Phillies, 22-9 since June 1, are on the postseason grid at halfway point of season

The Phillies have played half their season and control their own postseason destiny.

Hard to believe after those first two months, the firing of a manager and all those injuries.

But it’s true. Check the standings.

Tuesday night’s 11-0 shellacking of the Washington Nationals in Game 81 of the season moved the Phils onto the National League playoff grid.

At 43-38, the Phils are a percentage point ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals (44-39) for control of the third and final NL wild card spot. The Cardinals lost at Atlanta on Tuesday night. The Phillies took two of three from the Cards over the weekend in Philadelphia. The two teams will play a big, four-game series beginning Friday night in downtown St. louis

“We’re striving to get to the postseason,” said Kyle Schwarber, who slugged his 24th and 25th homers to lead Tuesday night’s rout. “We’ve got to take it one day at a time. We can’t look at the end prize right now. We just have to focus on what’s ahead of us.”

What’s immediately ahead of the Phils is two more against the Nationals, who have the second-worst record in the NL at 29-54 and have lost six in a row. The Phils are 5-1 against Washington this season.

Aaron Nola will start for the Phillies on Wednesday night against right-hander Josiah Gray. The Phillies have won their last two games by shutout.

Nola is the only accomplished veteran that the Phils are sending to the mound in this series. Injuries to Ranger Suarez and Zach Eflin have thrust unproven young left-handers Cristopher Sanchez and Bailey Falter into the rotation. Falter will get the ball in Thursday afternoon’s finals. The Phillies hope he’s as effective as Sanchez – and he gets similar run support.

Sanchez, who had not pitched more than four innings in a big-league or minor-league game this season, delivered five innings of two-run ball in his third big-league start to get the shutout started.

The Nationals were a good matchup for Sanchez. Not only did they enter the game ranked 14th out of 15 NL teams in runs per game (3.99), they were without two of their biggest bats in Juan Soto and Nelson Cruz. Soto is day-to-day with a calf injury. Cruz was scratched shortly before game time for an undisclosed reason.

Sanchez got early run support from Schwarber, who homered in the first and third innings against righthander Paolo Espino.

After going 11-11 in April and 10-18 in May, the Phillies have gone 22-9 since June 1 and have outscored opponents 172-116 over that span. They are 21-9 under manager Rob Thomson, who took over for Joe Girardi on June 3.

“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted,” Schwarber said. “We knew we were a better team than what we were in April and May. But baseball is such a long season, you can’t think about where you are at that point. You’re going to have good months, bad months and OK months. It’s the nature of the game. But we kept plugging away each day.

“I feel like we’re starting to get to the stride part. Everyone is figuring each other out and we’re getting closer as a group. The wins were going to come at some point.”

Schwarber has been a constant producer for the Phillies since June 1. Ditto for Rhys Hoskins, last week’s NL player of the week. With Bryce Harper and Jean Segura out, the Phillies need JT Realmuto and Nick Castellanos to continue to heat up. Realmuto had three RBIs with a sacrifice fly and a two-run homer Tuesday night and Castellanos doubled, singled and drove in a pair of runs.

The Phillies beat up on six Washington pitchers to the tune of 13 hits. Darick Hall had three of them, including a double. Alec Bohm drove in three runs.

Other than to acknowledge it was the goal, Thomson wasn’t about to be lured into any talk about the postseason, not with half a season to go.

But he was happy to talk about the pitching. Who wouldn’t be after two straight shutouts? And he was happy to talk about the offense. Who wouldn’t be after 11 runs?

“Schwarber seems like he’s right in the middle of everything, getting on base, slugging,” Thomson said. “Rhys, too. Those two guys have turned it on. Now JT is coming and Casty is getting some hits. The bottom of the lineup is getting some hits. It’s a pretty good offense right now.”

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