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2020 Phillies: Win-related Path to October

 

By Tal Venada, Sports Talk Philly Contributor

For the Philadelphia Phillies faithful, these final games are either the “half-full or half-empty” conundrum. So whether you consider yourself a pessimist, a realist or an optimist, will you permit yourself to dream for a week? Even for a wild card?      

            

High Hopes:

Enjoying the action from home, most Phillies fans can only sit on the edge of their seats and squirm on each pitch with the tying run at home for the red pinstripes and between each fastball from their ninth-inning hurler. But some locals doubt the Fightins will be playing in a wild-card series.     

IN OTHER WORDS:

“There is no such thing as helplessness. It's just another word for giving up.” - Jefferson Smith

Based on the last two Septembers, the “Phils can’t reach the postseason” thinking has replaced “their division rivals have a better rotation” logic. And if they make the playoffs, some will probably say their opponent has a better record and home-field advantage for those games.              

Despite their recent injuries, the Phillies are demonstrating a strong desire to scratch out a victory with old-school baseball: moving the runner, bunting, stealing bases, hitting sacrifice flies, and plating a run with suicide and safety squeeze bunts. No, manager Joe Girardi isn’t waiting for a three-run homer like his predecessor.   

In ‘20, the Fightins will do what it takes to give the relief corps another run to work with because this September the attitude is different. But if you are ready to abandon them after a loss, then, you could be on a death watch and believe their elimination will probably happen sooner rather than later.  

Based on the standings since mid-August, six franchises have been slightly above or below .500 and in the hunt for serious October baseball. So they have a decent shot to produce a .500 record and qualify for one of four spots in the wild-card round as the away club in a neutral park without spectators.  

Schedule-wise, the Phils have four road games against the Washington Nationals and won’t face Max Scherzer or Patrick Corbin. And they have three away contests versus the Tampa Bay Rays, who after clinching their division will rest their regulars and save their top starters for Sept. 29 or 30.       

As for the Miami Marlins, they have four contests in Atlanta where the Braves are tough to beat, and their one-game lead over the red pinstripes will be on the line. Plus two defeats may affect their Cinderella season. Remember, they were 2-2 against the good guys in the seven-contest set before the Phillies handful of injuries.           

Without Rhys Hoskins, the Fightins’ lineup is Andrew McCutchen (RH), Alec Bohm (RH), Bryce Harper (LH), JT Realmuto (RH), Didi Gregorius (LH), Jean Segura (RH) and Jay Bruce (LH) for the first seven holes. Realistically, Bohm can fill in for Hoskins until the postseason.     

The five-man staff’s top moundsmen are healthy: Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin. Basically, they will toe the slab for five of the final seven contests. But Nola and Wheeler will only start games 59 and 60 if they are necessary for a playoff spot because Girardi will need them for the first two postseason contests.   

Lastly, the pen is not all bad unless you expect every appearance to be successful. And while management knows a reliever should have four acceptable performances out of every five, the faithful remember and judge the hurler on only the poor outings. Basically, most relievers are not starters due to control problems.   

For some reason, fan favorites, aces and stars can have a bad day and can struggle for a limited time, but relievers are an exception. Last summer, Adam Morgan had acceptable outcomes in 90 percent of his appearances, but some locals only remembered his worst two or three for the entire 162.  

When the playoffs begin, the red pinstripes could have Hoskins, Jose Alvarez, Jake Arrieta and Spencer Howard back. And they’ll need one or two starters after Nola, Wheeler and Eflin because there won’t be any off days in a maximum-length series.                      

In a three-game set, any club can beat any other team. So, the four aces couldn’t stop the St. Louis Cardinals (the wild card) in a five-contest series because the Cards were on a hot streak through the World Series. But the owners don’t like wild-card teams winning championships and added a second wild card as an obstacle.     

In a campaign filled with injuries, postponements and seven-inning doubleheaders, some clubs are one unlucky break away from relevance. To illustrate, the Phils were 2-2 in the first four contests in Miami; but Hoskins, Realmuto, Arrieta and Roman Quinn joined Bruce and Howard on the injured list. Three losses, no?  

For fans who think the Phillies can’t make the postseason, they are really saying they are not at least a .500 club and not capable of finishing with 30 victories: the magic number for a playoff berth. Therefore, the 27-26 Fightins --the doubting Thomases believe-- can’t go 3-4 in their final seven games.                             

For 2020, the red pinstripes after their outcomes against the Marlins and the New York Mets had bounced back yet again with three consecutive wins including a twin-bill sweep of the Toronto Blue Jays. Yes, effort and desire are some ingredients for a hot team.        

If the Phils are the ones on fire at the right time with no off days until the Fall Classic to cool off, they can only get a day off by quickly winning the wild-card series, the NLDS and/or the NLCS. Unfortunately, it comes down to if a fan wants a championship and general manager Matt Klentak fired. Can’t have both!

 

NEXT:

Bullpen’s Plan B for 2020

Rsz_realmuto_3

 

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