September 16, 2020
The Phillies have a sprint to the finish as they seek their first playoff berth since 2011. But they are wounded.
Offensively, they are currently missing key hitters Rhys Hoskins, Jay Bruce and J.T. Realmuto — though the star catcher should be the first of these to return, and soon.
With Alec Bohm seemingly a perfect fit, for now at least, filling in at first base with the rest of the infield (Scott Kingery, Didi Gregorius, Jean Segura) filling in around him, the line up is much less a concern than the starting rotation.
Rookie Spencer Howard has been shelved until at least the last week of the season with a shoulder injury. And in Tuesday's win over the Mets, Jake Arrieta injured his hamstring. Neither appears to be likely to start in the next trip through the rotation or two, leaving the Phillies with, well, issues.
With 13 games remaining and a 24-23 record, the Phillies likely need to at least go 6-7 (though better would be preferable) to limp into one of the final two postseason spots. These six wins, theoretically, can come from strong outings from the Phils two Cy Young candidates in Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler — who is expected to return from his fingernail injury (thanks pants) Wednesday.
Who will start the other seven games? And how will their potential playoff rotation line up?
Here's a glance down the schedule at their probable pitchers down the stretch and some options to help them fill things out:
Here's when it gets really tricky. None of the Phillies' healthy starters will be ready to go on regular rest when their make up double header against the Jays arrives. It would be a bit of a stretch for the team to attempt to do two bullpen games in the same day — a strategy employed by Joe Girardi in some earlier double headers this season with mixed results. Here are the pitchers on the current roster with starting experience (we'll highlight the highest level they reached):
|Starter||# of starts (level)||Stats|
|Cole Irvin||3 (MLB)||2-1, 5.60 ERA|
|Mauricio Llovera||12 (AA)||3-4, 4.55 ERA|
|Adonis Medina||21 (AA)||7-7, 4.94 ERA|
|JoJo Romero||24 (AA, AAA)||7-9, 5.82 ERA|
|Ramon Rosso||24 (AA, AAA)||5-6, 4.46 ERA|
|Christopher Sanchez||10 (A)||2-0, 2.36 ERA|
|Ranger Suarez||3 (MLB)||1-1, 6.45 ERA|
As can be seen, the options are far from desirable. If Girardi opts to pick a starter, odds are he will go with someone who has MLB starting experience — making Irvin and Suarez the best bets, on very short leashes.
Nola on regular rest will likely pitch one of the two seven-inning games next Tuesday in Washington. This situation would be better suited for a bullpen game. If no one shines bright in their first double-header adventure, expect to see an opener and committee approach in one of these games.
This is a tough one too, as none of the Phillies regular hurlers will be slated to go on regular rest. Theoretically, Howard could come off the injured list and pitch here but that doesn't seem super likely. With nine innings instead of seven in this contest, Girardi will probably have no choice but to pick one of the inexperienced arms we highlighted above (unless, somehow, Arrieta is ready to pitch. It's worth noting the last time he was out with a hamstring he missed 17 days. The season would be over 17 days from his injury).
Okay there's a lot to work through before we dive into a playoff rotation. The Phillies, as it pans out right now, have the ability to have Wheeler and Nola pitch the last two games of the regular season. If the Phillies have their playoff positioning locked up before September 26th, there's a chance Girardi throws someone else (like Velasquez, who we skipped the second time through because of the off days) into one of these last two starts to preserve his aces for the playoffs.
The best case scenario is that he's able to forego using them, and then he can line up Wheeler, Nola and Eflin to pitch the best of three first round series. If not...
If the Phillies need to fight and claw to the season's final day, they'll have a very weak rotation in the first round of the playoffs. Assuming the regular four-day's rest for each starter, the Phillies would need to use Vince Velasquez, or one of the misfit starters in Game 1, before turning potentially to Wheeler and Nola back to back on short rest (or using Eflin in Game 2, and Wheeler in Game 3).
The Phillies hired Joe Girardi for a reason. Perhaps this isn't the exact sticky situation they had in mind before the season started, but the veteran World Series-winning manager will have the opportunity to show he was a worthy hire with his decision-making over the next two fateful weeks.
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