The Phillies dugout began to empty Thursday night as players and coaches returned to the visiting clubhouse at Marlins Park following another brutal collapse by the bullpen.
But as everyone seemed to filter out after a 7-6 loss to Miami, Joe Girardi and J.T. Realmuto stayed behind.
Realmuto was behind the plate as Tommy Hunter loaded the bases in the eighth inning and Brandon Workman emptied them. And Realmuto was there in the ninth when Workman allowed the game-winning single.
Girardi wanted to know what the catcher saw from the relievers who allowed a three-run lead with two outs in the eighth become yet another crushing loss.
“Obviously I have the best viewpoint of seeing their stuff, so he’s trying to gauge what’s working and what’s not.” Realmuto said. “He was just asking what I thought about the guys in the back half.”
So what did Realmuto see?
“Just have to do a better job of attacking guys. I think the stuff is there,” Realmuto said. “We’re just getting into bad counts. Walking leadoff guys with three-run leads. You can’t do that stuff and be successful late in the game.”
Thursday night was the start of a seven-straight games against the Marlins over a five-day span. The teams will play doubleheaders on Friday and Sunday with single games on Saturday and Monday. It was already going to be a task to find enough pitching, but that could become an even bigger challenge.
Zack Wheeler was scratched from Saturday’s start while hurting his finger nail on Wednesday while putting pants on. He could pitch Monday, but if not the Phillies will have to use relievers to piece together two of their next six games.
The Phillies lead the Marlins by just a half-game for the second playoff spot in the National League East and this series will play a key role in determining if the Phillies can finally break through to the playoffs. But the first game was a reminder that the bullpen could be what keeps them from October.
The unit has allowed 23 earned runs in their last six games. Workman, since arriving last month in a trade with Boston, has allowed runs in four of his first 10 appearances. Hunter logged eight-straight scoreless appearances but has been roughed up in two-straight.
Hunter entered with a three-run lead in the eighth and walked leadoff hitter Garrett Cooper. Jazz Chisholm then singled with one out and Corey Dickerson singled with two outs to load the bases. In came Workman and the game was tied after two pitches when Starling Marte ripped a three-run double off the right-field wall.
“It’s pretty tough. Having a three-run lead late in a game in a series as big as this one is tough to swallow,” Realmuto said. “We’ll wake up tomorrow though and the good thing is we have two games tomorrow. Hopefully, we can sweep the doubleheader and get back on the right foot. But as far as tonight goes, it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
It is the team’s first seven-game series since 1930, when they played seven games in five days at Wrigley Field against the Cubs. The Phillies tied two of those seven games due to darkness and finished the season with 102 losses.
Ninety years later, a seven-game series will carry much more weight. There will be just two weeks left in the season when the series ends on Monday and one of the teams could be buried by the end of it.
The Marlins allowed a National League-record 29 runs on Wednesday in a loss to Atlanta, but they’ve been resilient this season. They began the season by losing nearly half their roster to a coronavirus outbreak, yet they are still in playoff contention a season after averaging 101.5 losses the last two seasons. The Marlins, Girardi said, “aren’t the Marlins from two or three years ago.”
“It’s pretty incredible what they’ve done considering how many players they had to go down and they were able to stay in it,” Girardi said. “They did a really good job and you look at them, they have very good pitching. And I think a lot of this is fueled by their pitching and some of the young kids coming up and getting it done for them. They’ve stayed in the rotation. So, they had depth, and I don’t think a lot of us knew about the depth because we hadn’t seen a lot of it yet. But they had depth and their pitching has kept them in it for sure.”
Realmuto homered in the fifth inning and Jake Arrieta did enough to keep the Phillies ahead as he pitched into the sixth inning. Girardi even tacked on a run in the fourth by having Adam Haseley drop a safety-squeeze bunt to stretch the team’s lead to three. The Phillies seemed willing to do whatever was needed to start the crucial series with a win.
The success of that bunt may have caused Girardi to try it again in the eighth. Andrew Knapp, the designated hitter, dropped a bunt with runners on first and third. But reliever Richard Bleier wasn’t caught off guard like Sandy Alcantara was when Haseley bunted. Realmuto was out at home.
The inning ended two batters later and the Phillies still had a three-run lead. But they still needed six outs from their bullpen.
“Bleier is such a ground ball pitcher and I’m just trying to get that extra run,” Girardi said. “You try to get four so a grand slam kind of doesn’t beat you. I’ve had Richard Bleier and I’ve seen all the ground balls that he gets, so I understand who he is. If he bunts it down the first-base line, it’s an easy run.”
The Phillies did not get that extra run and the game was soon tied. And then it was finished on a ninth-inning single against Workman by former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro.
General manager Matt Klentak added four relievers last month before the trade deadline, but none of the pitchers - Workman, David Hale, David Phelps, or Heath Hembree - have done much to improve baseball’s worst bullpen.
“Tommy was on a pretty good roll until the last couple outings. He was throwing the ball really well for us. And he struggled with the last two times,” Girardi said. “Workman has kind of been up and down, right? It’s been kind of up and down. And these are the guys that got to get it done. These are the guys that we have. And they got to find a way to get it done.”
The Phillies arrived Wednesday to Miami, knowing they would leave on Monday with a decent indication about their playoff chances. Thursday night was not the start they needed. And afterwards there was plenty to talk about.
“It’s frustrating for all of us,” Girardi said. “But you know, the one thing this team has always done is bounced back. We went through this a couple times this year, and they got to do it again. It’s what they have to do. We don’t have a choice. So come out tomorrow, do everything we can to win the first game and then we’ll go from there.”