Think of the worst way you could imagine the Phillies opening a crucial seven-game series against the team right on their heels in the final weeks of the season and you’d probably still come up short describing the horror that was this one.
The Phillies suffered their latest worst defeat of the season Thursday night when they blew a three-run lead in the eighth inning on their way to a demoralizing 7-6 loss to the Miami Marlins.
The Marlins won it in the ninth on a two-out hit by Jorge Alfaro off Brandon Workman.
An inning earlier, Workman gave up a game-tying three-run double to Starling Marte after he’d inherited a bases-loaded mess from Tommy Hunter.
The four runs allowed by Hunter and Workman jacked up the bullpen’s season ERA to 7.21. That’s the worst in baseball. Over the last six games, the bullpen has allowed an obscene 23 earned runs. The Phillies have lost four of those games.
It’s getting difficult for fans to believe this team can get to the postseason for the first time since 2011 with this bullpen. And even if the Phils get to the postseason, it’s difficult to see them lasting long with this bullpen.
“We have to give (fans) a reason to believe,” said catcher J.T. Realmuto, who huddled with manager Joe Girardi in the dugout for several moments after the disturbing walk-off loss.
“So far, we just haven’t gotten the job done, that’s plain and simple. We’ve got to make some adjustments back there and maybe attack guys differently. Maybe I can call pitches differently. We’ve got to do something different. The talent is there. I would hang our hat on that for now and let us earn their trust back.”
The bullpen was supposed to be fixed with the acquisitions of Workman, Heath Hembree, David Hale and David Phelps before the trade deadline. Workman, Hembree and Phelps have all struggled.
There are 20 games left in the season. No one else is walking through that door.
“These are the guys that we have,” Girardi said. “And they got to find a way to get it done.”
Girardi sounded a little exasperated after the game. Losing three-run leads in the eighth inning in the first game of an important series will do that to you.
“It’s frustrating for all of us,” he said. “But you know, the one thing this team has always done is it’s bounced back,” he said. “We’ve gone through this a couple times this year and now they’ve got to do it again.”
Workman has been an adventure since joining the Phils and being placed in the closer’s role. Girardi was asked if he’d consider using someone else to close.
“We’ll continue to evaluate,” he said.
The loss stung because the Phillies were so close to opening a crucial seven-game series with a win against a team they’re trying to hold off in the NL East playoff race. With the loss, the second-place Phillies fell to 21-19 and lost a game in the standings to first-place Atlanta. The Phils are now three back. But the real concern is down below, where the third-place Marlins are just a half-game behind the Phils.
“It’s pretty tough,” Realmuto said of the loss. “Having a three-run lead late in the game like that in a big series, a series as big as this one is, it’s tough to swallow that one. The good thing is we have two games tomorrow, so we’ll look forward to hopefully sweeping a doubleheader and getting back on the right foot. But as far as tonight goes, it’s a pretty tough pill to swallow.”
It’s not necessarily a good thing that the Phillies have a doubleheader Friday. (They have another one Sunday against the Marlins.) The Phils will use the bullpen to plug Game 2 of Friday night’s doubleheader and that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Aaron Nola will pitch the opener.
Adding to Girardi’s frustration Thursday night was a failed safety squeeze that he called for in the top of the eighth inning – the Phils could really have used that run – and a freak injury to Zack Wheeler. He won’t be able to make his scheduled start Saturday because he hurt the fingernail on the middle finger of his pitching hand while putting on his pants Wednesday.
“You can’t make this up,” Girardi said.
The Phils hope Wheeler can bounce back and pitch the series finale on Monday.
There are five games between now and then. Who knows where the Phils will be in the standings by then. Maybe they’ll right themselves. Maybe they won’t. All we know right now is they had a great chance to take the first game of a big series Thursday night and the bullpen threw it away.