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Ebb and flow: Phillies vs. Rays series preview

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Does it matter that the Phillies are playing a first place team? Probably not.

Philadelphia Phillies v Tampa Bay Rays
Maybe the Phillies will have better luck against the Rays this time around
Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images

After a series against the reeling Padres that should have been - but definitely was not - a sweep for the Phillies, they’ll return home to take on a team that is not reeling. At first, that seems like bad news for the Phillies, but keep in mind that this is a team that swept the first place Brewers, and were swept by the last place Diamondbacks. I’m more convinced than ever that the Phillies quality of play simply ebbs and flows throughout the season, and the quality of the opponent isn’t all that important when it comes to them winning or losing.

Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 77-48 (First place in American League East)

The last time they met

The Phillies went to Florida in late May for two games and lost both of them. Neither game was particularly memorable, it was simply a matter of a team that was playing well taking on a team that wasn’t playing well.

Coming in hot

The Rays have won seven of their last ten games and are in first place in the American League East. But as I said, this won’t really matter much as far as how this series goes.

Not sure how they do it, but they score a lot of runs

The Rays rank second in the American League in runs scored, which doesn’t seem right when you look at their roster. The team’s ranks in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentages are all good, but not incredible, and they don’t have anyone on offense who you’d necessarily call a superstar.

Questioning if a team’s success is sustainable is SO 2019, but I digress. The point is that despite a lack of big name stars in the lineup, the Rays simply find ways to score runs and win games.

As far as individual players go, second baseman Brandon Lowe is a very good hitter, but his offensive numbers are not extraordinary this season. Their best hitter in 2021 has been catcher Mike Zunino, and his batting average was under .200 the previous two years. His offensive awakening is almost entirely due to a surge in power, since he almost never hits singles.

Least valuable player

The Rays have a lot of good players, but Michael Wacha shouldn’t be counted among them. The former All-Star has been a liability at the back of the rotation for the Rays, and his numbers in August are especially poor: 21 runs allowed in 19 innings. Naturally, the Phillies won’t get to face him this series.

Rhys the savior?

Speaking of guys who don’t hit a lot of singles, Rhys Hoskins has his share of detractors among Phillies fans. But the past few weeks have given us new perspective as to how valuable he is to the Phillies. With him out of the lineup, the rest of the Phillies’ hitters - yes, pretty much all of them - slumped, and the team struggled to score runs.

Hoskins returned to action on Sunday, hit two home runs, and all of a sudden, the Phillies’ lineup looked potent again. Hoskins is notoriously streaky, but we can always hope that he stays hot for the final month and a half of the season, and the Phillies’ offense follows suit.

The anti-Rays

I mentioned how the Rays as a team are better than you might expect given their individual talents. I feel the opposite about the Phillies. When the Phillies are losing games - something they’ve done a lot of recently - I look at their roster and wonder why they don’t have a better record.

Based on the names in the lineup, they should be one of the better offenses in the league. The rotation only has one true standout, but assuming Zach Eflin returns (effectively) soon, they also won’t have any true weak spots there. (Heck, even Matt Moore has been good lately.) And while there are still a few spots in the bullpen that could stand to be upgraded, they at least have several pitchers who can be counted on to pitch in key situations.

So then why can’t the team ever seem to rise more than a few games over .500?

Part of it is has been injuries that hasn’t allowed the lineup to gel. (As well as causing the overuse of bench players.)

Part of it is the awful defense. Part of it is that aforementioned weak segment of the bullpen. Part of it is too many hitters not living up to their reputations (Looking at you Cutch and Didi!)

Maybe the Phillies will finally put it all together in the stretch run and find a way to get into the playoffs. Or maybe they’re just a disappointing team that will always be less than the sum of their parts.

Trivia

Last series’ answer: I incorrectly stated the date of the first Phillies vs. Padres game at Petco Park was August 30, 2004. It was actually August 3, 2004, and the first Phillie to get a hit at the stadium was Placido Polanco who singled in the first inning. SteveH2331 was first with the correct answer.

This series’ question: Before they rebranded as the Rays, the last game between the Phillies and Tampa Bay DEVIL Rays was played on June 18, 2006. A future member of the Phillies was the starting right fielder for the Devil Rays that day, and he was eventually pinch hit for by another future Phillie. Name either player.

What to expect

  • Hoskins stays hot with four extra base hits in the series.
  • Andrew McCutchen finally starts to come out of his slump.
  • One of those non-superstars in the Rays lineup has a monster series. I’m thinking outfielder Randy Arozarena is the most likely suspect.

Closing thought that may or may not be relevant to the series

SPOILER WARNING FOR SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME TRAILER. IF YOU’RE AVOIDING ALL TRAILERS AND NEWS ABOUT THE MOVIE, TURN AWAY NOW

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As revealed in the Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer, Doctor Octopus will be in the movie. That’s cool, but I do have some reservations. While the fight scenes with Doc Ock in Spider-Man 2 were amazing, the character was too far removed from the comics version for my liking, and the motivations for his actions didn’t make all that much sense.