When the Phillies traded Sixto Sanchez to Miami 19 months ago, they were not only parting with their top prospect but sending a signal that they believed it was finally time to win.
They sacrificed their prized arm to acquire J.T. Realmuto and would sign Bryce Harper five weeks later to finish an offseason that brought them five former All-Stars. The Phillies entered last season believing they had a team not only built for that October but for Octobers to come.
But on Sunday — after the Marlins swept the Phillies in a doubleheader — it was Sanchez who found himself closer to October than the Phillies. He opened the doubleheader with a dazzling seven-inning complete game, as the Phillies fell, 2-1. They lost the second game, 8-1.
The losses dropped the Phillies from second to third place in the National League East, as the Marlins passed them in the race for the final guaranteed playoff spot in the division. The Phillies started the seven-game series by losing four of the first six games and now o must keep an eye on the wildcard standings.
Last September, they collapsed after trading Sanchez, as they did not have the playoff team they thought they had. And if they collapse again this September, Sanchez will have played a hand.
“I have to tell you, I was motivated to pitch against the Phillies,” Sanchez said.
The Phillies played both games without Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto, who suffered injuries on Saturday night. They placed Spencer Howard on the injured list before the game and were monitoring the status of Zack Wheeler. The season finale is in two weeks, and the Phillies are hurting.
They combined for just seven hits in 14 innings, including only two for extra-bases. They struck out 13 times and had just six chances with runners in scoring position.
“It’s frustrating for all of us. We just didn’t hit much today, for whatever reason,” manager Joe Girardi said. “You have to come out and win tomorrow. That’s the bottom line. You can’t do anything about today. Today’s over. You have to put it behind you and come out and play better tomorrow.”
There are just 15 games left in the season, but the Phillies did not look like a team with a sense of urgency as the postseason chase tightens. The Phillies are one game above .500, and things are not trending in the right direction.
After Monday’s series finale, they’ll play three games against the Mets, who could enter the playoff picture with a good week, and four against the Blue Jays, who are battling for second place in the American League East. The final two weeks should be a fight.
“It’s frustrating,” said Hoskins, who has soreness in his left forearm. “We’ve done a lot of work, and I feel like we’ve put ourselves in a good position to get back to the playoffs. But the good thing about this clubhouse is that there’s a lot of guys in there who are ready. Today, it didn’t show, but I think everyone in that clubhouse is confident that whoever steps on that field, we can still get into the playoffs.”
Their first-game lineup included Phil Gosselin at first base, Ronald Torreyes at shortstop, Kyle Garlick in left field, and Andrew Knapp catching. They used three relievers — Ramon Rosso, Connor Brogdon, and David Hale — to piece together seven innings, but their replacement lineup was no match for Sanchez.
He allowed just three hits and one run while striking out four. He has a 1.69 ERA through his first five major-league starts, striking out 30 batters in 32 innings. His fastball topped out at 100.4 MPH and averaged 98.7 MPH. He generated 10 swing-and-misses and 10 groundouts.
Sanchez was so dominant that he went out for the seventh with a one-run lead and a pitch count of 75, yet the Marlins did not have anyone warming up.
“He has good stuff,” Girardi said. “The young man has four pitches and a lot of velocity and movement. He has good stuff.”
Sanchez has the makings of a top-of-the-rotation starter, while Realmuto is on his way to hitting free agency.
Sanchez said he cried after he was told the Phillies were trading him. He signed with the Phillies as a teenager in the Dominican Republic and never imagined pitching for anyone else. Instead, he could be a menace to them for years to come.
“We’re not holding our heads down or anything,” said Zach Eflin, who allowed four runs in four innings in the second game. “We know we’re a special team, and we’re going to continue to fight and be competitive and take that into the postseason."