The thrill of a walk-off victory, the agony of the bullpen, and the disappointment of a doubleheader split. That pretty much sums up the 5 hours and 25 minutes of baseball the Phillies played against the last-place Boston Red Sox on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park.
When the long day was done, the Phillies had pulled to within 1 1/2 games of the first-place Braves, but also lost a half-game in the standings to the third-place Marlins, who won, 8-0, in Atlanta behind another dazzling pitching performance from former Phillies prospect Sixto Sanchez.
Miami trails the Phillies by just one game with a seven-game series at Marlins Park scheduled to begin Thursday night. If Sanchez stays on turn, the Phillies will face him for the first time Sunday during their second doubleheader of the series against the Marlins.
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Marlins could win NL East
The Marlins could win the National League East, a feat they have never accomplished. You would have rolled over from belly laughter if that line had been written at the start of this pandemic-shortened season, but there’s one big reason to believe in the major-league team most used to playing games without fans.
Baseball has always been about pitching, and the Marlins have more quality and depth in that department than any other team in the division right now. The Marlins' 4.03 team ERA ranks ninth in baseball and is by far the best in the division. The next closest team is the Mets, who are tied for 19th at 4.79. Every other team in the division has an ERA of more than 5.00, and the Phillies, thanks to their battered bullpen, are at the bottom of the list at 5.22, which is 27th among baseball’s 30 teams.
The truly sad part for the Phillies is that their rotation ERA of 4.01 is the 10th best in baseball and the second best in the division behind the Marlins, who rank seventh overall with a 3.80 ERA. The Braves, projected before the season to have one of the best rotations in baseball, have a 5.62 ERA, and the Nationals, who rode their rotation to a World Series title a year ago, have a 5.61 ERA.
Atlanta’s bid to hold onto first place also took a major hit Tuesday when their ace, Max Fried, landed on the injured list because of back spasms. The Braves rotation without Fried has a 7.05 ERA. The Braves have the best bullpen in the division with a 3.44 ERA, and the Phillies, of course, are the worst in baseball in that department with a 7.24 ERA.
Miami’s 4.29 bullpen ERA is 13th in baseball and second best in the division. The Marlins have six relievers — Brandon Kintzler (3.31), Nick Vincent (2.87), Brad Boxberger (1.38), James Hoyt (1.74), Richard Bleier (3.24) and Josh Smith (2.45) — who have appeared in at least 10 games and have an ERA less than 4.00. The Phillies' only reliever who has appeared in at least 10 games and has an ERA better than 4.00 is Tommy Hunter.
It’s the Marlins' rotation, however, that makes them most dangerous.
We’ve already mentioned Sanchez, the former Phillies prospect who lowered his ERA to 1.80 with six scoreless innings Tuesday night in Atlanta. The Marlins also have four other starters — Pablo Lopez (3.05), Sandy Alcantara (3.78), Eleiser Hernandez (3.16) and Trevor Rogers (3.00) — with ERAs less than 4.00. The rotation took a hit when Hernandez was recently lost for the season because of a lat injury, but the Phillies will still encounter plenty of quality arms during their coming seven-game series in Miami.
And that’s why the Marlins could win their first division title.
If the Phillies do finally end their playoff drought this season, manager Joe Girardi has some difficult decisions to make. Does he start Aaron Nola or Zack Wheeler in Game 1 of a playoff series, and does he start Zach Eflin or Jake Arrieta in Game 3?
This is typically the time of year when columnist David Murphy douses the hopes of Phillies fans, but this year he believes they have a chance to end their playoff drought with the help of pitcher Zack Wheeler and rookie third baseman Alec Bohm.
Photographer Steven M. Falk captured the Phillies' doubleheader split against the Marlins through the lens of his camera.
Today: Off day.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta pitches first game of seven-game series at Miami, 6:40 p.m.
Friday: The first of two weekend doubleheaders vs. the Marlins, starting at 5:10 p.m.
Saturday: Phillies at Miami, 6:10 p.m.
Sunday: Another doubleheader against the Marlins, starting at 1:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
This has become the year of the doubleheader, albeit the abridged seven-inning version. The St. Louis Cardinals, if the schedule holds, will have played a major-league-leading 11 doubleheaders by the end of the season, which would fall far short of the major-league record of 46 set by the Boston Braves in 1945. The Phillies have four remaining doubleheaders scheduled, which would give them eight for the season. The team record is 44 in 1944.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Who would the Phillies face in the playoffs if the season ended today? — Joseph F., via email
Answer: Thanks for the question, Joseph. It’s a good one because it accentuates how important winning the division is for the Phillies if they hope to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs. As they currently sit, the Phillies would be the fifth seed in the National League, which would match them against the San Diego Padres, who actually have the second-best record in the league.
Under baseball’s original plan, the Phillies would have had to travel to San Diego and be the visiting team for the entire five-game series. It seems likely now that the postseason will be staged in a bubble format, but the Phillies would still likely be the visiting team in every first-round game.
Should the Phillies win the division and become the third seed, they would have the benefit of being the home team throughout the first round of the playoffs and they would also avoid having to play the Padres.