The air is turning crisp and the leaves have begun to change. Apples, pumpkins, and corn are all ready for their final harvests as September is drawing to a close. For baseball fans that always means one thing – the most elite teams in the league will be gearing up for the playoffs, or, “October Baseball.”

The playoffs begin in just a few short days. At the moment, we still don’t know if the Phillies will be playing postseason baseball for the first time since 2011. The playoff picture has been a messy one in recent days, and now the Phillies have just one route into the Wildcard round that would open next Wednesday.

What has been an ultimately disappointing year has seen two major bright spots emerge for the Phillies up to this point. One has been the performance of rookie third baseman Alec Bohm, who made his big-league debut and is proving that he’s the real deal as he makes an amazing case for himself to be the National League Rookie of the Year.

The other bright spot has been the performance of free agent signing Zack Wheeler. The 30-year-old right-hander’s debut in red pinstripes has been remarkable. With two very critical must-win games left in the Phillies 2020 regular season schedule, #45 is slated to take the mound for the first of those on Saturday night in Tampa.

Wheeler has made 10 starts for the Phillies this season and carries a record of 4-1 on the mound. Over 64 innings pitched he has produced a strong stats line: 2.67 ERA (6th in the NL), 2.9 WAR (1st among NL pitchers), and a 1.13 WHiP. Those are “ace” numbers. Statistically speaking, Wheeler is having a career year, very clearly at his peak.

Wheeler has been working mostly off his remarkable four-seam fastball, which he has reaching up to 99 mph this year. An impressive strikeout of Juan Soto in the 1st inning on September 2nd in Washington was an absolute beauty. Check out the highlights video of that game below if you’re looking for a visual reference. This is everything we would expect from a big contract ace pitcher.

You can’t really talk about Wheeler’s year without mentioning the fact that we almost lost him for the season due to – yes, seriously – a fingernail catching on his clothing. Wheeler has suffered from problems with one of the nails on his pitching finger for years and caught it on his zipper, nearly tearing it off and requiring surgery.

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Thankfully, Wheeler returned to play on September 16th and didn’t miss significant time. As critical a player as he was to the Phillies season we should all be thankful that, in the end, all it did was cause some unwelcome stress for the fan base. Had he missed any time, surely any playoff hopes would have went with him.

Losing the opener of the Rays series last night combined with the results of other action around Major League Baseball was nearly devastating to the Phillies hopes. The Marlins and Reds each clinched playoff berths on Friday night, leaving the Phillies with just one path to the postseason.

Gabe Kapler and his San Francisco Giants squad are currently sitting in that final NL Wildcard playoff spot and have a ‘Magic Number’ of two for eliminating the Phillies. If the Phillies lose tonight and the Giants win, the Phils are done.

For the Phillies to get in now they will need to win each of the final two games while San Fran goes 1-1, or they can also get in by going 1-1 themselves, but only if the Giants drop their own final two games.

Wheeler is up tonight, trying to keep the Phillies season alive for at least one more day and hand the baton off to Aaron Nola for a Sunday finale that would mean something. The Phillies really need ace performances from both, giving them length and keeping the games largely out of the hands of the disappointing bullpen.

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