At the outset, a four-game set against the Washington Nationals in early August might not seem like a big deal.
A lazy homestand for the Phillies against a struggling opponent. Ho hum. If this were the NFL, none of these games would be flexed to prime time. 
But for the Phillies, this “ho-hum” homestand is a very big deal.

 While it might not be “the biggest series of the year,” it is, without a doubt, the most opportune series this club has had up until this point. Because over the weekend, the Phillies did something special–they joined the San Francisco Giants at the top of the National League Wild Card standings. 

This week, the Phillies have as best a chance as they will get at controlling their destiny. No, the Atlanta Braves will not be caught in the division race. That hasn’t mattered for months. What does matter is that the Phillies, who exploded in a triumphant series victory over the visiting Royals this past weekend, have the unique opportunity of playing a lesser opponent at the time when it matters most.

They have the chance to create real distance in the Wild Card race. 

The San Francisco Giants do not have that advantage. The following 28 games for Gabe Kapler’s squad are set to be their hardest of the season. After playing the Angels to start this week, they’ll face in order: the first-place Rangers, the Tampa Bay Rays (who have the third-best record in all of baseball), the Atlanta Braves (best record in MLB) before heading to Citizens Bank Park for a three-game set on August 21st. If that wasn’t enough, the Giants then face the Braves again before embarking on a 10-game stretch against the wild card-hopeful Reds, Padres, and Cubs. 

Meanwhile, the Phillies have 10 games against the last-place Nationals and Cardinals, seven of which are at home. Suddenly, the entire season seems to be at their feet. Home-field advantage in the Wild Card round is within reach. If they play their cards right, that series against San Francisco doesn’t have to be a dogfight. It can be an afterthought, with the Phillies well ahead of the Giants in the race. 

However, the opportunity is only what you make of it, and it starts tonight for the Phillies.

Sure, Washington is hot, on a 4-game winning streak, but this is a chance to set the record straight. Not only is this series a tone-setter for an incredibly important stretch run, but it also can be a jumping-off point for several key members of the team as well. The Phillies’ lack of offense – and perhaps their good but not great record – can be attributed largely to the inefficiency of their star players. Namely Trea Turner, Nick Castellanos, Kyle Schwarber, JT Realmuto, and yes, even Bryce Harper.

This past weekend, we saw the offense break out – again, largely due to the resurgence of the stars. The much-maligned Trea Turner drove in four runs in Saturday’s victory, including a towering three-run bomb that demanded a curtain call from a frenzied crowd. Harper homered as well on Saturday, and on Sunday, both Castellanos and Schwarber went deep in a resounding 8-4 win. All of these players, each a critical piece to the Phillies’ future success, have the chance to elevate the team to new heights in the final two months of the season. 

This week’s series against the Nationals is equally important for the pitching staff as well. Ranger Suarez will start tonight’s game 1, followed by Zach Wheeler, Michael Lorenzen, and Aaron Nola. All the team’s top pitchers excluding Taijuan Walker. All have something to prove – from Lorenzen wanting to make his mark as a trade-deadline acquisition to Suarez, Wheeler, and Nola all looking to get their season’s back on track. 

If the Phillies are going to make another deep postseason run, they are going to need excellence out of all of these players. Not mediocrity, not streakiness, but excellence.
This is where it starts.
This is where the team can finally play up to its prodigious level of talent. In a seemingly forgettable series against the lowly Nationals in early August, the path to October begins

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