John Middleton probably doesn’t need any additional reasons to pull his hair out right now. Watching his baseball team give away outs in the field while also striking out at an alarmingly high rate has surely soured the mood of the Phillies’ managing partner enough.
Still, it has to drive the man in charge of the money even madder when he watches his team get beaten over and over again by ballclubs that are not paying nearly as much for their player services.
We all know about the Phillies’ struggles against the Miami Marlins the last two seasons. Even after splitting four games with Miami at the start of this nine-game road trip, the Phillies were still only 3-4 against the team with the fourth-lowest payroll in baseball this season. And let’s not forget that they went 3-7 against Miami a year ago, helping the Marlins make the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.
Fortunately for the Phillies, they do not have to face Florida’s other major league team nearly as often as the Marlins because the Tampa Bay Rays have mastered the art of doing more with less.
If former Oakland general manager Billy Beane was the mastermind behind Moneyball, then Tampa Bay’s longtime president Matt Silverman should be in line for a movie, too. They could call it Lack of Money Ball: How to consistently win with one of the lowest payrolls in baseball.
The Rays, who made it to the World Series a year ago, something never achieved by Beane’s A’s teams, completed a two-game sweep of the Phillies with a 6-2 win Sunday afternoon at Tropicana Field.
That’s five straight wins for the Rays against the Phillies as well as their 15th win in their last 16 games this season. The Phillies, of course, needed to win just one game a year ago at Tropicana Field to qualify for the playoffs but could not do so on the final weekend even though the Rays had already locked up the best record in the American League.
“They do a really good job,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi. “You have to give their front office and [manager] Kevin Cash a lot of credit. The guys that they bring in, they find roles for them. I think they look for a lot of outliers and they use them in those spots that they can be successful.”
The Rays, for the record, had the third-lowest payroll in baseball last year and have the fifth-lowest payroll this year. Their total payroll of $63.1 million is less than what the Phillies are paying the trio of Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Zack Wheeler this season. The Phillies’ total payroll of $183.6 million is the fifth-highest in baseball.
If those numbers do not drive Middleton crazy, then what he saw again on the field Sunday should have. The Phillies, who have lost 10 of their last 14 to fall to three games under .500 for the first time this season, gave away two runs in the second inning and another in the seventh.
The inning started with a Zach Eflin walk to Austin Meadows, but only after third baseman Alec Bohm over ran a foul pop that he should have caught for the first out of the inning. With two outs in the inning, Mike Zunino homered to make it 2-0.
The score went to 3-0 in the fifth when Eflin, who went 1-4 with a 4.59 ERA in six May starts, allowed a two-out home run to Brett Phillips. The Rays went up 4-0 on Ji-Man Choi’s double off the right-field wall against reliever Ranger Suárez. A missed cutoff man and a throwing error by right fielder Brad Miller helped contribute to a two-run inning for the Rays in the seventh after Girardi’s decision to replace reliever Connor Brogdon with Archie Bradley backfired.
Offensively, the Phillies managed just two runs on 10 hits off six Tampa Bay pitchers. In sticking with the Rays’ most unconventional ways, Cash used his starter/opener Collin McHugh for just two outs in the first inning before getting 8 1/3 strong innings from his bullpen, starting with 4 2/3 innings from lefty Josh Fleming, a 2017 fifth-round pick out of Division III Webster University in St. Louis.
Asked if he’d ever consider configuring his pitching staff in a similar way to the Rays did Sunday, Girardi said “of course I would,” but he believes right now the Phillies “have pretty conventional starters.”
And perhaps not nearly enough good relievers to make the Tampa Bay way work for them.