The Phillies have no more wiggle room.
After an absolutely listless showing in a 6-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates Sunday in the final home game of the season, the Phillies find themselves in a precarious position.
They control their own destiny.
Yes, it’s true. With six games remaining in the season, the Phillies (81-75) are guaranteed to at least tie for the N.L. Division title by winning all six games and could win it outright with a teensy-weensy bit of help.
But, lose one game of the six, and the Phillies are at the mercy of the baseball gods if they want to end a 10-year drought without making the playoffs, the second-longest in the majors behind the Seattle Mariners.
So, the situation is not ideal, but all the Phillies wanted was a shot entering this final week of the season. It needs to be a week of perfection, something the Phillies have only had once all season.
It’s a lot to ask, but manager Joe Girardi welcomed it.
“We’ve got to win one game Tuesday,” he said. “That’s how you have to look at it. Take the day off, rest (Monday), guys can probably use the day off. Then you’ve got to win one game Tuesday. I think you get to the end of the year and you look for an opportunity to get to the playoffs, and that’s exactly what we have. We have an opportunity to get there, and that’s what we’re all looking forward to.
“It’s exciting. We have a shot.”
But the shot became a little more daunting Sunday.
In the span of 24 hours the Phillies went from feeling they had a chance to actually move past the Braves heading into the three game series with Atlanta to being 2 1/2 games back.
Everything that could go wrong for the Phillies did immediately following Ranger Suarez’s masterpiece on Saturday that pulled the Phillies to within a game of the Braves.
First, the San Diego Padres played some awful baseball and blew leads of 3-0, 7-3 and 8-7 against the Braves, including having the Braves down to their final strike, before coughing up the lead, and eventually the game, in extra innings.
That put the Braves lead right back at 1 1/2 games.
Then Sunday the Phillies simply messed the bed and the Padres once again offered no help, even though they overcame an early 3-0 Braves lead to tie it only to see their bullpen cough up another lead and then the Padres had base runners in the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth innings, and couldn’t score.
The worst was the ninth inning when they had bases loaded. A fly ball would have tied it. A single would have won it. But Braves closer Will Smith struck out Fernando Tatis, Trent Grisham and Ha-Seong Kim.
And just like that, the Phillies backs are up against the wall in the final week.
Now, you can’t control what other teams do, so even though it would have been nice for that underachieving mess of a baseball team in San Diego to just do a couple fundamental things right this weekend, the Phillies can’t rely on other teams. They have to only rely on themselves.
Which is why having their five-game winning streak snapped Sunday was a killer.
And while the offense didn’t hit, and that’s a problem since you can’t win when you don’t score, the bigger issues tended to be the bullpen and the catcher and their inability to get on the same page, or do simple things… like actually throw a pitch.
But before we get to that, let’s start with the decision to throw a rookie pitcher who had all but one game of experience above Double-A before Sunday.
Hans was supposed to Pump… You Up
Hans Crouse, the interesting third member acquired from the Texas Rangers at the deadline in exchange for pitcher Spencer Howard was called up Sunday to start a crucial game for the Phillies.
I call Crouse interesting because his minor league numbers to this point in his career have been on par, if not better, than Howard’s, making it curious that the Rangers would include him in the trade.
He’s a quirky guy with a funky delivery that often changes from pitch to pitch, but with his minor league success to this point, it makes him an intriguing prospect.
In his last minor league start, Crouse had thrown 85 pitches. So, he was stretched out, meaning Sunday didn’t necessarily have to be a bullpen game, if Crouse could keep the Phillies in the game.
Nevertheless, you know a rookie making his first big league start is going to aptly have the jitters.
You just don’t expect it to cost you as quickly a it did.
Because, here was the very first pitch he threw in the majors:
First. Pitch. Swingin'. pic.twitter.com/LBCxw0kQs5
— Pittsburgh Pirates (@Pirates) September 26, 2021
Yeah, not good.
Frankly, that was all the Pirates needed, but methinks the Phillies batters really gave up the ghost after the bullpen exploits – which we’ll get to, I promise.
But first, more on Crouse, oh and Tucker, who I talked to after the game and he was pretty funny.
“I’ll admit it – I was talking a lot of smack before the at bat,” Tucker said. “I don’t want to say what I said, but it was like, ‘We’re going to send your shit right into the stands.’ After I hit it, there was pandemonium on the bench. Guys were like ‘You told him you were going to do it and you did.’ Look, I wish good luck to that kid, but it was cool to rough him up early, today.”
Oh, it was Tucker’s first homer of the year too. So, there’s that.
“To be able to play the spoiler and suck the wind out of their sails because they are contention – you can feel it in the stadium – It’s cool to be on the other side of that,” Tucker said.
It would be the only run Crouse would allow, which makes you think that he rebounded nicely and pitched well. Except, that’s not true. He was in and out of trouble all three innings he pitched. He only allowed one more hit, but he did have four walks, and the Pirates did hit a few loud outs.
Not wanting to continue to throw him to the Wolves, Girardi got him out of the game with the score 1-0 and turned the ball over to Christopher Sanchez, who game the Phillies a couple decent innings of scoreless baseball.
