It sure seemed to be the start of a Phillies win Sunday when the Mets scratched Cy Young favorite Jacob deGrom for a pitcher named Corey Oswalt shortly before the first pitch. Instead, it was the start to yet another frustrating Phillies loss. The Phils have lost six of their last eight games, have not won a series in more than a month, and now trail Atlanta by 4 1/2 games with just 20 left. Time is running out.

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—  Matt Breen  (extrainnings@philly.com)

This is what the Phillies need to look like over the season’s final few weeks.
STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer
This is what the Phillies need to look like over the season’s final few weeks.

Phillies need to get hot

After Aaron Nola outdueled Max Scherzer last month in Washington to score the Phillies' biggest win of the season, Pat Neshek downplayed the significance of the game. It was just late August, Neshek said. All the games are going to be important in the race for the division.

"But it's whoever gets hot in mid-September. That's who's going to win," Neshek said.

And now the Phillies find themselves approaching the middle of September with a necessity to get hot. The Phils trail Atlanta by 4 1/2 games with 20 left. They have not faced a bigger deficit this season. The 4 1/2 games might feel like 40 1/2 with the way the Phillies have played recently, but in reality, the Phillies are still within striking distance.

They will play the Braves in seven of their final 11 games of the season, which means a division race will almost certainly come down to the final week. First, they have to take care of business. The Phils will open a nine-game homestand tonight, weather permitting, with three games against the Nationals and then play three each against the Marlins and Mets, the bottom feeders that the Phillies treat like world beaters.

If the Phillies are to win the division, they'll have to get hot soon, as Neshek said. And it has to start this week at home. But that could be a tall task. The Phillies haven't rattled off a four-game winning streak since early August. Perhaps they're due.

The rundown

The Phillies missed yet another chance to win a series Sunday as they fell to the Mets. The Phillies haven't won a series since Aug. 5 when they completed a four-game sweep of Miami. The game began with boos at Citi Field after the Mets scratched Jacob deGrom because of the poor weather. As Bob Brookover wrote, "here in the Big Apple, they never take kindly to arriving for the show only to find out an understudy will be playing the leading role."

Rhys Hoskins hit his 30th homer Sunday but was in no mood to celebrate it after a frustrating loss. Hoskins, 25, is the youngest Phillies player to reach the milestone since Scott Rolen hit 30 in 1997 when he was 23. Hoskins has homered in three straight games and appears to have pulled himself out of a slump just in time for the final weeks of the season.

Roman Quinn's fractured right pinky toe kept him out of the lineup Sunday and his status remains uncertain. He said he plans to return before the end of the season. Nick Williams did not start Sunday because of a sore shoulder and finger but was used as a pinch-hitter. Playing without Quinn and Williams is a burden.

Important dates

Tonight: Jake Arrieta opens three-games series vs. the Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Nick Pivetta faces Tanner Roark, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Aaron Nola closes the series against Stephen Strasburg, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: The Phillies are off.
Friday: Phillies host the Marlins in opener of three-game series, 7:05 p.m.

Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez sits in the visiting dugout at Citi Field after giving up four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.
MARK LENNIHAN / AP
Phillies pitcher Vince Velasquez sits in the visiting dugout at Citi Field after giving up four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Stat of the day

Want to know how weak the NL East is this season? If the season began July 1, the Mets would be in first place. The Mets are 33-29 since that date, while the Phillies (30-31) and the Braves (32-30) have treaded water. If only the Mets could get a mulligan for the first three months of the season.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.

Question: What's up with Rhys Hoskins? – email question, Dave H.

Answer: This question came before the series in which Hoskins homered in each of the three games against the Mets. The Phillies have to hope that this series was enough for Hoskins to snap his slump, as he entered Friday batting just .169 with a .689 OPS in his last 133 plate appearances. The Phillies seem to go as Hoskins goes. So if the Phillies are to get hot in their final 20 games, a streaking Hoskins would be quite the advantage.