It Takes a Village…of Relievers. Thoughts on Phillies 4, Marlins 3

PHOTO CREDIT: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

The 2021 Phillis have taken on a lot of criticism this year. Some of it has been valid. Some of hit has been purely misguided.

But enough of it has been deserved for a team that had greater expectations than hovering just five games over .500 on Labor Day.

To their good fortune, being 70-66 is good enough to keep them within realistic striking distance of the National League East Pennant as well as the second wild card. The Phillies sit just two games back of the first place Braves in the NL East, and are 2 1/2 games behind the San Diego Padres, who leap-frogged Cincinnati for the second wild card spot on Sunday.

The Phillies were able to maintain their position those distances back (actually picking up a half game in the wild card) by virtue of a 4-3 win over the Miami in the house of horrors that is the Marlins home ballpark.

It was only the Phillies 12th win there in their last 32 tries, and if you were watching the game, whether it was pitch-by-pitch, or even more casually, it was a sure bet you thought this team was going to lose again and get wept by the Marlins.

Hell, I’ve been the guy telling you not to count the Phillies out this season, and even I had a couple moments Sunday where it was like, yep, they’re going to lose this game.

But the Phillies, as they’ve done with more regularity in the second half of the season, somehow found a way.

They found a way to get past another uninspiring team hitting performance. They found a way despite an inability to deliver a key hit at a key time to stretch the lead, putting undue pressure on their pitching staff.

And speaking of that staff, they found a way to win a game in which they had to use nine relievers to pitch 10 innings, something they are going to be forced to do at least four more times this season unless Zach Eflin miraculously gets healthy and because they are so bereft of minor league talent that they don’t have a pitcher they can call up to throw a few innings to start a game and have enough confidence they can win those games. (More on that sad story later).

Yet, despite all that. Despite another error that cost them a run and eventually forced the game into extra innings. Despite a brain fart from their best player. Despite Freddie Galvis not being able to run more than 70 percent of his normal speed, he somehow scored the winning run and the Phillies are where they are with 27 games to go.

Some may call it a miracle. Some may call it luck. But, I think it’s more resilience. Sure, this team is flawed. Regardless of what happens in these next 27 games, or beyond, if they make the postseason, there’s going to be significant change to this roster in the offseason.

But you have to give credit where it’s due sometimes, and these Phillies deserve a tip of the hat.

Not everyone agrees.

I’m not suggesting effusive praise, mind you. They still frustrate the hell out of you. But, to go through what they’ve gone through with injuries, COVID, and a real lack of organizational depth, being forced to repeatedly trot out lineups in a pennant race that feature Brad Miller, Ronald Torreyes, Freddy Galvis, Travis Jankowski, Matt Vierling, and/or Rafael Marchan and finding a way to stay in the race, is a credit.

Joe Girardi has made some questionable moves this season. He’s had a bunch of them backfire on him. He’s taken a lot of heat in town, probably more so because fans are seeing his predecessor Gabe Kapler succeed unexpectedly managing an overachieving San Francisco Giants team.  But when you consider this season as a whole, and what Girardi had to do on a nightly basis with the roster he had, it’s OK to say he’s done a quality job of holding all of this together, because this could have easily taken a header over the cliff and been a disaster of a season.

The Phillies aren’t a bad team. Inconsistent, yes. Bad. No. This isn’t just a product of a subpar division. They’re in the wild card race too. They’re 19-13 in their past 32 games. That’s a 96-win pace over 162 games.  Too small a sample size for you? OK, they’re 33-25 since July 1. That’s a 92-win pace. That’s for more than two months. The Phillies of the summer are a bit different than the Phillies of the Spring.

The pre-July Phillies would have lost Sunday. Most likely in dramatic fashion. The post June Phillies have been more on the find ways to win side of things and stay alive.

Let’s look at how:

The Bullpen plan

Sam Coonrod. Bailey Falter. Ramon Rosso. Connor Brogdon. Jose Alvarado. Hector Neris. Cam Bedrosian. Archie Bradley. Ian Kennedy. Those were the nine pitchers who threw for the Phillies Sunday. Falter threw 2 1/3 innings, which was the most of any of them. Kennedy was the only other pitcher to reach two innings (and they may have been his two best innings as a Phillie).

After Falter allowed a home run to Bryan De La Cruz with one out in the fourth inning, the Phillies bullpen pitched 6 2/3 no-hit innings. There were a couple walks in there and the untimely error by Miller that led to an unearned run, but there were no hits.

Look, the Marlins aren’t exactly the 1927 Yankees, but it’s not easy to hold any major league team without a hit for that long.

Kennedy got the win, and deservedly so. He struck out four of the six Marlins he faced and prevented the zombie runner from scoring from second in the bottom of the tenth to preserve the win.

Bradley, who a day earlier was the goat (lower case) learned his lesson. We outlined how the Marlins jumped all over his ineffective fastball Saturday. In his appearance Sunday, Bradley used a steady diet of breaking pitches to set up the few fastballs he threw. Pitching backwards led to a successful 1-2-3 inning for him.  Or, getting rid of th stirrup socks. One or the other.

