MLB Wild Card: Phillies can outrun Padres but better avoid Mets

The Phillies enter their last series of the regular season on Monday night with a magic number of one and even a chance to move up the standings.

The Padres are 87-72. The Phillies are 86-73. The Brewers are 84-75 and the first team to come out of the playoffs.

The Phils have a two-game tiebreaker lead over the Brewers, meaning Milwaukee’s only path to the playoffs is to sweep the Diamondbacks at home while the Phillies get swept in Houston. Anything short will lead the Phillies to end their 10-year playoff drought.

But the Phils also own the tiebreaker over the Padres, so wildcard second is achievable. All they have to do to pass the Padres is finish a game better in the bottom three to tie them in the standings. The Padres host the Giants Monday through Wednesday.

In terms of first-round opponents, the Phillies would probably be better off finishing as the 6th seed. If they finish there, they will face the Cardinals in a best-of-three first-round matchup with all three games in Saint Louis. If they finish seeded 5, they will face the Mets on the road in this Best of Three.

The Mets are now almost certain to end up with the top wildcard spot after being swept off the NL East lead this weekend by the Braves. The Braves not only have a two-game lead over the Mets, but the sweep won Atlanta the season series, 10-9. The only way the Mets can win the division now is to sweep the Nationals while the Marlins sweep the Braves.

So, if the Phillies end up with the 5th seed, they will face the Mets. They went 5-14 against the Mets this season and 4-3 against the Cardinals, who are six games behind the Mets overall.

In a playoff series against the Mets, the Phillies would see Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer straight out of the fall, which could wrap things up quickly. DeGrom and Scherzer pitched Friday and Saturday, so they’ll be on normal rest to start the first two games of a first-round series.

The Phillies beat the Mets the last two times they faced Scherzer, but there’s a stark difference between drawing deGrom, Scherzer and Chris Bassitt and drawing Adam Wainwright, Jordan Montgomery and Miles Mikolas.

And if you win this series against the Mets…your reward is the Dodgers. The playoffs do not roll over, so the winner of the series between seeds 4 and 5 draws THE seed.

The Phils aren’t going to mess around, though, they’re just focusing on the clinch. Once they have done that, maybe then they can anticipate the match situation. If the Padres win their own series this weekend, that’s probably a moot point because the Phillies would have to sweep a 104-win Astros team to change the standings.

The most dangerous aspect of the Cardinals is the middle of their order with Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. Goldschmidt, however, has slowed down after raking his first 120 games. In his last 29 games and 120 plate appearances, the NL Probable MVP has hit .231 with an OPS of .681, striking out 30 times. Arenado in September hit .220 with a .649 OPS.

That’s not to say that many of the other hitters in the St. Louis roster can’t hurt you, just that their two biggest bats would enter a relatively cold playoff. The Cardinals have scored two or less in eight of their last 13 games.

But before you worry about the Cardinals or the Mets, the Phillies need to do their part in Houston. They don’t even need to win a game to clinch, but that would make things easier than staring at the scoreboard for days in a row.

Aaron Nola (10-13, 3.36) takes on Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1, 2.38) Monday at 8:10 p.m. The Brewers play at 7:40 p.m. and the Padres at 9:40 p.m.

In Game 2, the Phillies will see Justin Verlander, who is 17-4 with the best ERA and WHIP in the majors. In the season finale, they will face Framber Valdez, who set the major league record this season with 25 consecutive quality starts. Even if their appearances are cut short, they will be tough on the Phils.

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