The Phillies welcomed Thursday’s rainstorm as they were able to avoid a late rotation shuffle after Zach Eflin came down with a sinus infection. Zack Wheeler will pitch Friday, and Eflin expects to be ready to pitch Saturday against San Diego. Matt Moore, who was going to replace Eflin on Thursday night, would likely then slide into next week.
Thursday’s rainout presented a nice break, but the tests will continue Friday when the red-hot Padres come to town. They’ve won nine of their last 10. It’ll be the Phils’ home-run hat vs. San Diego’s “Swagg Chain.”
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Playoffs? We’re talking about playoffs? You kiddin’ me?
It’s been 10 years since the summer of the Four Aces and the last great Phillies team. It’s been nearly eight years since they fired Charlie Manuel when two years without October baseball was enough to cost the manager his job despite his being just one of the two men to steer the Phillies to a World Series crown. It’s been more than five years since Ruben Amaro Jr. lost his job. And this fall will mark two years since Matt Klentak, Amaro’s successor, was pushed aside.
The Phillies have had plenty of upheaval and change in the decade since they were eliminated from the 2011 postseason. They’re on their fifth manager and third general manager and have cycled through 10 years’ worth of players.
But with all that change, the one constant is that the Phillies are still chasing October. And this year does not look any different from the rest.
The Phillies will play game No. 81 — the season’s halfway point — Sunday against San Diego and their October outlook does not look promising. They began the season, according to FanGraphs, projected as an 80-win team with a 16.1% chance to reach the playoffs. They’re on pace to win just 77 games, and FanGraphs gives them a 7.2% chance to play in October.
Their best route to the postseason appears to be winning the division, because the National League’s two wild-card teams should come from the NL West. The Padres (49-33) are in third place in the West, but would lead the East by six games.
“They’re playing really well right now,” Joe Girardi said of the Padres. “It’s a challenge. They have a lot of good pieces over there. … They do a lot of things right. You don’t have a record like they do unless you do a lot of things right.”
The NL East was pegged by many to be the toughest division in baseball. Yet just two teams, the Mets and Nationals, have winning records. The Phillies trail the first-place Mets by only 4.5 games but would have to leapfrog the Nationals and Braves to catch them.
FanGraphs projects the Mets to win the division with 88 wins. The Phillies would have to play the rest of the season at a .607 clip to finish with 88 wins. That means to win the division, the Phillies have to play the second-half of the season as if they were the Dodgers.
At the start of the season, four East teams — the Mets (24.3%), Braves (33.3%), Nationals (15.3%), and Phillies (11.4%) — had wild-card chances better than 10%, per FanGraphs. The American League East was the only other division with four such teams.
The NL East was supposed to be a six-month grind with two teams moving on to October. But now no NL East team has wild-card odds better than 3.4%. Instead of a grind, it’s been an underwhelming first half.
“Kind of. Yeah. Kind of,” Girardi said when asked if he was surprised that a team has not yet run away with the division. “But I think that a lot of the teams have gone through a lot of challenges. A lot of the teams have been hurt a lot. There’s been a number of injuries in our division. Teams have beat up on each other. But I am a little surprised.”
The Phillies fired Manuel so that Ryne Sandberg could bridge the gap between the players who won with Manuel and the prospects Sandberg managed in the minors. Sandberg quit in 2015 and was replaced by Pete Mackanin, who was fired at the end of 2017 so the team could turn to Gabe Kapler. Two seasons of Kapler led to Girardi and the Phillies are still looking to return to October.
There’s still half a season remaining, but it’s not looking promising.
“This is a performance-based business, right? You have to perform or changes are made,” Girardi said. “That’s for everyone. It includes me, too, right? If the team doesn’t perform to standards, I’m the one that’s in charge and I’m the one that is responsible. That’s the business we live in.”
The Phillies will retire Roy Halladay’s No. 34 on Aug. 8. They planned to do it last year but it was canceled because of the pandemic. Carlos Ruiz will be on hand.
The Phillies activated Brandon Kintzler from the injured list, giving them a veteran who could help their bullpen. Kintzler had plenty to say about baseball’s new ban on sticky substances.
The Phillies sent Spencer Howard back to triple A and plan to stretch him out as a starter and allow him to work on his development in the minor leagues.
Tonight: Zack Wheeler starts series opener against San Diego, 6:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: The Phillies face Yu Darvish, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: The Phils and Padres play on the Fourth of July, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: Phillies open four-game series at Wrigley Field, 8:05 p.m.
July 13: The All-Star Game at Coors Field in Colorado, 7:30 p.m.
Stat of the day
The Phillies finished June with a 12-12 record, the first time since 2011 that they did not have a losing record during that month. From 2012-19, the Phillies had a .380 June winning percentage, the worst in baseball. The 24 games they played last month was the fewest they’ve played in June — during a normal season — since they played 24 in 1942. The Phillies have not had a losing July since 2016. Perhaps better days are ahead.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Are the Phillies going to face Jake Arrieta next week in Chicago? — Pat O. via email
Answer: Thanks, Pat. Maybe. Arrieta was roughed up Wednesday when the Cubs lost to the Brewers despite scoring seven times in the first inning. It seems like his rotation spot is up in the air in Chicago. He had a 2.57 ERA in his first five starts, but has a 7.46 ERA in 11 starts since. The 35-year-old hasn’t pitched past the fifth inning in his last nine starts.