After Wednesday night’s 12-3 Phillies win over the Nationals, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury asked Joe Girardi about the postseason and whether it would be a shame not to make it, especially if the Game 1 starter would be Zach Eflin, who had his second straight dominant start.
“Jim, if you have to start, let’s make [the playoffs],” Girardi said. “I don’t really care who has to start. If I need to use you, I’ll use you.”
If Girardi truly doesn’t worry about who his Game 1 starter will be, he needs to treat the final three games of the season against the Rays as a playoff series.
Right now, the Phillies are a half-game behind the Marlins for second place and an automatic spot in the postseason. They are one game behind the Giants and Reds, who hold the two Wild Card spots. If they sweep Tampa this weekend, they stand a good chance of playing in the postseason.
If the Phillies treat these final three as must-win games, they should arrange their starting rotation to maximize the chance they will win all three. Currently, Vince Velasquez is slated to pitch Friday’s series opener, Zack Wheeler on Saturday, Aaron Nola on Sunday.
Take a seat, Vince. If we need you, we’ll call you.
Moving up Wheeler, Nola, and Eflin a day from their scheduled day to start isn’t revolutionary. But in this day and age, it’s rare. In fact, these three pitchers have made 357 career starts combined. None of them has come on three days’ rest.
There is another factor in play here. MLB will not play any “play-in” games this season. If the Phillies do make the postseason, Game 1 of a potential first-round series won’t be until next Wednesday. That means Wheeler, Nola and Eflin (if necessary) would start the three games of the first-round series on regular rest.
Also, starting the Phillies’ top three pitchers means they will likely go deeper into games and lean less heavily on the much-maligned bullpen than in, say, your garden variety Velasquez start. It would also mean that, if necessary, Velasquez could be an extra arm out of that bullpen.
This weekend, for the Phillies, the scenario is likely “Win and you’re in.” Their chances are better if they line up their horses to do so.
As for the venerable Mr. Salisbury, stay loose, Jimmy. You may get a call from the skipper yet.