All right Phillies, how much is a shot at a World Series title in a pandemic-shortened season that has been inundated with COVID-19 postponements worth to you?
How badly do you want to be the team that emerges from a postseason bubble as the 2020 champions?
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How much would you love to see a socially distanced parade down Broad Street?
It’s somewhat amazing that we are even thinking about such ridiculous questions just one week after the Phillies coughed up a 4-0 lead in Atlanta and lost their fifth straight game to fall a season-high five games under .500 and five games out of first place.
But they responded to that tailspin with five straight wins, including two in a row over the first-place Braves at Citizens Bank Park and are now just two games out of first with a chance to close to within one Sunday night on national television.
Zach Eflin kept the momentum rolling Saturday with seven sensational innings during a 4-1 victory that included a three-run home run from a resurgent Rhys Hoskins, who also ended an Atlanta threat and the game with a diving catch of a Nick Markakis line drive in the bottom of the ninth.
“If you do your work, and if you’re prepared, and you’re a talented club, things over the long term will work out,” manager Joe Girardi said. “That’s the bottom line. Now we don’t have as much long term this year, but for me it’s still important that if the guys are working hard and they’re prepared, they’re going to have success over time and that’s what we’re seeing.
“We’ve had some strange things happen to us, but we’ve seemed to turn it around, and we’re playing the team that’s out in front of us, and we’re playing within our division a lot as we move forward, so we’ll just keep working.”
Back to the original question: What’s a World Series title worth to the Phillies in this pandemic-shortened season?
Phillies managing partner John Middleton actually answered that question shortly before the shortest season in baseball history started.
“It’s going to be different … but that doesn’t mean I’m going to be less excited,” he said.”The thing I’m still most interested in this season is us winning. I don’t care if the season is 10 games, 60 games, 120 games or 162 games — at the end of the day if there is going to be a champion I want it to be us.”
Even though they have taken a circuitous route to get here, the Phillies belong in the conversation about potential World Series winners, and now general manager Matt Klentak has two days to try to improve his ballclub before the trade deadline.
The reason the Phillies belong in the conversation is because their lineup is living up to the hype that it did not live up to a year ago when the team finished 14th in runs scored and 23rd in home runs.
This season, only the high-powered Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Fernando Tatis Jr./Manny Machado-fueled San Diego Padres were averaging more runs per game than the Phillies going into Saturday.
Klentak addressed the bullpen with the additions of Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree and David Hale, and the relief corps has been part of the solution during the team’s recent winning streak, posting a 2.16 ERA.
“I know that Matt and his staff are always looking to get better, so we’ll just have to wait to see what happens,” Girardi said. “I like our club. I like the way we’re playing. I like how resilient they are. Knock on wood again, but we’ve seemed to settle the bullpen down a little bit, and that’s a key because I think you have to have a bullpen that gets outs to win, because it’s not easy to go through lineups three times.”
If the Phillies believe they still need more help in the pen, some options remain even though Trevor Rosenthal went off the board after being dealt from Kansas City to the Padres Saturday. Baltimore’s Mychal Givens would be the biggest prize, but Boston’s Matt Barnes could be a decent consolation.
The rotation, for the most part, has been good, but that should not prevent Klentak from trying to make it even better. Eflin’s seven-inning stint, which featured a wipeout curveball, lowered the rotation ERA to 3.86 through 28 games, which is good enough to be among the top 10 in baseball.
It should not be forgotten, however, that the Phillies’ melted in the last two Septembers, and the rotation was a big reason why. The rotation ERA was 4.70 in September last year, and the year before that it was 5.92. The Phillies in the last two Septembers were 20-36.
Even though Girardi has confidence in the quartet of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta and Eflin, it would give the Phillies an additional boost if another big arm is added to the mix, especially since the Phillies will have to navigate their way through five doubleheaders in September.
It would not mean they are giving up on rookie Spencer Howard. He will be in the rotation mix, and also be available in the bullpen at other times, which would make the improving pen even better.