clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The last stand: Phillies vs. Rays series preview

It’s the final weekend of the season, and the Phillies are in desperation mode

MLB: Philadelphia Phillies at Miami Marlins
Will Vince Velasquez let us all down yet again
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After 57 games, what do we know about the Phillies? We know that their lineup and starting pitching can hang with just about every team in the majors. We also know that they’ve somehow assembled the worst collection of bullpen talent seen in the majors in quite some time.

If this team had even a slightly below average bullpen, the Phillies would probably be spending this weekend either jockeying for a better seed, or resting their starters for the playoffs. (You know, as the general manager stupidly suggested they might be able to do last week.)

But the Phillies’ bullpen is not slightly below average. They’re not even just plain bad. No, they’re historically awful, and because of that, the Phillies not only probably need to sweep this weekend’s series, but they also need help from other teams around the majors if they want to make the postseason.

The Phillies can’t control what other teams around the National League do. They can only worry about winning the games on their schedule. The bad news is that the games on their schedule are against the best team in the American League.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 37-20 (First place in American League East)

The last time they met

The teams last squared off in April 2018 for a three-game series, which was swept by the Phillies. In the first game, the winning pitcher was Vince Velasquez. (Hold on to that little factoid, because we’re going to be revisiting it in a bit)

The rivalry

The Phillies are just 12-15 in regular season games against the Rays, so I guess that means the Rays have the advantage in this particular rivarly.

Oh wait, maybe I should check if they’ve ever met up in the playoffs...

As it turns out, the Phillies and Rays did meet up once in the postseason; the 2008 World Series to be exact. That series ended up with Brad Lidge at the bottom of a dogpile (which might have actually permanently injured him. Oh well, it was worth it).

Better than the Yankees

As pundits often do, they basically awarded the AL East title to the Yankees before the season began. But when the Yankees faltered, the Rays stepped up. Are they that good? No one player in the lineup seems that great - Brandon Lowe is as good as it gets - but they’re collectively fifth in the AL in runs scored, so I guess they’re doing something right.

But maybe that’s okay

With the Rays comfortably in possession of a playoff spot, they might not feel a great sense of urgency this weekend. There’s a chance they’re looking ahead to next week when the games become much more important. Or maybe this is just wishful thinking on my part.

Clutch time Nola

With two straight shaky starts, there’s a growing level of concern about Aaron Nola’s level of clutchness. While there have been far greater reasons for the team’s struggles in the month of September over the past few seasons, Nola hasn’t been part of the solution either. His career ERA in September/October is 4.21, partly because he’s allowed 27 home runs over 26 starts.

It’s not like the team is going to get rid of him even if he struggles again this weekend. But it would be nice if he finally gives the Phillies a dominating performance in a stretch run start.

The last stand of Vince Velasquez

Remember how Vince Velasquez beat the Rays the last time he faced them? As fate would have it, he’s the scheduled starter for Friday night’s game, and just about every Phillies fan is super pumped that “Vinny Velo” will be getting the ball in what is basically a must-win game.

Win or lose, there’s a good chance that this will be Velasquez’s final regular season start with the Phillies. After five seasons with the team, it’s become obvious to everyone who isn’t Matt Klentak that if Velasquez is ever going to have more than sporadic major league success, it probably isn’t going to be as a starter, and almost certainly won’t be in Philadelphia.

Please note that story was written over three years ago.

Maybe Velasquez will pitch well, and help propel the team to the playoffs. Considering that he pitched well in his last start (albeit for just six innings), I suppose there’s a chance. But based on his history, I’m not sure what to expect: Will he simply pitch poorly and put us out of our misery quickly...or will he pitch well, convincing team management that he should be given another chance next year, forcing us to endure yet another season of disappointment?

And he’ll be opposed by...

The Rays’ starter on Friday will be former Phillie Charlie Morton. Before the 2016 season, Klentak traded for the career mediocrity, but he only made four starts before getting injured on the base paths. The Phillies then declined an option...only for Morton to go to Houston and become an All-Star.

Morton isn’t having his best season in 2020, and at age 36, he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning. But of the two starters pitching on Friday, I would have preferred it if Morton was the starter wearing red.


It would be awesome if we get a 2007-like scenario where the Phillies can win their final game of the season to make the playoffs. But the Phillies - as well as the rest of the city’s sports teams - have sapped all my optimism. They’ll drop the first two games of the series before winning the meaningless finale.