If ever a four-game series over the last weekend in June could match the urgency of a mid-September showdown between division rivals, this is the one.
For the Phillies, at least, it really is now or never.
As bleak as things looked Wednesday after the Phillies fell back to three games below .500 by blowing five-, four-, and one-run leads in a 13-12 crusher at home to the Washington Nationals, a series victory in New York would cut into the Mets’ lead in a division that is still winnable for two, three, maybe even four teams. Of course, dropping three or four games this weekend would make the Phillies’ situation, in Bryce Harper’s words, “miserable.”
“You have the ability of a four-game swing. That’s a lot,” president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said. “It’s an important weekend. I don’t want to say it’s crucial. It’s important.”
And it begins today with a doubleheader at Citi Field.
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Can the Phillies get healthy before the trade deadline?
Dombrowski will take the next few weeks to decide what moves, if any, he will make before the trade deadline. It makes sense. If the Phillies string together a bunch of wins, he stands to be a more aggressive buyer than if they continue to stumble.
But another factor might determine how the Phillies president of baseball operations acts in the weeks leading up to July 30: Health.
“I wish we had a chance to play our club together at some point,” Dombrowski said this week. “Maybe you get away with one of the guys being out, but I wish we had a chance to bring them all together. But we haven’t. And hopefully we get a chance to get to that point.”
Wednesday morning offered a glimpse. Didi Gregorius and Jean Segura, the middle-infield tandem that has been together for all of 19 games, took grounders at Citizens Bank Park.
Segura, sidelined by a strained left groin, hopes to return within the next week or two. Gregorius, who hasn’t played since May 12 because of a rare condition that caused his elbow to swell, resumed his minor-league rehab assignment last night for triple-A Lehigh Valley and went 2-for-2 with an RBI double.
“We want to be careful and take our time with it,” Dombrowski said of Gregorius’ timetable. “We’ve reached the point where it’s been so long since he’s played, so anybody that’s been in that situation you want to build up gradually.”
Gregorius’ peculiar injury stemmed from falling on his elbow while pursuing a pop fly in shallow left field April 16 against St. Louis. When the swelling persisted and returned after briefly dissipating, he went on the injured list. At last, he was diagnosed with pseudogout, a rare form of arthritis characterized by painful swelling.
“I wouldn’t do anything and my arm would just be like red hot,” Gregorius said Wednesday.
Gregorius is taking medication to treat the problem. The pain and swelling are gone. He’s hopeful they won’t return once the medication runs its course.
“I don’t know if you guys remember [last month] when I was showing you that I couldn’t do anything? Now I’m touching my shoulder,” Gregorius said, bending his elbow to demonstrate normal flexibility. “So we’re heading in the right direction. It kind of [stunk] at the beginning not knowing what was going on. But now that we have an answer we can move on and hopefully try to get back out there as soon as possible.”
Whenever Gregorius returns, the Phillies are hopeful it will make them whole again. Since opening day, they have had Harper, J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Gregorius, Segura, and Andrew McCutchen together in the lineup for only 11 of 71 games.
They won’t get any sympathy from the Mets, who have had their top six hitters — Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil, Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith, and Brandon Nimmo — together for only 13 of 69 games and still lead the division by four games over Washington and five over Atlanta and the Phillies.
“I know we’re not unlike other clubs,” Dombrowski said. “You just start playing well, and Segura, who was playing great, goes down. Harper’s timing had been off, but he looked good [Tuesday]. We haven’t had Didi back. But you just deal with it.”
And maybe then, if you’re Dombrowski, you make a deal. But only if you think it will make a difference in the Phillies’ pursuit of the playoff berth that has eluded them since 2011.
The next few weeks — on the field and in the trainer’s room — will determine if that’s going to be the case.
Ever the pragmatist, Harper realizes the Phillies must play better to prove they’re “worth it” for Dombrowski to make a trade-deadline splash.
Joe Girardi is thinking of making a change at closer. But if not Héctor Neris, then who?
Fifty years ago this week, Rick Wise had a game for the ages that might never be duplicated. Matt Breen caught up with the former Phillies pitcher, who recalled his memorable performance.
Today: Aaron Nola, Matt Moore meet the Mets in doubleheader, 4:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phillies face ace-of-aces Jacob deGrom in New York, 4:10 p.m.
Sunday: Ex-Met Zack Wheeler vs. ex-Phillie Jerad Eickhoff, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Phillies travel to Cincinnati for a makeup game, 6:40 p.m.
Tuesday: The Marlins come to town for three games, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
The Phillies shuffled the rotation last week to make sure their top three starters — Nola, Zach Eflin, and Wheeler — were lined up to face the Mets. It’s imperative not only that they pitch well this weekend, but also that they log innings.
In the last eight games, Phillies starters have completed the sixth inning once, when Wheeler went six innings against the Dodgers nine days ago. They have worked a total of 33 2/3 innings, or fewer than 4 1/3 innings per start.
Nola was the last Phillies pitcher to get beyond the sixth inning, when he went 7 2/3 against the Yankees on June 13 at Citizens Bank Park.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Hi, Scott. Why do I see no conversation about Ranger Suárez being the 5th starter? He was a career starter in the minors, going 30-19 with a 2.54 ERA over 489 IP. He already is doing long relief of 3 innings with 40+ pitches with an 0.67 ERA this year, and in the bullpen he can’t pitch on back to back days. Stretch him out & get him in the rotation. He surely is a better option than anyone else they’ve put in that 5th slot this year. — James H., via email
Answer: Hi, James. Thanks for the question and for reading.
So, the Phillies intended to look at Suárez as a starter in spring training, but he missed most of camp because of visa issues. In the interest of time, they moved him back to the bullpen, a role in which he excelled in 2019. As you mentioned, he has become an important reliever for them, so I doubt they’d want to switch his role now and rob Peter to pay Paul, so to speak.
But you raise some really good points, especially in light of the struggles of Moore, Chase Anderson, and Spencer Howard. It would’ve been interesting to see if Suárez could’ve grabbed the fifth-starter spot in the spring. Eventually, he’ll probably get another chance.