The Philadelphia Phillies have battled through this weird and wild COVID-affected 2020 MLB regular season for two months. Thanks to a late-August, early-September hot streak, the club has put themselves into a playoff position and remains in contention for an NL East crown.
While there are three weeks remaining in the schedule, the Phillies ultimate 2020 fate could very well come down to how the club performs this week. There are ten games scheduled over the next week. They conclude a series in New York against the Mets today, and face the Boston Red Sox in a doubleheader on Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park.
Following an off-day on Wednesday the Phillies will travel down to south Florida to take on the surprising Miami Marlins, a team that has been particularly tough on them, in what will be a seven-game series lasting from Thursday through next Monday. That series will feature doubleheaders on both Friday and Sunday.
The obvious challenge during this stretch will be the starting pitching assignments. Zack Wheeler goes on Monday and Saturday. The Tuesday doubleheader in Boston will see Vince Velasquez return to the rotation, and he would then line up to go again in one of the Sunday doubleheader games. Zach Eflin will get the other starts on Tuesday-Sunday. Jake Arrieta is likely to open the Miami series on Thursday. Aaron Nola and Spencer Howard would then likely start in Friday’s two games.
Assuming all of that breaks as I listed, the Phillies would need to find a starter for Saturday’s game against the Fish. That one could go to someone like Cole Irvin, with the bullpen ready to go early should he get into trouble. With so many games in such a short time period, solid performances from the starting pitchers will be crucial to not only helping the Phillies win, but also in preserving their best bullpen arms.
Manager Joe Girardi will not only be challenged this week by his pitching decisions. The depth and flexibility that has helped the Phillies get to this point is now going to be severely challenged. That situation comes thanks to injuries suffered by outfielders Jay Bruce and Roman Quinn, both of whom will miss the entire week. Combined with Scott Kingery remaining out with a bad back and Adam Haseley‘s mediocre play, the Phillies outfield depth is in shambles.
Andrew McCutchen, who the club would like to be resting a bit at this point, is going to have to start every day in left field. Bryce Harper is going to see some time in center field, where Girardi has him starting today. And Kyle Garlick becomes a pivotal player. Brought back from the alternate site in Allentown, the 28-year-old will see plenty of action this week.
It is possible that Kingery could return in time for some, if not all, of the Miami series. But that is not guaranteed. What the Phillies really need is for Harper and catcher J.T. Realmuto, the club’s two best players, to break out of lengthy slumps. Those two getting hot again would help cover for a lot of the losses.
What would be a satisfactory result for the team this week as they sit at two games over the .500 mark and just a game behind front-running Atlanta in the loss column in the division race? If by the end of play a week from now they have gone 5-5, it might be considered a victory. That probably isn’t good enough to stay in the running for first place, but definitely would keep them in a postseason slot.
What the Phillies really need is to find a way to overcome the challenges and create a winning week. Take six of the 10 games – or more – and their playoff chances become much greater. Win seven of 10 and they almost surely remain squarely in the race for a division title.
Phillies fans know well that the club faded over each of the last two seasons after playing well for most of the year. Will the Phillies fade out of contention once again in September? Or does this group have something different? How they perform this week will go a long way in answering that question.