Phillies keep on rolling behind McCutchen, Harper and a couple of kids

What a crazy month of August it was for the Phillies.

They began it with a rousing eight-game winning streak that moved them into first place in the NL East.

They followed that run by losing 11 of the next 15 to fall out of first place and under .500.

Then they finished the month with five straight wins to improve to four games over .500.

They're hot. They're cold. They're infuriating. They're intoxicating.

And they're alive in two races -- the division and the wild card -- as the calendar flips to September.

The Phils closed out August with a come-from-behind, 12-6, win over the Washington Nationals in the nation's capital on Tuesday night.

The win improved them to 68-64 with 30 games remaining. They will wake up Wednesday morning no more than 3½ games back in the NL East and 3 back in the wild card.

"All you can ask for is a chance," manager Joe Girardi said. "We have an opportunity in front of us. I think about some of the things we've been through this month and managed to keep going. We need to keep the momentum going." 

The Phils went 17-11 in August.

On the first day of September, they will look to sweep the Nationals and Aaron Nola will look to tame the month that has given him so much trouble the last two years.

It's not known who Nola's catcher will be on Wednesday, weather permitting. J.T. Realmuto missed his second straight game with a bad ankle Tuesday night. As it turned out, the Phils didn't need him. They won their fourth straight game with rookie Rafael Marchan behind the plate.

Marchan, 22, has not been much of an extra-base hit threat during his time in the minors, but he has been in his brief time in the majors, this season and last. His two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning against Washington lefty Patrick Corbin tied the game at 5-5. Marchan has zero home runs in 969 career at-bats in the minors. He has two in 47 career big-league at-bats.

"Everyone wants to hit a home run in The Show," he said after the win. "It's a great feeling to do it and help the team win."

If Realmuto is ready to go Wednesday, he could play first base and Marchan could remain in the starting lineup behind the plate. The Phils, who are without Rhys Hoskins for the rest of the season, are committed to giving Realmuto a little break from the rigors of catching while keeping his bat in the lineup at first base.

With Realmuto banged up and Travis Jankowski on the paternity list, the Phils recalled rookie outfielder Matt Vierling before the game and started him at first base, a position where he'd played just six games this season at Triple A.

Vierling did the job in the field -- he used Hoskins' community first baseman's mitt, the same one Realmuto uses -- and at the plate. He had four hits, one of which was a leadoff single in the sixth that preceded Marchan's game-tying homer and ignited a six-run inning that saw Bryce Harper break the tie with a two-run single.

Vierling described his third big-league start as "exhilarating."

"Knowing where this team is and what it has a chance to do," he said. "I'm really happy how it went tonight."

Harper had three hits and finished a gargantuan month of August with 25 RBIs and a 1.231 OPS. He hit .337 in the month and had 21 extra-base hits, including 10 homers. He could end up being the NL player of the month for August.

The Phillies have scored at least seven runs in six straight games for the first time since June 1933, the year Prohibition ended and Chuck Klein won the Triple Crown.

In addition to Marchan, the Phillies got homers from Andrew McCutchen and Brad Miller. McCutchen had an important two-run homer to get the Phils on the board in the fourth. He added an RBI double in the sixth.

The Phils had 18 hits in the game. They needed the offense because starter Matt Moore dug an early hole. He allowed five runs in 3⅓ innings.

Moore is in the rotation because Zach Eflin is likely done for the season. He's battled knee tendinitis since mid-July and tested positive for COVID-19 last week.

The Phils need more of a contribution from Moore than he provided Tuesday night. The team's starting pitching depth is thin.

Nonetheless, spirits are high after a five-game winning streak. 

What will September bring for this team?

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