Compared to, say, winning back-to-back games against the defending World Series champs at Fenway Park, the Phillies really should find achieving success this weekend in Miami to be akin to shooting fish, er, marlin in a barrel.
Well, then again ...
The Marlins are, far and away, the worst team in the National League. They have dropped six consecutive games, punctuated by a 3-2 walkoff loss last night in Atlanta, and 16 of their last 19. They have 81 losses, putting them on pace for 104, and a minus-156 run differential, 32 runs worse than the next-worst NL team.
Somehow, though, the Marlins have a winning record against the Phillies. The Sons of Derek Jeter have taken seven of the first 13 games in the season series — and five of the last six. By comparison, the Braves are 15-4 against the Marlins; the Nationals are 10-3; the Mets, 11-4.
Beginning tonight, the Phillies have six games left against Miami, including the season’s last three games Sept. 27-29 at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals will face the Marlins six more times, and the Mets will play four more games against them. It isn’t a stretch to suggest that beating up on the NL’s weakling could punch a ticket to the postseason.
Getting beaten by the Marlins? Well, that could be a death knell.
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By now, after the latest in a series of fluky injuries, it’s difficult not to feel for Roman Quinn, who can’t stay on the field long enough to be counted on as an everyday center fielder.
Just the same, Quinn’s misfortune is Adam Haseley’s opportunity.
But the Phillies need healthy outfielders, so they pushed their 2017 first-round pick to the majors in June and gave him a chance to play against right-handed pitching. With Quinn back on the shelf, Haseley will play against lefties, too, and that’s good for the Phillies, who must find out if the 23-year-old will be a piece of the puzzle beyond this season.
“I’ve never experienced it before, playing one day and not the next,” said Haseley, a star at the University of Virginia and a .292/.360/.439 hitter in nearly 1,000 minor-league at-bats. “So, yeah, it does feel better now that it could be more consecutive days in a row" in the lineup.
Haseley has been impressive at times. During a 15-game stretch from July 19 through Aug. 6, for instance, he went 18-for-59 (.305) with four doubles, two homers and an .813 OPS and played superb defense in both center field and left. (If he feels more comfortable in center, he said it’s only marginal.)
But he’s hitless with three walks and a hit by pitch in his last 17 plate appearances, all part of the learning curve for Haseley, who believes there’s a benefit to on-the-job training in the big leagues even during the heat of a wild-card race.
“Let’s say I was in triple A right now, hadn’t debuted yet because everyone was healthy," he said. “I don’t think there’s anything you can prepare for without being here and experiencing it. It’s not like I could be there saying, ‘I’ve got to work on this because I know how it’s going to be.’ It’s more like, you’re here, you get however many at-bats, and now you can say, ‘OK, I know what they’re attacking me with, what I need to work on.’”
The next six weeks should give Haseley — and in turn, the Phillies — a better look at how ready he really is.
Most teams with playoff aspirations don’t have to turn over almost their entire bullpen six weeks before the end of the season. “It is a unique situation,” said new Phillies right-hander Jared Hughes, one of the members of a relief core that I’m dubbing “The Replacements.”
Good stuff here from Jim Thome on MLB Network about the influence that Charlie Manuel could have on some of the Phillies hitters.
Tonight: Vince Velasquez starts the series opener in Miami, 7:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin vs. Marlins right-hander Jordan Yamamoto, 6:10 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola starts the finale at Marlins Park, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Jason Vargas faces the Pirates in the opener of a homestand, 7:05 p.m.
On the list of attention-grabbing Phillies acquisitions in the 2018-19 off-season, Jose Alvarez registered well below Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, David Robertson and possibly even Juan Nicasio. Heck, Sean Rodriguez’s minor-league contract might have gotten a bigger headline.
But on the list of 2019 Phillies unsung heroes, Alvarez is second to, well, nobody.
Acquired from the Angels in a Dec. 6 trade for reliever Luis Garcia, Alvarez has a 1.17 ERA since the All-Star break and a 1.79 mark since April 19. In 52 appearances overall, he has a 3.00 ERA. He has been tough on both left-handed hitters (.720 OPS) and righties (.739), and has stranded 27 of 37 inherited runners. For season-long consistency, it has been Alvarez and closer Hector Neris in an injury-ravaged bullpen.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Since the Phillies are still looking for consistency in the starting rotation, why haven’t they tried Ranger Suarez in that role? Suarez has been a starting pitcher all through his homegrown development in the minors. He has showed some success and promise in that role. Plus, he seems to be mature enough with the stuff and endurance to at least be tried out in that role. Additionally, he’s a lefty, which is always a plus. With [Drew] Smyly beginning to falter now, what’s the obstacle?
— Roger, via email
Answer: Thanks, Roger, for the question. It’s hard to argue that Suarez hasn’t pitched well as a reliever (3.73 ERA in 21 appearances). In fact, given the Phillies’ needs in the bullpen, he has been almost a godsend for Gabe Kapler. That’s the biggest reason, at least in my mind, to keep the 23-year-old lefty right where he is.
Here’s another: Suarez is holding left-handed hitters to a .238 average and .679 OPS, but righties are hitting .325 with an .892 OPS against him. I’m not saying that he can’t be an upgrade over Smyly, but he lacks the big-league track record to prove that he can. Smyly was a solid starter for Tampa Bay in 2014-15 before getting injured. In the thick of a playoff race, I’ll take my chances with him and leave Suarez in a role in which he’s had success.