Two weeks ago, I wrote that the Phillies were headed into one of the most critical stretches of the season.
The two weeks featured 12 games, seven against the lowly Washington Nationals, and was the Phillies’ best chance to blow open the National League Wild Card race ahead of tonight’s series opener against the San Francisco Giants.
Well, they failed. The Phillies went 6-6 over the past two weeks and dropped two out of three to the Nationals to cap things off on a disappointing stretch.
The good news? They’re still leading the Wild Card race at 2.5 games up and 2 games above the Giants.
This brings us to tonight: the season’s most important series, 2.0.
Tonight, the Phillies have the chance to prove all of the doubters wrong. Not only is this series important to the Wild Card race, but it’s important to the playoff picture as a whole. Securing that top spot in the Wild Card – and de facto home-field advantage in the Wild Card round – is likely tantamount to this team’s postseason success.
Like Seattle’s 12th man or the deafening chants of a homecoming crowd in Penn State’s Beaver Stadium, it is widely known around the league that the atmosphere of Citizens Bank Park come October is as intimidating as any in professional sport. It is the ace up the Phillies’ sleeve.
Securing home-field advantage becomes even more significant when you factor in the Phillies’ struggles at San Francisco’s Oracle Park – where they haven’t won a game since June 2021.
If the Phillies are Superman with their fans behind their back, then the misty marine confines of Oracle Park is their kryptonite.
As it stands now, the Phillies are set to play San Francisco in the Wild Card round. The only question is, where will they play? It’s a factor that, in just two short games, could determine the outcome of their season.
It’s just another reason why tonight’s series is of the utmost importance – not even just to the Wild Card race but to the psyche of the team. If the Phillies are swept or even lose the series, they could still claw back and secure home-field advantage. But mentally and emotionally, one could argue that a defeat would be even more costly in the long run.
The Phillies, while having proven to be a very good team, are also prone to underachieving. They have lost series to the Pirates, Guardians, and Nationals. They haven’t swept a team since Tampa Bay in early July. Aaron Nola, tonight’s starter, hasn’t pitched six full innings in his last four starts. Everybody has something to prove.
So prove it. Tonight, the Phillies can make their mark on the National League.
A series victory over the Giants could make one thing very clear to the rest of the league: the postseason runs through Philadelphia.