Despite a week-long delay just three days into it, the Philadelphia Phillies are now two weeks into a COVID-shortened 2020 season. After battling two strong ball clubs, the New York Yankees and Atlanta Braves, to four-game splits over this past week, the Phillies sit just a game under the .500 mark with a 5-6 record.
It’s an inauspicious beginning, to be sure. But it may not take much to win the National League East Division, depending on how many games actually get played. Virus outbreaks involving the Miami Marlins and Saint Louis Cardinals have already affected the schedule. With all the teams of Major League Baseball essentially playing tournament ball, one more COVID-19 outbreak and delay could prove devastating to the game.
For the Phillies, one serious injury to a starting player could ruin the chances for even a National League wildcard playoff berth, even in a season where eight teams make it rather than the usual five.
It certainly makes sense that new manager Joe Girardi wants to give the players some time off, even if they don’t want it. You would think a pitcher could easily complete a seven inning game if he was throwing well, but it is more important to preserve those arms for their next start. It truly will be a test of the bench players and bullpens for each team to continue to be competitive.
The Phillies bullpen remains shaky, to put it mildly. Tommy Hunter has held opponents scoreless in three of his four appearances. Jose Alvarez has three scoreless appearances under his belt. Hector Neris has a pair of saves and has yet to be scored upon in the early going.
The rest of the pen group not only makes me nervous, it needs let out to pasture. You know things are bad when 24-year-old rookie Ramon Rosso and his 5.40 ERA actually appears somewhat effective when compared to the rest: Adam Morgan (10.80), Austin Davis (16.88), Cole Irvin (18.00), Trevor Kelley (10.80), Deolis Guerra (11.25), and Nick Pivetta (15.88) have ERA’s that are beyond unacceptable.
As a group, those last half-dozen relievers mentioned above have allowed 39 hits and 30 earned runs over 19.1 innings pitched. They are throwing strikes – the bullpen as a whole walking just nine opposition batters over 31 innings. But those six mentioned above are getting hit hard.
The Phillies bats are starting to come around. I won’t bother preaching about J.T. Realmuto, who has been clearly the best player on the team to this point. Even the cardboard cutouts are screaming to re-sign him. Bryce Harper, Didi Gregorius, and Jay Bruce have all been productive. I wish I could be there to see Gregorius in person. His three home runs and eight RBIs are tied with Harper for second on the club behind Realmuto, and we may not get to see the pending free agent next year at all.
I’ve been impressed with Phil Gosselin. He is fun to watch and has a .471/.571/.941 slash line with two homers and six RBIs on the year as a part-timer. While I do not like the Designated Hitter in the National League, both Gosselin and Bruce are certainly getting chances because of it and adding production to the Phillies lineup. Gosselin and Bruce haven’t been bad when used in the field, either.
The slow starters are frustrating. If Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery don’t begin to contribute, it will be very hard to compete for that postseason berth, or to get very far even should the Phillies make it. At least Hoskins, with a strong .435 on-base percentage, is getting on base with walks.
Kingery is not. Whether his body is still recovering from battling the coronavirus or he is simply having a bad start, he probably shouldn’t be playing right now. In a shortened season there simply isn’t a lot of time for excuses. Perhaps we are nearing the time to bring up Alex Bohm and shift Jean Segura back to second base. Of course, Segura isn’t hitting much, either. But decisions need to be made sooner than later here.
Zack Wheeler has been amazing. Now that Aaron Nola seems to have returned to his 2018 form, the Phillies have a powerful 1-2 combination in the starting rotation. I was extremely happy with Jake Arrieta‘s outing yesterday as well. He has pitched well over the first two months of each of his Phillies seasons, and doing so again would be a major shot in the arm.
I believe that Zach Eflin will continue to prove himself as a confident starter. He is scheduled to follow Wheeler, getting his second start of the season in Wednesday’s second game of the Phillies series with the Baltimore Orioles.
Spencer Howard finally got his chance and delivered an uneven performance during Sunday’s doubleheader. But the 24-year-old right-hander showed glimpses of why as the club’s top pitching prospect he has been so hyped. Vince Velasquez is sinking deeper by the minute…time may be running out on him as a viable starting pitcher. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see Howard replace Velasquez permanently in the Phillies rotation before long.
It sure feels good to talk about Philadelphia Phillies baseball games in the present tense. I will be watching every game on television the rest of the way. The Orioles are a somewhat surprising 7-7 and have won two straight. They’ll be at Citizens Bank Park for a three-game set starting tonight, and I’ll be watching as the Phillies try to get back to that .500 mark themselves.