What about a four-inning doubleheader? Is that an option?
After two strong games in a row from the Phillies' bullpen, it took another fat L in Game 1 of Sunday's doubleheader against the Braves, allowing four runs in a five-run Atlanta fifth inning.
The loss doesn't fall on starter Vince Velasquez, even if Joe Girardi left him in a batter too long. This one, again, goes to the bullpen. Velasquez stayed in after four scoreless innings with six K's. He had thrown 75 pitches and there was bullpen activity as the fourth ended. But Girardi left him in to begin the fifth and he allowed a rocketed single on the first pitch he threw to begin the Braves' rally.
Deolis Guerra relieved Velasquez and quickly served up a two-run shot to Ronald Acuña Jr. that put Atlanta ahead for good in a 5-2 Phillies loss. The biggest hit in the inning was Adam Duvall's three-run double off of Adam Morgan.
In five appearances this season, Guerra has allowed five runs. The bullpen has a 7.48 ERA.
The Phils are 4-5, and now all eyes turn to top prospect Spencer Howard, who will be called up to make his MLB debut in Game 2 against the Braves. It begins 40 minutes after Game 1 ended.
The teams have split the first two games of this four-game series despite the Braves being held scoreless in 15 of 16 innings.
The Phillies entered Sunday with the second-best OPS in the majors, trailing only the Yankees. They also had the highest walk rate in MLB and the lowest strikeout rate.
If that doesn't seem right, it's because offense is down across the league. The league average batting average is about 20 points lower than it was last season. That can be attributed to infield shifts improving each year and hitters being rusty after such an unusual build-up to the regular season.
In Game 1 Sunday, the Phils had only one hit through the first four innings, a single from Neil Walker. Roman Quinn added a double in the fifth and Andrew McCutchen singled in the seventh. Those were the only three hits. Their two runs scored on an RBI groundout and a sac fly.
J.T. Realmuto, Scott Kingery and McCutchen were out of the Game 1 lineup. McCutchen entered for Adam Haseley once the Braves made a pitching change.
Realmuto will be behind the plate in Game 2 to catch Howard, and Kingery will likely be back at second base. Kingery has had a dismal start to the season — he's 2 for 28.
Almost enough from Vinny
Velasquez extended the Phillies' streak to 13 innings of shutout baseball against the Braves to begin this weekend's series before the Braves broke out in the fifth. That is the only inning the Braves have scored out of 16 in the series.
Though he went only four innings, the Phillies will take it. Any time he keeps them in the game, they'll take it. Plus, going four in a seven-inning doubleheader is akin to going closer to six in a nine-inning game.
Whether or not he'd admit it, Velasquez likely feels the pressure from Howard. The thing is, the Phillies still have five more doubleheaders this season. When cycling through the rotation, they'll need six starters almost as much as they'll need five starters the rest of the way.
Through two starts, Velasquez has allowed five runs in seven innings with 10 K's.