Monday is Labor Day and there's no holiday rest for the Phillies. In fact, they have a very important workday, one of their most important of the season so far, awaiting them at Citi Field in New York.
With 24 games left in the 60-game sprint, the Phillies have reached a little gut-check point in their season, one of those days when they can right themselves and start something positive or continue on a path that hasn't exactly been smooth this weekend.
The Phillies suffered one of their ugliest losses of the season Sunday when they were pounded, 14-1, by the New York Mets. The Phillies gave away runs with some horrid defense and that can't happen when Jacob deGrom, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, is on the mound for the other team. Defensive miscues led to at least four Mets runs as the previously red-hot Phillies lost a second straight game for the first time since August 21-22 and slipped to three games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the NL East.
The Phils need to stop the slide now.
They have the right guy on the mound Monday to make that happen. That is if they hit and play sound defense. They did neither Sunday.
Zack Wheeler will face his old team for the second time this season and first in New York. The right-hander beat his former mates with seven innings of two-run ball on August 16 and a similar effort will be needed Monday to cool a Mets offense that clubbed Phillies pitching for 17 hits, including five homers, on Sunday.
"The guy's a stud," Aaron Nola said of Wheeler, who is 4-0 with a 2.20 ERA in seven starts. "We know he's going to compete like he always does with really good stuff."
Wheeler will face rookie left-hander David Peterson, who is 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Peterson was the Mets' first-round pick out of Oregon in 2017.
Manager Joe Girardi was not pleased with his team's defense on Sunday. He knows the importance of leaving New York with a win Monday as the Phils head into a challenging week.
"Go out and get a split (of the four-game series)," he said. "Do everything you can to get a split. We've got to go out and play well and start another good streak. We did not play well today and that's the bottom line. We've got to play better tomorrow and find a way to win."
After Monday afternoon's game against the Mets, who, by the way, are creeping up on the Phillies in the standings, the Phils begin a stretch of three doubleheaders in six days. On Thursday, they start a seven-game series in Miami against a Marlins team that is right in it.
On paper, Sunday's matchup between Nola and deGrom had pitchers' duel written all over it, but that never materialized. Center fielder Adam Haseley misplayed a ball in the first inning and cost Nola a run. A botched rundown cost the Phils two runs in the fourth and an error by Rhys Hoskins led to a run in the fifth. Nola struck out 10 but couldn't pitch over the bad defense, not on a day when the Phils had just four hits and struck out 14 times.
"Maybe the only two runs Aaron should have allowed were the two solo homers he gave up," Girardi said.
DeGrom held the Phils to three hits and a run over seven innings. He struck out 12. His stuff was absolutely electric. His fastball averaged 98.6 mph and topped out 100.8 mph. He had an amazing 35 swings and misses, including 19 on his slider and 11 on his fastball.
The Phils needed to play perfect baseball to beat him and they didn't.
Not even close.
So now they head into Monday's game needing a win for a series split. It feels like a must-win game. For both teams.