worst-case scenario. After all, the last ten seasons have been exactly that. But the Phillies have proved that doesn’t always happen all season long. Through their first 50 games, their record was 21-29. Their season was supposed to be over when Bryce Harper went down. You don’t spend 4,000 days in the abyss without experiencing your fair share of darkness. But that should give the Phillies perspective on just how good they have it. Things could be much better. They have been much, much worse. The Phillies don’t need to just be content with where they currently stand; they should be proud of it.

Maybe the Phillies still fall short this year. But perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic, despite their four-game losing streak, is that the room for improvement is obvious. The offense that has scored the seventh most runs in baseball probably won’t score seven runs in three games very often. A reliever with an ERA of 1.57 entering Friday probably won’t implode continuously. They didn’t have Rhys Hoskins for the first three games of their skid after he suffered a bruised hand from being hit by a pitch. The pitch could have broken his hand, but it didn’t. Wheeler, the reigning NL Cy Young runner-up, is pitching in their next series. Castellanos, barring a setback, should return at some point. The Phillies don’t really need to improve on what they’ve been all season. They just need water to return to its level.

Here’s further proof the Phillies’ problems aren’t unique. The Seattle Mariners are the only team in baseball who have been waiting longer to return to the postseason. They are in a Wild Card spot but have lost three straight to the Angels. It’s not easy — until, one day, it is.

That’s not too different from the message the Phillies were preaching in the late night hours 4,000 days ago. The 102-60 Phillies had just been eliminated in a 1-0 heartbreaker in Game 5 of the NLDS to the 90-72 and eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals. One day in the future, they knew the outcome would match what they deserved. The Phillies have been good for months now. Good teams have their good stretches and bad stretches. They understand the highs and lows that come with a 162-game season. They know that pressure, while uncomfortable in the moment, is ultimately what makes diamonds. The Phillies have all of the pieces they need to shine. Time to dig deep.

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