On the final weekend of the 2011 regular season, the Phillies traveled to Atlanta’s Turner Field and swept the Braves. They clearly weren’t coasting into the postseason.
They fought for 13 innings before coming out on top on the last day, which had at least two consequences.
It gave them 102 wins, a franchise record. And it knocked the division rival Braves out of the playoffs, allowing the Cardinals to claim a wild card spot instead.
Which was all well and good until St. Louis upset them in the first round.
That comes into focus because the Phillies continued their series in Milwaukee with a 7-5 loss at American Family Field on Saturday night.
It was their third straight setback, all coming after surrendering a lead. That followed an August during which they had 14 comeback wins.
The Phillies had one final chance in the top of the ninth with runners on second and third and two outs, But Brewers All-Star closer Devin Williams struck out Trea Turner, one of the hottest hitters on the planet, to extinguish the rally.
The key to the game, and the biggest cause for concern, was that starter Aaron Nola, coming off two strong starts, took a big step backward.
It’s worth noting that wins and losses against the first-place Brewers have a ripple effect beyond the Phils hopes of finishing with the top spot among the National League’s three non-division winning qualifiers, guaranteeing that all the Wild Card Series games would be at home.
The Cubs are in second place of the NL Central, behind the Brewers, and also runners-up in the wild card standings, to the Phillies and still have a fading opportunity to move past both teams before the regular season ends.
So if the Phillies beat Milwaukee, it also helps the Cubs. When they fall to the Brewers, as have the last two games, it hurts Chicago. Simple.
Now, of course, the Phillies' goal is to win every game and let the postseason seeding take care of itself. But it’s interesting to note that, as matters stand now, the Phils would host the Cubs in the first round. If Chicago ends up winning the division, their opponent could very well be the Brewers.
And while it’s a stretch to suggest that there’s much connection between regular season and postseason results, this much is true: The Phillies won five of six against the Cubs this year and are 1-4 against Milwaukee with one game remaining.
That’s not much solace considering that starting pitching tends to be a decisive factor in the postseason and Nola got knocked around again Saturday.
The Phillies came into the night with a 98 percent chance of making the postseason according to baseball-reference.com. But to make a deep run, like they did last year when they barely got into the tournament but got hot at the right time and rolled all the way to the World Series.
In his previous two starts, Nola had raised hopes that he was finding himself at just the right time by pitching a total of 14 innings and allowing just two earned runs.
Against Milwaukee, the Phillies Opening Day starter struck out the side, sandwiched around a walk, while he was staked to a quick lead on solo homers by Kyle Schwarber in the first and J.T. Realmuto in the second.
For Schwarber, it was the second straight game, and ninth time this season, he’s socked a leadoff homer.
For Realmuto, it was the 150th four-bagger of his career.
After that, though, everything but Bernie Brewer’s slide fell in on Nola.
He gave up three runs on four hits, two of them doubles, in the second. He had runners on first and second with one out in the fourth, but dodged damage when nine-hole hitter Tyrone Taylor grounded into a double play. He was gone before the end of the fifth; the Brewers batted around.
Nola’s final line: 8 hits, 7 runs, 3 walks and 5 strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings.
He has a reputation for fading in September, but the reality is that he pitched well – 4-2, 2.36 ERA – in the final month last season. He will almost certainly be part of the Phillies postseason rotation, assuming they make it, but whether he’s slotted in right behind Zack Wheeler or somewhere further down the depth chart will probably depend on his effectiveness the rest of the way.
Meanwhile, outside of the two home runs, the Phillies bats didn’t do too much against Brewers starter Colin Rea, who was called up when Adrian Houser went on the injured list.
After Realmuto’s homer, the Phillies didn’t have another baserunner until Trea Turner’s solo homer in the sixth.
The Phillies struck out 12 times Saturday night and have now whiffed a total of 26 times in the last two games.
The Phillies then move on to San Diego where RHP Taijuan Walker (14-5, 4.05), RHP Michael Lorenzen (8-8, 3.73) and LHP Cristopher Sanchez (2-3, 3.48) will face the Padres, who have yet to announce their pitching plans for the series.