In the biggest series of their season, the Phillies came up small.
They lost five of seven games to the Miami Marlins, a gutsy team that has debuted 18 rookies this season and shown a ton of character after enduring an outbreak of COVID-19 in July.
The Phillies barely put up a fight in losing Monday’s series finale, 6-2.
The Phils went to Miami three games over .500 and in second place in the NL East.
They come home right at .500 and in third place in the division with 14 games to play.
The Phils trail the second-place Marlins by 1 1/2 games and they’re only 2 ½ up on the fourth-place New York Mets, who aren't dead yet and come to Philadelphia for three games beginning Tuesday night.
Even at .500, the Phillies still have a playoff spot in their grasp with 14 games to play.
But the grasp is not strong, not with recent injuries to key players and not with the downward spiral that occurred over the last few days in Miami.
The Phillies lost the final three games of the series by a combined score of 16-4.
The Phils had a total of just 11 hits in those three games.
“It’s always frustrating when you don’t score runs,” manager Joe Girardi said. “I think it would be inhuman not to be frustrated, but obviously we’re still in a sense in control of our own destiny to get to the playoffs. And our guys can’t forget that. We won’t forget that. We’ve been here before where we haven’t played so well and we bounced back and played really well and that’s what we need to do.
“This happens all the time. This is the life we live. This roller coaster in this game of baseball. You have good streaks and you have bad streaks and you have to limit the length of your bad streaks. We have to find a way to go out and win a game tomorrow. It’s not going to get any easier, but that’s baseball. This is what it is. That’s why this game can be so frustrating sometimes. Because you get in these roller coasters, but we’ve bounced back before and we need to do it again.”
The Phillies have bounced back before but that was with a relatively healthy team. During their five days in Miami, the Phillies lost Rhys Hoskins and Spencer Howard to the injured list and catcher J.T. Realmuto and Zack Wheeler are both banged-up. The Phillies hope those two will be able to compete in the series against the Mets, but nothing is certain. Even if Realmuto and Wheeler are able to get on the field in the coming days, it’s fair to wonder how effective they’ll be.
Realmuto is optimistic.
“To be honest, I’m pretty confident right now that we’re going to be just fine,” he said. “I know it was a pretty tough series here in Miami for us but I’m confident that when we get back home, we’ll get back going in the right direction. We just have to get back on the field, get healthy. I know it sounds repetitive, but we just have to play better. That's what it comes down to. No matter who is on the field, guys have to step up and we have to win games. Right now, we’re in a playoff spot and we really haven’t played very well. We just need to play better. That’s what it comes down to.”
Without Hoskins and Realmuto in the batting order, the Phillies needed a good start from Vince Velasquez on Monday. They didn’t get one. The Marlins, meanwhile, got a very good one from Pablo Lopez. The right-hander held the Phils to three hits and a run over seven innings. He walked none and struck out six.
“He was ahead in the count the whole day on us,” Girardi said of Lopez.
If the Phillies miss the playoffs – and that would be an ignominious feat considering their payroll (over $200 million) and the fact that eight teams from each league qualify – they will look back at this series in Miami as the time when it all started to fall apart.
The Marlins won the season series, 7-3, and put a crimp in the Phillies’ playoff chances while helping their own.
Last year, the Marlins prevented the Phillies from having a winning season. Miami lost 105 games in 2019 but went 10-9 against the Phils. Every other team in the division except the Phils cleaned up on the Marlins.
This year, the Marlins are much improved but they’re still giving the Phillies problems.
“They’re just scrappy,” Realmuto said. “They put together really good at-bats. They pitch really well and for whatever reason, we haven’t been able to crack that code. Their starters have thrown the ball great against us and we haven’t thrown the ball as well against them. They kind of put it to us the last couple games and they’ve done that the last couple years to be honest. I don’t know what it is but before we play them next year or play them in the playoffs we better figure it out.”