In order to reach the 2020 Major League Baseball postseason the Philadelphia Phillies are likely going to have to win at least two of three games on this final weekend in Tampa Bay against the host Rays. It would be preferable for the team to sweep all three games in the series, a tall order against one of the best teams in baseball.
Manager Joe Girardi will send his two best starting pitchers to the mound for the final two games in the series, with Zack Wheeler scheduled to go on Saturday night and Aaron Nola in Sunday’s series and regular season finale.
Rays skipper Kevin Cash has not listed a starter for either of those final two games. He certainly wants to setup his own rotation for the playoffs and would like to line up his three best starters in Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, and Morton for the series that opens on Tuesday. He is likely to send Ryan Yarbrough out for Saturday’s start against the Phillies and then opt for a bullpen game on Sunday.
Before moving on to those final two days, the Phillies will open this pivotal series with the Rays on Friday night by sending Vince Velasquez to the mound. The right-hander carries a 1-1 record into what will be the most important start of his five-year Phillies career.
Velasquez has made three starts here in September and has mostly looked good. He has allowed 16 hits over 14.2 innings with a 20/4 K:BB ratio, allowing just one home run during the three outings. His old bugaboo, high pitch counts, remain a problem and keep him from pitching deep into games. The Phillies are likely to need at least three innings from their bullpen tonight.
Taking the mound for manager Kevin Cash and the Rays will be 36-year-old, 13-year veteran right-hander Charlie Morton. One of those 13 years – 2016 – was spent in a Phillies uniform. Unfortunately, we never really go to know him. Morton made just four starts before he was lost for the season to a torn hamstring suffered while running to first base.
Morton was on just a one-year deal, and the Phillies opted not to make any attempt to sign him when he reached free agency after that season. Instead, he signed a two-year deal with the Houston Astros and became one of their most important pitchers as Houston won the 2017 World Series and another AL pennant in 2018. In fact, Morton was on the mound in relief to close out that 2017 Fall Classic victory, the first in Astros franchise history.
After winning 29 games for Houston over those two seasons, the second of which saw him become an All-Star for the first time, Morton signed a two-year deal with the Rays. Last season he won a career-high 16 games and was an AL All-Star for a second straight year.
So, after leaving Philadelphia following that 2016 campaign, Morton went 45-16 with a 3.24 ERA and 1.141 WHIP, striking out 604 batters over 508.1 innings across 88 starts over the 2017-19 seasons with Houston and Tampa Bay.
This year with Tampa, Morton has gone 2-2 with a 4.64 ERA and a 34/9 K:BB ratio over 33 innings pitched. He doesn’t go deep any more, pitching into the sixth inning only once among his eight starts. But Morton has given the Rays at least five solid innings in half of his outings.
Suffering from discomfort in his right pitching shoulder, Morton left a start against the Yankees on August 9th after just two innings. He went on the Injured List the following day and missed over three weeks before returning on September 2nd.
In his most recent start on September 19 at Baltimore, Morton produced one of his best outings of the season. He allowed just one run while scattering five hits across five frames while striking out six and walking two in earning the victory.
Tonight’s game is pivotal for the Phillies. Lose, and their backs are firmly to the postseason wall. They would need to win the last two and hope for a lot of help in order to reach the playoffs.
Win, and depending on the outcome of other games around the MLB schedule, the Phillies could find themselves in control of their own 2020 destiny. Former Phillies pitcher Morton is the first obstacle standing in their way of that goal.