Cam Bedrosian took over in the sixth inning, faced the minimum three batters, getting two outs and a walk, before Girardi lifted him to bring in Jose Alvarado to face Wilmer Difo, who leads the majors in pinch hits.
The good Alvarado struck out Difo to end the sixth. The problem is, with the bullpen depleted, Girardi had to rely on Alvarado for another inning, and that’s when things went horribly wrong.
It’s no secret that the scouting report on Alvarado is simple – dude throws really hard, jut has no effing clue where the ball is going.
That said, he had cut down on his wildness in September. Before the Pirates series, Alvarado had just one walk in his previous nine appearances.
He picked up a walk that didn’t cause any harm Friday, but Sunday was another story.
Here’s how Alvarado’s seventh inning went:
- Leadoff walk to Tucker.
- Balk Tucker to second base on a fake pickoff throw/
- Gets Yoshi Tsutsugo to ground out to third, Tucker stays at second.
- Intentional Walk of Bryan Reynolds (because a couple of lefties are coming up who don’t hit lefties).
- Wild pitch.
- Walk Colin Moran.
- Double to pinch-hitter Ke’Bryan Hayes that scores two (Moran is thrown out at the plate or the second out).
- Intentional walk of Kevin Newman.
- Gets Michael Perez to fly out to right field.
No one has been more painful to watch over the course of this Phillies season than Jose Alvarado. Just awful.
— Glen Macnow (@RealGlenMacnow) September 26, 2021
Now, one could argue that Girardi should have lifted Alvarado once Hayes was announced as a pinch hitter for Ben Gamel and gone to a right-handed reliever, but the bullpen was depleted. Hector Neris, who Girardi would usually go to in such a spot, was being saved as the closer because Ian Kennedy still wasn’t available after throwing a ton of pitches on Thursday and Friday, and Sam Coonrod, who would be the other possibility, was still unavailable with a thumb issue.
So, rather than go to an inexperienced reliever like Adonis Medina or Ramon Rosso, he stuck with Alvarado, for better or for worse.
It turns out it was for the worse, because the Phillies bullpen wasn’t done imploding.
In the eight inning, Medina came on to pitch, trying to keep the score within striking distance.
Here’s how his inning went:
- Surrendered a leadoff double to Hoy Park (who was hitting .184 at the time).
- Hit pinch hitter Anthony Alford.
- Passed ball by J.T. Realmuto.
- Walked Tucker.
- Gave up a two-run single to Tsutsugo (Harper nailed Tucker at second, throwing behind him).
- Get Reynolds to ground into a fielder’s choice.
- Struck out Mitch Keller, a pitcher serving as a pinch hitter.
And then there was Rosso in the ninth with this gem of a sequence of unfortunate events:
- Surrendered a single to Hayes.
- Passed ball by Realmuto, his second in as many innings.
- Wild pitch.
- Balks the run home.
So the Pirates scored a run after a leadoff single and no balls being put into play.
Jose Alvarado & Ramon Rosso: Third teammates this century to EACH throw a wild pitch and commit a balk in the same game. Others:
BOS Henry Owens & Alexi Ogando, Sep 8 2015 vs TOR
BOS Casey Fossum & Willie Banks, Oct 2 2001 at TB
— Doug Kern (@dakern74) September 26, 2021
History, baby. History!
Here’s all you need to know – Odubel Herrera was the only Philly to have multiple hits (two) and a hit that wasn’t a single (a hustle double, believe it or not) and he was pulled from the game as part of a double switch.
Beyond that, Segura, Harper and Realmuto each had one single and the rest of the lineup was 1-for-19 with seven strikeouts, four pop ups, and the lone hit being a bunt single by Didi Gregorius.
That’s as bad a showing as imaginable.
Here’s the thing. The Braves magic number to win the division is five. That means any combination of Braves wins and Phillies losses totaling five and Atlanta moves on and the Phillies go home.
That means, if the Braves win one against the Phillies, that magic number is reduced by two. Which is why the Phillies really can’t afford to lose any games to Atlanta.
Nevertheless, here are your scenarios:
- If the Phillies go 6-0, the Braves, who will have lost three already to the Phillies, would need to go 4-3 this week to force a one-game playoff in Philadelphia on Tuesday Oct. 5.
- If the Phillies go 5-1, and one of the losses is to the Braves, the Braves would only need to split their final four games to force the one game playoff and win 3-of-4 to take the division outright. If the Phillies lone loss this week is to the Marlins, the Braves would need to go 3-1 in their final four games to force a one game playoff, or sweep all four to win the division outright.
- If the Phillies go 4-2 and both losses are to the Braves, the Braves will need to win just one of their final four games to clinch the division out right. If only one of the two Phillies losses is to the Braves, The Braves would just need to split their final four games to win the division outright, but a 1-3 finish would force the one game playoff. If the Phillies only two losses are to the Marlins, the Braves would need to go 3-1 in the final four to win the division outright or split them to force a one-game playoff.
- If the Phillies go 3-3, it’s probably over, but… If they sweep the Braves and then get swept by the Marlins, the Braves would still have to split their final four games to win the division outright.
- If the Phillies go 2-4 or worse, see you in 2022.