Phillies' second-half playoff push begins tonight

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Phillies' second-half playoff push begins tonight originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The second half begins tonight for the Phillies, who take on the Cubs for the first time this season.

The Phils (49-43) have 70 games left, emerging from the All-Star break tied with the Cardinals (50-44) for the third and final National League wild-card spot. If the Phillies do end up making the playoffs in that position, they'd face the worst of the three NL division-winners in a three-game series hosted entirely by that team.

But that's a long ways away. They'll need to clean up on bad teams in the second half to make their first postseason since 2011, maintaining some semblance of offensive consistency until Jean Segura (broken index finger) and Bryce Harper (broken thumb) are due back. Segura could return as soon as the second week of August and Harper could be back later in the month.

Of the Phillies' 70 remaining games, 34 come against the five worst teams in the National League and 43 come against teams well below .500. The Phils still have 11 games left against the Nationals, seven with the Pirates, seven with the Reds, six with the Cubs and three with the Diamondbacks. They also have nine with the Marlins, who are six games below .500.

The only five teams with winning records they'll face in the second half are the Braves (12 games), Mets (7), Astros (3), Giants (3) and Blue Jays (2).

The Phils have the fourth-easiest remaining strength of schedule based on opponents' winning percentage (.473). The Cardinals have the easiest (.453).

The Phillies finished the first half on a high note by sweeping the Marlins in Miami, outscoring them 16-1. The middle game of that series was a 10-run outburst, but offense has been hard to come by lately. Excluding that game, the Phils averaged 1.8 runs in the 10 games leading into the All-Star break.

Without Harper and Segura, with Kyle Schwarber coming back to Earth and Nick Castellanos still not hitting, the Phillies have been carried by their pitching the last month. Over that calendar month, they have the best bullpen ERA in baseball at 1.51 and the fourth-best ERA overall at 2.89.

Kyle Gibson (5-3, 4.35) starts for the Phillies tonight opposite Cubs lefty Justin Steele (3-6, 4.15) at 7:05 p.m. on Apple TV+. Steele has been a league-average starter for the Cubs the last two seasons with an ERA in the low-4.00s and a strikeout per inning. He's been much better lately with a 2.98 ERA his last seven times out. Lefties don't do much against him, with just one home run and four extra-base hits total in 138 career plate appearances.

Gibson ended his first half with two of his best starts of the season. He pitched seven innings of two-hit, scoreless ball in St. Louis, then allowed one run over six innings to win in Miami last Friday.

Zack Wheeler will pitch Saturday against Marcus Stroman. The Cubs will start lefty Drew Smyly on Sunday while the Phils haven’t yet named a starter.

The Phillies will have their eyes trained on the Cardinals and Brewers all throughout the second half. The Brewers are only a half-game ahead of the Cardinals for the NL Central lead, so the team the Phillies are chasing could continually change. They do have the tie-breaker over both, meaning if they finished with the same record as the Brewers or Cardinals, they'd get into the playoffs.

The Phils are also just two games behind the Padres for the second wild-card spot. San Diego has lost 14 of its last 21 after going 12-34 to end last season's epic collapse.

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