It’s closing time. The Phillies came to Cobb County needing a sweep to give themselves a chance. They left Truist Park on Wednesday needing to avoid a sweep to keep from being officially eliminated, although unofficially they’re done.

A night after Charlie Morton outpitched Zack Wheeler, Max Fried outpitched Aaron Nola. The Braves’ lead is 4-1/2 games with four/five to go. The best Philadelphia can do is forge a tie after 162 games. For that to happen, Philly must win four straight while the Braves lose five in a row, the fifth of which would be the postponed game against Colorado on Monday, In other words, forget it.

To watch these Braves is amazing, kind of, given that these Braves remade themselves in July. Their leadoff hitter is Jorge Soler, plucked from the Royals. Their Nos. 5 and 6 hitters are Adam Duvall and Eddie Rosario, who began the season as, respectively, a Marlin and a Twin. If Alex Anthopoulos isn’t named executive of the half-season, injustice will have reared its head. (Actually, there’s no award. So hand him the trophy for exec of the whole dang year and be done with it.)

Said manager Brian Snitker: “The guts of this lineup came in the first of August. These guys made a huge difference in our lineup and a huge difference in our team and how we look at ourselves. Credit Alex for going out and getting them.”

The Anthopoulos scorecard: He arrived in November 2017 after the Braves were embarrassed were found guilty of dirty deeds in the international player market; on his watch, the team has finished first, first and first, with this edition assured of finishing no worse than in a tie for first. Until AA the GM bought himself a new outfield, the 2021 were going nowhere fast. They claimed first place in mid-August. They’ve held it since.

As happened with Wheeler on Tuesday, Nola wasn’t bad. He just wasn’t as good as the Braves’ starter. Morton yielded no runs over seven innings. Fried yielded one over seven. That the Phillies scored at all was big news. On the Braves’ pivotal West Coast swing, Fried threw seven shutout innings in San Francisco after the Braves had lost the series’ first two games; in San Diego, he threw a nine-inning shutout – almost nobody does that anymore – just after the Padres had won the suspended game on Fernando Tatis’ homer off Will Smith.

Fried in August: Five starts, 33 innings, 28 strikeouts, five earned runs, an ERA of 1.36. Fried in September: Six starts, 41 innings, 36 strikeouts, seven earned runs, an ERA of 1.54. How about the Cy Young Award? Do they give that in half-season increments? If not, why not?

Back to the July imports. Soler reached base four times and scored twice. Duvall drove in the Braves’ second run. Rosario drove in the third.

Austin Riley, who has been here since 2019 but has reinvented himself as Mike Schmidt if not George Brett, drove in three runs. He has 103 this season. Isn’t there some award he can be handed? (Actually, yes. It’s called the Silver Slugger. It’s for good hitting, and it’s awarded by position. He plays third base. And maybe he should get a Gold Glove, too. Silver and gold at age 24 – not half-bad.)

Before Wednesday’s game, manager Brian Snitker said of his younger players: “They don’t know anything else but this strenuous September baseball. A lot of them came on the scene here and, next thing you know, they’re in a pennant race. It’s been a norm for their career. They have a ball with it. That first year (2018), I felt like I was in the dugout with an American Legion team, the way they were carrying on and competing and enjoying the moment.”

Credit: Atlanta Braves

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Braves third baseman Austin Riley comments on the 'playoff' atmosphere and the degree to which the team feels they can compete.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Said Riley, who hasn’t known a big-league September that didn’t lead to postseason baseball: “With the depth of our lineup and our pitching staff, we’re never out of games. We’re never out of anything.”

We note for the record: This is a lineup missing Ronald Acuna and Marcell Ozuna. This is a rotation minus Mike Soroka. And this, yet again, is a playoff team.

We’ve spent the summer grousing about the Braves’ bullpen, but it’s always instructive to see the Phillies’ relievers at work. They have 34 blown saves, tying them for the all-time seasonal high. These craftsmen haven’t been handed a lead over the two games here, but they did their bit Wednesday. The Braves led 3-2 when Nola was lifted. Eight batters later, they led 7-2. Jose Alvarado and Hector Neris each allowed two earned runs.

And that was that, and not just for Game No. 157 on schedule. That was essentially that for the National League East race. The Braves need one more victory – or one more Philadelphia loss – to do the champagne thing for a fourth year running.

Assuming that happens, they’ll be playing Milwaukee next week. No knock on the Brewers, but that’s the NL qualifier you’d prefer to face, given that the alternatives are the 100-game winning Giants and Dodgers and the rampaging Cardinals. Two months ago, we wondered if these Braves could break .500. Today we’re thinking they stand a decent chance of reaching the NLCS again. Will wonders never cease?