Hey, remember when the Marlins were bad and you could count on winning the series, if not producing a sweep? Those were fun times.
Now that the team has left their own house of horrors in Miami, the Phillies return home in tatters. The lineup is now missing two major pieces, the rotation is missing their second best starter and the bullpen is still missing the ability to shut down games. After seriously threatening the Braves atop the division as September dawned on us, they now are threatening to miss the playoffs altogether. Even if they were to make it, they would likely face an opponent that would make quick work of them with how they’re playing at this point in the season.
Now what do they do?
Monday brought some clarity to the injuries to Rhys Hoskins and J.T. Realmuto.
J.T. has a mild strain of left hip flexor, won't go on IL. Rhys Hoskins going on IL with UCL injury. Phillies hope he can come back in 2020.— Tim Kelly (@TimKellySports) September 14, 2020
The biggest news in there is that the team will not lose both of them for an extended period of time. With both of them down, the lineup just wouldn’t have had the teeth to it that it had not a few days ago. Only missing one helps them tremendously. While a strained hip flexor to a catcher like Realmuto is still nothing to sneeze at, the team could get around that injury and still keep his bat in the lineup by having him take over first base duties for the time being until he is fully ready to get behind the dish. As well as Andrew Knapp has played, having his and Realmuto’s bat in the lineup is preferable to having Realmuto and say Phil Gosselin in there on a regular basis. Once Realmuto is able to get behind the plate, his bat and glove would be welcomed with open arms.
The team could also put Realmuto behind the plate when he feels ready and go with Alec Bohm at first, transferring Jean Segura to third and putting Scott Kingery or Ronald Torreyes at the keystone. Again, it’s not the most desirable solution available, but at least manager Joe Girardi does have some options to keep Realmuto’s bat in the lineup for the team.
If Realmuto is unable to continue any further if his hip continues to bother him, the team could be in real trouble. The usage of the DH spot could help him, but Girardi has shown he likes to keep that spot available as a way to rest players like Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius. Giving it only to Realmuto would put a crimp in the manager’s plans, but at this point all options are on the table. They’ll have to weather the injury storm.
There’s really no other way to describe how bad this bullpen has been that hasn’t been done already. They’re historically bad. They inspire confidence in absolutely no one. Girardi tried his best to let the closing situation stabilize itself, but that just never happened. So now, it’s time to get creative.
You saw the beginnings of that this weekend when Brandon Workman was brought into a game in the seventh inning instead of his customary ninth inning save situation. He has done nothing to give the team hope that he’ll magically figure it out, surrendering lead after lead while handling closer duties. By moving to a more low leverage spot, Girardi is hoping to get confidence back in the right hander as he’ll play a major part in the remaining two weeks in the team’s playoff push.
But what happens when the game is close and a stop is needed? Who do you go to?
With the season he’s had thus far, the obvious answer is Blake Parker. He’s more than likely the only one who one can feel sure about when an out is absolutely needed. After that, with the way the team has performed, it’s virtually a coin flip. Who else do you feel comfortable with? Heath Hembree? Adam Morgan? Hector Neris?
The likelihood that one or more relievers traipses back to their normal self isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but there is almost no confidence that that will happen. Until someone steps up and simply pitches better, Girardi will have to rely on creativity and data to piece together end of game situations. We have to believe that he’ll be able to do so.
At this point, the team is still in the playoff race. They sit a game up on San Francisco for the seventh spot, 1 1⁄2 games above the Reds for the final spot and 2 up on Colorado and Cincinnati. Luckily for the Phillies, those teams are just as uneven in both roster construction and performance as Philadelphia has been. Where the Phillies have a slight advantage is their schedule.
The Phillies’ remaining schedule sees them do this:
Those games against the NL East teams are very winnable games. Against the AL Teams is a slightly different matter as both sit atop the AL East, but if they can split with Toronto, they’ll be better off. Is it a tall order? Absolutely, but the Phillies did play Toronto tough while in Buffalo, they just had another bullpen implosion or two. The real test will be when they play Washington. That will probably decide their season.
Milwaukee still needs to face the Cardinals ten more times, with Kansas City and Cincinnati sandwiched in between. Colorado has Oakland, one of the best teams in the American League, coming to Denver, followed by the Dodgers. After that, they’ll go to San Francisco to play a Giants team that is also fighting for playoff positioning. So, of all three teams, it’s possible that the Phillies have the easier remaining schedule. What does that mean? Nothing really.
When the series against the Mets opens on Tuesday, the Phillies will have their backs against the wall. How they respond will define the season. Let’s just hope that these last three games are not an indication of how it will go.