The Phillies' five-night stay in Miami began last week with their $118 million pitcher injuring his fingernail while stepping into a pair of jeans. It continued with their top pitching prospect suffering a possible season-ending shoulder injury and their All-Star catcher placed on the shelf with a strained hip flexor.
It ended Monday with their second-most productive hitter heading to the injured list just before the Phillies boarded a flight home following a 6-2 loss to the Marlins.
They played the Marlins seven times in five days, lost five of them, and returned to Philadelphia in third place in the National League East and their postseason chances in question. The Phillies are clinging to one of the league’s two wild cards, but their stay in Miami might have been enough to doom their chances.
“I think it would be non-human to not be frustrated, but obviously we’re still in a sense in control of our own destiny to get to the playoffs," manager Joe Girardi said. "And our guys can’t forget that. We won’t forget that. We’ve been here before where we haven’t played so well, and we bounced back and played really well, and that’s what we need to do.”
The Phillies, according to FanGraphs, entered Monday with an 84% chance to make the postseason. Even though they are struggling, the Phillies will really have to bottom out to not finish as one of the National League’s eight playoff teams. In a rather weak NL, a losing record could still be enough to win one of the two wild cards.
The Phillies won’t play the Braves and Marlins — the two teams ahead of them in the division — again this season, and seven of their final 14 games are against teams with losing records. The other seven games come against Toronto and Tampa Bay, the two teams leading the American League East. The Phillies' playoff chances will probably be determined by how they fare against the Mets and Nationals.
“I know it sounds repetitive, but we just have to play better. That’s what it comes down to,” said J.T. Realmuto, who has missed the last three games with his hip injury. “No matter who is on the field, guys have to step up and we have to win games. Right now, we’re in a playoff spot and we really haven’t played very well. We just need to play better.”
Andrew McCutchen started Monday’s series finale with a leadoff homer, perhaps signaling that the Phillies were determined to leave town with a win. But they would not score again until the eighth inning, went four innings without a hit, and forced Marlins right-hander Pablo Lopez to exhaust just 27 pitches over the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings. Lopez allowed three hits and one run in seven innings.
The Phillies have scored four runs in their last 23 innings as they limped to the plane with three straight losses against the team that now leads them by 1 1/2 games for second place in the division. They had just four hits on Monday and their lineup was flat for a third straight game without Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins.
“Whenever you don’t hit, it looks like there’s no energy, there’s a lack of something,” Girardi said. “Lopez was really good today. He’s had some really good starts. He was ahead in the count the whole day on us. It’s always frustrating when you don’t score runs.”
The Phillies lost seven of their 10 games to the Marlins this season. They went 9-10 against Miami last season when the Marlins lost 105 games. The Phillies were the only division team last season to not have a winning record against the Marlins, and their struggles against them helped keep the Phillies from October play.
Now the Marlins are trying to put themselves into October by cleaning up against the Phillies.
“They kind of put it to us the last couple games and they’ve done that the last couple years to be honest,” said Realmuto, a former Marlin. “I don’t know what it is, but before we play them next year or play them in the playoffs, we better figure it out.”
The Phillies, in each of the last two seasons, faded in September and missed out on October. So they replaced manager Gabe Kapler with Girardi and believed they had updated their roster enough to avoid another dismal finish.
But this September is starting to feel like Septembers of the past.
Zack Wheeler, December’s upgrade to the starting rotation, is out until at least later this week after ripping a fingernail on his jeans. Right-hander Spencer Howard and Hoskins are on the injured list and could miss the rest of the season. Realmuto is unsure when he’ll be back.
Vince Velasquez started Monday and allowed four runs on seven hits before being replaced in the fourth inning. He’ll likely stay in the rotation with Howard out. Relief pitcher David Phelps, the team’s key acquisition before the trade deadline, gave up a pair of solo homers and has allowed runs in five straight appearances.
General manager Matt Klentak added four relievers last month, but the Phillies still have the worst bullpen in baseball. And their lineup does not have much punch without Realmuto and Hoskins.
For the third straight season, it could be a long September for the Phillies. And it was a long five days in Miami.
“As a team, we’ll come together, we’re definitely going to pull through, for sure,” Velasquez said. “Despite all the news with Rhys and J.T., having those guys out of the lineup had a big effect on us. Those are the guys who set the tone, pretty much cash in some runs for us. As a team, if we come together, we’ll do some damage like we’ve done all year. The season is coming to an end here. We know what we have to do for this homestand and once we go back on the road. All we can do is just hope and continue grinding it out until the end of this.”