During this stretch of playing formidable competitors—which is far from over—the Phillies have rarely won or lost due to big numbers. When they played the Brewers for four games in Philly at the beginning of last week, a couple of games got away from them, but this portion of the season has been defined by closed games. And the Phillies have shown they can win them as much as they’ve lost them.
After Friday night’s 6-4 victory over the Brewers, the Phillies are 7-5 since May 13, having played the Brewers five times, the Cubs four times, and the Rockies three times. With more of Milwaukee, as well as the Dodgers and Cardinals, ahead, they will have to keep finding ways to survive the National League’s best to keep a hold on the division (they won’t have a divisional opponent again until the Braves on June 14).
As with all close games, the Phillies had to hope moments like bringing Vince Velasquez in from the bullpen paid off, or Andrew McCutchen being on second instead of third after hitting a long fly ball didn’t hurt them. I’m not trying to vilify anybody here, just stress the point that losing a close game is very easy to do.
But they didn’t lose it, thanks to the offense scattering itself throughout the game and a key defensive play that neutralized a double steal attempt from the Brewers. Contributions came from Bryce Harper (sac fly, RBI double), Scott Kingery (RBI double), Maikel Franco (RBI single), Andrew McCutchen (RBI double), and Rhys Hoskins (long, long home run to center).
They needed those offerings from up and down their lineup, as Jerad Eickhoff lasted only three innings, giving up four earned runs as he struggled to harness the movement of his breaking pitches. With their starter wobbly, the Phillies had to open their depleted bullpen that is now without Pat Neshek as well as Victor Arano, Tommy Hunter, and David Robertson, and those arms that remain have scuffled to keep the team in games.
Enter Vince Velasquez. The beleaguered starter brought his high velocity out of the bullpen with great effectiveness, after expressing (and then rescinding) disappointment in losing his spot in the rotation. He struck out four in two innings of work, allowing one hit and one walk. As a starter making his only third relief appearance ever, Velasquez probably has closer to the stamina needed to last more than one inning, Gabe Kapler’s favorite thing to do to effective relievers.
Another close game, another shuffle of the pitching staff, and another win dug out by the offense. The Phillies are learning what parts of their team they can rely on and scrambling to plug the holes in their pitching staff. With stiff competition on the horizon, their jobs won’t get any easier.