Do you believe in the Phillies, or don’t you?
It probably depends on which of the last two games you watched.
In a span of 22 hours in Boston, the Phillies provided evidence that they can either win the National League East or finish out of the playoffs for a ninth year in a row. In the sixth inning Tuesday night, they went eight batters without making an out and scored seven runs en route to a 13-5 rout. On Wednesday, they went seven innings between hits in a 6-3 loss.
One commonality in the games: Neither starting pitcher — Zach Eflin nor Jake Arrieta — pitched well enough. If the Phillies stand a chance, they will need their Nos. 3 and 4 starters to be better than that.
So, do you believe in the Phillies, or don’t you?
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One day, two games … in Buffalo? A road trip in 2020 personified.
How long has it been since the Phillies played in Buffalo?
So long that they weren’t even the Phillies yet.
In 1885, when the Phillies were still known as the Quakers, they visited Buffalo for a four-game series in September and won three times, the last by a 12-2 margin. Box scores from the games aren’t available, but there’s a solid chance that Charlie Ferguson pitched at least once. The Phillies’ first ace logged 405 innings that year.
Rhys Hoskins has played in Buffalo more recently. The western New York city is home to the Toronto Blue Jays’ triple-A affiliate, and in 2017, Hoskins hit a grand slam in a game there at Sahlen Field.
“I remember the big net in left field,” Hoskins said, referring to the 40-foot mesh that rises above the 12-foot-high left-field wall.
Pandemic baseball brings the Phillies back to Buffalo on Thursday.
The Blue Jays were barred from playing in Canada this season, and temporary relocation plans to Pittsburgh and Baltimore fell through. So, they turned to Buffalo, where Sahlen Field has received updates and a facelift that Jays general manager Ross Atkins described as “jaw-dropping.”
Because it’s 2020, the Phillies’ visit to Buffalo will last for exactly one day and involve a doubleheader (of course). After playing back-to-back seven-inning games there, they will pick up and fly to Atlanta for a three-game series against the Braves.
“I think we’re just rolling with the punches, so to say,” Hoskins said. “We knew things were going to be weird. We know things are going to continue to be weird. We have an opportunity to win two games [Thursday], and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
When Hoskins heard about Major League Baseball’s plan to allow the Blue Jays to play in Buffalo, he knew Sahlen Field would need work before it could host big-league games. But he’s eager to see the finished product.
“I remember it being dark,” Hoskins said. “I know the lighting was something the league talked about when Buffalo was being discussed. But I’ve talked to two people that have already played there or umpired there, and everyone says that the league did a great job. Curious to see when we get there.”
As long as he looks quickly. The Phillies will be there and gone before they know it.
When Phil Gosselin drove in a run in the first inning Wednesday, it seemed the Phillies were picking up where they had left off Tuesday night. Instead, as Matt Breen writes, they went ice cold in a Jekyll-and-Hyde series for the offense.
Arrieta could be the difference between the Phillies’ making and missing the playoffs, which made his performance Wednesday so disappointing, as Bob Brookover writes.
It has been a strange beginning to Spencer Howard’s big-league career. Will his third start — in the first game of the doubleheader against the Blue Jays — be the charm for the Phillies’ top prospect?
Today: Hello, Buffalo. Phillies and Blue Jays play two, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola vs. Max Fried in series opener in Atlanta, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Zack Wheeler faces Braves with a chance to go 4-0, 7:10 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies at Braves on ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, 7:08 p.m.
Monday: Off-day for Phillies.
Stat of the day
With one out in the eighth inning Wednesday and the Phillies in need of a rally, Didi Gregorius fouled off nine pitches, including four in a row, to work a 14-pitch walk in a duel with Red Sox reliever Matt Barnes.
It was tied for the longest at-bat ending in a walk for a Phillies batter since 1988, the first year that Baseball-Reference.com has tracked pitch data. Eric Bruntlett drew a 14-pitch walk in 2008 against then-New York Mets lefty Oliver Perez.
As Matt Breen noted, Curt Schilling worked a 13-pitch walk in 1992. It was the only walk that Schilling drew that season.
I don’t remember that one, but I’ll never forget Brett Myers’ nine-pitch walk that preceded Shane Victorino’s grand slam in Game 2 of the 2008 NL Division Series.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: There’s been speculation about MLB having the playoffs in a bubble, a la the NBA and NHL. What are the chances of that happening, especially since the Marlins and Cardinals had COVID issues and had to quarantine? — Paul D., via email
Answer: Hey, Paul. Thanks for the question. My sense is that playoff bubbles — one for the National League, another for the American League — are a strong possibility. ESPN outlined the scenario the other day, and it makes almost too much sense not to happen. Phillies manager Joe Girardi is in favor of it, too.
When MLB batted around the bubble concept in the spring, a few big-name players objected to being separated from their families. But that was only part of the reason for not going that route. It was impractical to isolate 900 players and several hundred staff members for at least three months. Ballpark availability was also an issue, especially once the virus spiked in Arizona, Florida, Texas, and California.
But only 16 teams would be in the bubble at the outset of the playoffs, the population would decrease in each subsequent round, and the whole thing would last for only a month. Imagine if the NL plays in Texas (Houston/Arlington), the AL goes to Southern California (Los Angeles/Anaheim/San Diego), and the World Series is held in a warm-weather, neutral-site venue.
Seems doable, right?