If the Phillies have a final gasp in their postseason dreams, it’ll come under heavy duress this week as the club embarks on a brutal 11-game road trip that opens on Tuesday in Atlanta.
With 14 games remaining the Phils sit 4 1/2 games out of a Wild Card spot and face the division-leading Braves for three games, then head to Cleveland for three before completing this grueling trip with five games in Washington.
“My only concern is the step right in front of us,” manager Gabe Kapler told reporters after Sunday’s 6-3 loss against Boston. “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.”
Playoffs aside, the Phillies will need to battle just to ensure they finish the season with a winning record. The club enters Tuesday just four games over .500 while the Braves, Indians, and Nationals are a combined 73 games over .500.
Vince Velasquez will start Tuesday’s opener for the Phils in Atlanta. He’s struggled significantly as of late, pitching to a 6.19 ERA over his last seven starts while averaging just 4 2/3 innings per outing. He gave up four runs on six hits against the Mets in his last outing.
The Braves counter with veteran Dallas Keuchel who was masterful against the Phillies in his last outing, surrendering one run on three hits over six innings. He struck out eight and following the contest hurled a shaded insult at the Phillies’ brass for not pursuing him as a free agent.
“I think a lot of those guys over there in the front office are second-guessing themselves, and, I mean, I would too,” Keuchel told reporters last Wednesday.
BY PATRICK GORDON