By Todd Zolecki
MIAMI — Brandon Marsh played high school baseball about 30 miles northeast of Atlanta’s Truist Park.
Marsh will make his second trip there as a big leaguer on Friday, and it’s going to be a big one.
The series opener in Atlanta will be the start of a challenging nine-game stretch for the Phillies, who had their five-game winning streak snapped Thursday night with a 5-3 loss to the Marlins at loanDepot park. Philadelphia will play three games this weekend in Atlanta before playing its final six home games of the regular season at Citizens Bank Park, beginning Tuesday with two against Toronto followed by four against Atlanta. The Phils are 6-6 this season against the Braves. They are 0-2 against the Blue Jays.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” Marsh said. “It’s why we wake up and do what we do. You want to play the best of the best and see where you stand.”
Every game the rest of the way is huge, of course. But a strong stretch here against Atlanta and Toronto would set up Philadelphia to clinch a postseason berth before the final few games of the regular season. The Phillies left Miami with a two-game lead over the Padres — pending the result of their late-night showdown vs. the D-backs — for the second NL Wild Card spot and a four-game lead over the Brewers, who are chasing both teams for a postseason berth.
The Phillies own the tiebreaker over both teams with 19 games to play.
Atlanta and Toronto are highly motivated, too. The Braves are fighting the Mets for the NL East title. The winner will almost certainly earn a first-round bye in the postseason, while the runner-up will host a best-of-three NL Wild Card Series, which, at the moment, would be against the Phillies.
Anything can happen in a three-game series, regardless of the teams or location.
The same is true for the Blue Jays, who are battling the Mariners and Rays for the first AL Wild Card spot. The winner there will host a best-of-three AL Wild Card Series. The runners-up will have to play on the road.
“I feel good,” Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson said. “We’re playing good. I feel as confident as ever with our ballclub. We’re playing good. We’re battling. There’s a lot of energy in the dugout, everybody is pulling for each other. Whatever move we make, whether we’re playing a shift or not a shift and the ball goes through, everybody is on board. Everybody is pulling in the same direction. That’s all we can do right now. I’m really confident in our group.”
The Phillies will throw Ranger Suárez, Aaron Nola and Bailey Falter against the Braves this weekend. Atlanta will throw Max Fried, Jake Odorizzi and Spencer Strider.
The Phils had chances to extend their winning streak to six games on Thursday, but right-hander Noah Syndergaard allowed four runs in six innings. He gave up a solo home run to Marlins rookie Jordan Groshans in the third to make it 1-0, then allowed a three-run homer to Bryan De La Cruz in the fourth to make it 4-0.
Syndergaard is 4-2 with a 4.79 ERA in eight starts since he joined the Phillies. He is 1-2 with a 6.14 ERA in his past four outings.
“I search for all the positives after every start,” Syndergaard said. “I feel like each one I’m getting better and better. It’s just not the results I want. I’m definitely not where I want to be, but I’ll continue to search. It’s what makes this game enjoyable.”
The Phillies could have an interesting decision to make next week, with Zack Wheeler hoping to rejoin the rotation as early as Tuesday. Falter has pitched well in Wheeler’s absence, going 5-0 with a 2.43 ERA in his past five starts. You wonder if the Phils will want to keep him in the rotation.
“We’ve got to wait on Wheeler,” Thomson said. “Once he’s healthy, then we’ll discuss plans. But we’re [keeping the] normal rotation right now.”
Marsh went 4-for-4 with two singles, a double and a triple, falling a home run short of the Phillies’ first cycle since David Bell’s against the Expos in 2004. Marsh is batting .375 (15-for-40) with two doubles, two triples, two home runs, 10 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in his past 11 games. He also continues to play solid defense in center.
Marsh would love nothing more than to play well in front of family and friends this weekend.
“It’s always fun going back to Atlanta,” he said.