Bedrosian needed 32 pitches to get through just four batters, but he battled through and got the out. Brogdon had an easy inning and Neris got the Phillies out of a jam in the sixth when the Marlins tied it.

Because former GM Matt Klentak left the Phillies farm system in such shambles though, there isn’t a starting pitcher at the higher levels who the Phillies even trust enough to throw 3-4 innings against some of the worst teams in baseball. Nor do they seem to trust Matt Moore in such a situation as Moore was one of three pitchers (along with J.D. Hammer and Enyel de los Santos) who went unused Sunday. Vince Velasquez? He was available after a AAA rehab assignment. Nope.

The Phillies would rather go with the Frankenstein’s monster of a bullpen game than any other options.

So, they’ll do it again Friday when Colorado comes to Citizens Bank Park. Then after that when the Chicago Cubs come in. Then Baltimore visits and then the Pittsburgh Pirates. All bad teams. All in Philadelphia. All likely to get bullpen games.

And if the Phillies can piece them together like they did Sunday, they’ll likely be happy with the outcomes.

Curious Bryce

Bryce Harper did his thing early in the game, launching his 27th homer of the season to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. He tied Rhys Hoskins, who is out for the season, for the team lead in this category.

But in his next at bat, in the sixth inning, with the Phillies up one, he did something he shouldn’t have.

J.T. Realmuto led off the inning with a double. Harper, who is easily the Phillies best hitter, followed this up by bunting down the first base line to advance Realmuto to third base.

Harper later explained it was a good fundamental decision to try and tack on an insurance run. And while I admit that for a fleeting moment I thought about it as he was approaching the plate, my thought was sonly if they were shifting and giving him the whole left side. But, the Marlins didn’t do that, so Harper should have swung away. He didn’t. The next two hitters, Andrew McCutchen and Didi Gregorius both grounded out and Realmuto was stranded on third.

When asked after the game if Harper bunted on his own, Girardi said that yes, he did. When asked what he thought of the decision, Girardi said, “No comment.”

Exactly. Harper has to be swinging there. It almost ended up costing the Phillies the game. Fortunately for them, it didn’t.

Odubel Comes Through

It had been a rough series for Odubel Herrera prior to his at bat in the 10th inning. He was 0-for-9 in the series against the Marlins and seemed to be a bit impatient at the plate.

Here he was facing Dylan Floro, who is much tougher against righties traditionally than lefties, but Floro struck out Herrera to end the game Saturday. Herrera was able to get retribution Sunday with a hard single to right field that scored Galvis, who earlier hit a two-run homer for the Phils, with the game-winning run.

The TV broadcasters, both in-game and in post-game analysis, insisted Galvis, who still can’t run at 100 percent with his quad injury, wasn’t planning on coming home until Jesus Sanchez botched fielding the ball in right, but replays clearly show Galvis never slowed down coming around third. Might there have been a play at the plate if Sanchez didn’t butcher it? Yes. But, Galvis was coming either way.

Herrera has been up and down for the Phillies all year, but, considering what the Phillies have had to endure with starting eight different guys in centerfield over the course of this season, to get .261/.316/.747 with 12 homers and 43 RBI out of Herrera in nearly 400 plate appearances this season has been beneficial to the Phillies.

Since August 1, he has played 28 games and has slashed .330/.389/.966 – and that includes the 0-for-9 in Miami prior to the game-winning hit.

His OPS+ for the season is 103, which is slightly better than the average of all hitters in baseball and according to Baseball-Reference.com’s WAR measurement, he has been worth 2.0 wins above replacement, which is tied for seventh-best on the team among all players and is behind only Harper, Jean Segura and Realmuto among position players.

You don’t have to root for Herrera after his off-field transgressions, but he has had a positive impact on the Phillies this season.

What’s Next?

The Phillies head to Milwaukee for a big three-game series starting Monday afternoon with a great pitching matchup of Zack Wheler and Brandon Woodruff. The Phillies likely have to find a way to take 2-of-3 against the Brewers because the teams they are chasing have some easier games coming.

The Braves, who are off Monday, start a three-game set with the lowly Nationals on Tuesday. All of the sudden, people are saying “watch out for the Mets” because they’re hitting now, but really, the Mets still stink and they have a brutal schedule upcoming. After a final game with Washington Monday, they head to Miami for three games before having six of their final series be against teams with winning records and either in a playoff spot or battling for one.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the wild card, the Padres are also off Monday, have a two game series at home against the Los Angeles Angels and then conclude with the most brutal schedule of any team in baseball – a 10 game road trip to face the Dodgers, the Giants and Cardinals, a seven game home stand against the Giants and Braves and then six more on the road against the Dodgers and Giants.

Also on Monday, the Reds start a three-game series in Chicago against the Cubs while the Cardinals start a four-game series at home against the Dodgers.

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