(Photo credit: John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports)
Mother Nature cooperated long enough on Saturday to ensure the Philadelphia Phillies could look strongly toward a National League wild-card series.
The Phillies (86-69) will aim to inch closer to punching their ticket to the postseason on Sunday evening when they attempt to complete a four-game sweep of the visiting New York Mets (71-84).
Left-hander Cristopher Sanchez (2-5, 3.55 ERA) is scheduled to start for the Phillies against right-hander Jose Butto (1-2, 3.09).
With constant rain from Tropical Storm Ophelia in the forecast for Sunday afternoon, the Phillies announced late Saturday that the first pitch Sunday was pushed back five hours to 6:05 p.m. ET.
The Phillies continued cementing their grip on the first wild-card spot Saturday afternoon when Bryce Harper homered and finished with three RBIs in a 7-5 victory with rain looming.
With their fourth straight win, the Phillies reduced their magic number for clinching a playoff spot to two. Philadelphia could clinch that berth on Sunday with a win and an earlier a loss by the Miami Marlins vs. the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Phillies lengthened their lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks (81-73) to 4 1/2 games in the race for the NL's top wild-card spot. The Diamondbacks' game against the New York Yankees on Saturday was rained out.
The arrival of Ophelia impacted Philadelphia as well on Saturday, but getting the game in despite intermittent rain and heavy winds allowed the Phillies to keep ace Zack Wheeler on his usual schedule and in line to start the opener of an NL wild-card series next week.
Wheeler is slated to make his final regular-season start on Thursday against the Pittsburgh Pirates and will be on regular rest when the playoffs begin.
"It's always good to get the games in," Phillies manager Rob Thomson said. "But it does help us out a little bit. We could always move stuff around, but it definitely helps us out that we played today."
The focus is on the long-term for the Mets, who officially were eliminated from playoff contention with a 5-4 loss in 10 innings on Friday. A trio of rookies batting in the sixth through eighth spots in the lineup -- Ronny Mauricio, Brett Baty and Mark Vientos -- combined to go 4-for-12 with three runs in Saturday's defeat.
The Mets seized a 2-0 lead in unusual fashion in the second after Phillies shortstop Trea Turner misplayed Baty's potential double play ball. DJ Stewart, who was at second base, scored easily from second, and Mauricio raced home from first. Mauricio initially slowed down at third base before dashing to the plate after Kyle Schwarber casually lobbed the ball to Turner.
"I was running to third and I said, 'If he throws it in soft, I'm going to break home,'" Mauricio told Newsday through an interpreter. "Since Turner had his back turned, I decided to break there."
Sanchez took the loss on Tuesday after allowing three runs over four innings in a 9-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves. He is 0-2 with a 5.40 ERA in four career games (two starts) against the Mets.
Butto didn't factor into the decision last Monday despite allowing one run on four hits over six innings in the Mets' 2-1 win over the Marlins. In his lone appearance against the Phillies on Aug. 21, 2022, Butto gave up seven runs over four innings in his major league debut and didn't factor into the decision in New York's 10-9 victory.
--Field Level Media