The Phillies' playoff fate rests on their pitching, health, and whether they can beat the Marlins
With 21 games left, albeit in 18 days, the Phillies have the fifth-best record in the NL. But they may need Bryce Harper's bat to get hot again.
Jean Segura has played for five teams in four divisions during his nine years in the majors. He once led the National League in hits and is a two-time All-Star. By any measure, he is a good player.
But Segura has never been to the postseason.
“Man, I’m waiting for that moment,” the Phillies infielder said the other day. “I’d love to be in the playoffs and having a playoff game because I never did it in my career. I think it’s time to go there.”
Segura speaks for an entire organization.
It’s time for the Phillies to return to the postseason. Past time, actually. They have been absent since 2011, the fifth-longest active drought behind the Seattle Mariners (2001), Miami Marlins (2003), San Diego Padres (2006), and Chicago White Sox (2008). It has been way too long, especially for a major-market team with all the resources to be a regular at baseball’s October party.
There’s optimism, then, cautious as it may be, within the closed gates of Citizens Bank Park. With 21 games left, albeit in 18 days, and a playoff field that has expanded to eight teams per league, the Phillies, at 21-18, have the fifth-best record in the NL and an 87% chance of making the playoffs, according to the latest tally at FiveThirtyEight.com.
But some of the same questions exist as much now, 65% of the way through the Phillies' pandemic-shortened schedule, as in January. Their fate will be determined by how those questions are answered over the next 2 1/2 weeks.
Do they have enough pitching?
The bullpen’s aggregate ERA is 7.02, only slightly better than its 7.97 mark on Aug. 21 when general manager Matt Klentak picked up three relievers in a pair of trades. He acquired David Phelps 10 days later, and between them, David Hale, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and Phelps have posted a 7.59 ERA and allowed 10 home runs in 21 1/3 innings with the Phillies.
Manager Joe Girardi said Tuesday night that the relievers are “capable of turning it around,” a claim that would seem to be supported by their track records. But time is running short.
It isn’t only the bullpen. Co-aces Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler are lined up to make a total of as many as seven more starts. That leaves 12 games for Zach Eflin, Jake Arrieta, Spencer Howard, and Vince Velasquez, who have combined for a 5.34 ERA, and two games for either the bullpen or a spot starter.
So, do the Phillies have enough pitching to survive this schedule?
“We don’t have a choice, right?” Girardi said. “You might see some people on a shuttle [to and from Lehigh Valley]. We might need some fresh arms here and there. But we’ll find a way.”
Can they beat the Marlins?
The Phillies are 10-12 against the Marlins since the beginning of last season. And these aren’t the Marlins who lost 105 games last year, either.
Infused with young talent (remember Sixto Sanchez?) and finally getting its roster back after an early-season COVID-19 outbreak in Philadelphia, Miami was 19-18, one game behind the Phillies entering Wednesday night.
Eflin stated the obvious this week when he described the Marlins as “a team you can’t take lightly.” Other Phillies players aren’t as reverential.
“I don’t fear them at all,” Velasquez said last weekend. “Even though they’ve always been one of those scrappy teams that kind of kick us in the butt a little bit, I think we’re going to step on them, for sure.”
What if Bryce Harper gets hot again?
Through 22 games, Harper was batting .343 and slugging .714 with seven homers and a 1.192 OPS. It wasn’t reasonable to expect a continuation of that pace, even in a 60-game season.
But in 15 games since then, Harper is batting .143 and slugging .163 with no homers and a .502 OPS. It’s a testament to the rest of the lineup, specifically scorching Rhys Hoskins, that the Phillies have averaged nearly as many runs per game with an ice-cold Harper (5.2) as they did when he was carrying them (5.4).
“At this moment right now, I’m struggling a little bit at the plate,” said Harper, whose homerless streak has reached 69 plate appearances. “Trying to grind every day. Trying to figure stuff out. I keep saying it, but I need to be better.”
If he is indeed better over the last 21 games, and if Hoskins can stay hot, the Phillies actually might be able to outhit their pitching.
Can they get/stay healthy?
Don’t talk to the Phillies' rivals about injuries.
The Braves lost young ace Mike Soroka for the season and are now without lefty Max Fried. The Nationals had Stephen Strasburg go down to season-ending carpal tunnel surgery. The Mets knew they would be without Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) and never had Marcus Stroman, who opted out after injuring his calf. The Marlins had 18 players infected with COVID-19 in late July.
By comparison, the Phillies have been lucky.
But Scott Kingery (back spasms), Jay Bruce (left quadriceps strain), Roman Quinn (concussion) and relievers Jose Alvarez (testicular contusion), and Adam Morgan (shoulder fatigue) are sidelined. And although some are close to returning (Kingery could be back this week, Quinn by Sunday or Monday), the schedule is about to become unrelenting.
“It’s going to come down to all 28 guys because we have a grueling schedule, there’s no doubt about it,” Girardi said. “But we’re more than capable of getting through this. There’s some guys that we can benefit from getting back healthy, and hopefully that will happen fairly quickly.”