Nothing has come easy this year for the Philadelphia Phillies, who are trying to reach the postseason for the first time in over a decade.
They started poorly, going 22-29 before manager Joe Girardi was fired. New skipper Rob Thompson won his first eight games, but not long after that, Bryce Harper went down with a broken thumb. While he was out, the Phillies played well enough that they were in the National League's second wild-card spot when he returned late last month, but now they've dropped six of seven.
Philadelphia hasn't made the playoffs since 2011, the second-longest drought in the majors. The Phillies are overshadowed somewhat by Seattle, which is in good shape to make the postseason for the first time since 2001, but a playoff appearance would also be a key step for Philadelphia, now in its fourth season since signing Harper.
After losing 5-3 to San Francisco on Sunday on a ninth-inning homer by Wilmer Flores, the Phillies are 2 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee for the final NL wild card. They were swept three straight by the Giants after dropping two of three at Arizona.
The schedule becomes pretty friendly now. Philadelphia plays its next nine games against Miami and Washington teams that are well below .500. It's an opportunity for the Phillies to determine just how stressful the final days of the season will be.
STILL IN IT
Another team going through a roller coaster of a season is the Chicago White Sox, who despite a .500 record are just two games out of first place in the AL Central.
In the last month, the White Sox have had a five-game winning streak, lost 10 of 12, then won four in a row. It's been a disappointing season for Chicago, but the rest of the division has let the White Sox hang around, and there's enough talent there — both on the mound and at the plate — to be a threat if the team makes the playoffs.
Chicago has been without Tony La Russa recently because of a health issue.
Aside from the Mariners and Phillies, which two teams have gone the longest without a postseason berth?
LINE OF THE WEEK
Dylan Cease came within one out of a no-hitter Saturday night when the White Sox routed the Minnesota Twins 13-0. His bid was broken up by Luis Arraez, the American League batting leader.
Cease finished with a one-hitter, striking out seven and walking two.
It's been an unusual season for the Chicago star, who is making a run at the Cy Young Award despite leading the majors in walks. Cease is second in the AL in strikeouts, and opponents are hitting .185 off him.
COMEBACK OF THE WEEK
It might be too late, but the Boston Red Sox are trying to play their way back into relevance. They've won five in a row, but are still 7 1/2 games behind a playoff spot.
One of those victories came in dramatic fashion Thursday night against Texas. The Red Sox were down 8-5 before scoring four runs in the bottom of the ninth. Rafael Devers hit a bases-loaded double with nobody out that scored two runs. With one out, Enrique Hernández hit a tying single, and Rob Refsnyder followed with a single to win it.
The Rangers had a win probability of 98.5% in the top of the eighth, according to Baseball Savant. They were up 8-3 at that point.
The Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels, who last qualified in 2014.
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