Three Keys for Phillies’ Seven-Game Series in Miami

MLB: SEP 08 Red Sox at Phillies
PHILADELPHIA, PA – SEPTEMBER 08: Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Vince Velasquez (21) delivers a pitch during the game between the Boston Red Socks and the Philadelphia Phillies on September 8, 2020 at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The last time the Phillies played the Marlins, they went 1-2 against them before being forced to stop competition for over a week due to COVID-19. Now, it’s time for payback.

Since then, the Phillies have fought their way to a 21-18 record and sole possession of second place in the National League East. The Marlins, meanwhile, are but a step behind the Phillies with a 19-19 record following an embarrassing loss against the Braves on Wednesday.

Philadelphia is coming off one of their two remaining days off in the schedule, and have a grueling 18 games in 14 day-schedule ahead of them. Leading off that 18-game kick is a rare seven-game series in Miami. The victor of this series will almost certainly win second place in the NL East, and could even give the 25-18 Braves a run for first place.

Today, we’re going to take a look at three keys to a successful series for the Phillies against the meddlesome Marlins.

Back End of the Rotation

At this point in the season, we know we can rely on Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and even Zach Eflin to put up a consistent performance on the mound. Jake Arrieta and Spencer Howard, however, not so much.

Jake Arrieta

Jake Arrieta has earned the decision in each of his seven starts this season. He owns a 3-4 record with a 5.67 ERA on the season. In his three wins, Arrieta has pitched a combined 18.0 innings while allowing three runs 13 hits and three walks. In his four losses, Arrieta has allowed 18 runs in 15.1 IP. With Arrieta starting game one, he will set the tone for the Phillies’ series, and it is imperative that he sets a positive tone.

Spencer Howard

Rookie Spencer Howard was thrown into the fire this season. In a perfect, COVID-less world, Howard would have spent most of this year further developing in AAA Lehigh Valley. Instead, he is set to make his sixth start of the season, entering with a 5.66 ERA. Howard has yet to pitch a shutout performance and has been limited pitch count-wise throughout the season. He has only hit 90 pitches once so far, in a five-inning win versus the Nationals. Howard is scheduled to pitch game one of the first double-header of the series on Friday, so perhaps fewer innings may encourage Joe Girardi to let Howard loose.

Vince Velasquez/Ranger Suarez

With two double-headers in five days, the Phillies will require spot starts from Vince Velasquez and Ranger Suarez.

Vinny Velo will essentially be a double-header specialist. He pitched well in his start against the Red Sox on Tuesday, going 5.0 IP with two runs scored and nine strikeouts. He will most likely start during double-headers on 9/13, 9/18, and 9/22. If Velasquez can replicate that performance over those next three starts, the Phillies will have a chance to win each of those games.

Suarez is used best as a reliever but has made three starts over the course of his career. The Phillies will need the best out of him as he will likely start the second half of Friday’s double-header. Suarez did not impress in his first appearance of the year last Saturday, allowing two runs on two hits and two walks in 1.2 IP against the Mets. If the Phillies hope to win five of seven against the Marlins, it will be up to the Phillies’ backend starters to give the bullpen as much breathing room as possible over the course of the series. Especially since Marlins’ starting pitchers are the only rotation in the NL East with a better ERA than the Phillies.

The Bullpen

In lieu of being a broken record, I will only focus on the fact that the Phillies’ bullpen remains the worst in the league with a 7.24 ERA in spite of having traded for four relievers for this one sentence. Okay, done! Now, why is the bullpen key to this series? Firstly, seven games in five days will be difficult, even with four seven-inning games. The bullpen will be put to the test.

Fortunately, the Marlins’ offense is the worst one the Phillies will play in the regular season, so the Phillies may be able to execute on that and gain some confidence in the ‘pen.

Money isn’t talking for the Phillies

In the past 14 days, big money bats Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto have gone silent. Slumps are a real thing, and given their respective .146 and .200 batting averages over that stretch, I’d say this qualifies. The Phillies have gone 10-4 over that stretch and the offense has been rolling thanks to Rhys Hoskins, Jean Segura, and future Rookie of the Year Alec Bohm.

But the Phillies need Harper and Realmuto to produce if they are to succeed in the homestretch. Following the Marlins’ explosion of nuclear proportions last night against the Braves, it just might be time for the big buck bats to start ripping dingers again.

In summation, the Phillies have, despite slumps, defensive goofs, and, well, the bullpen, been really good lately. They are showing that they are a playoff team in that, even down 10-0, they are never out of a game. Even in the Game 2 loss against the Red Sox on Tuesday, the Phillies were in it right until the final batter.

The Marlins will be demoralized following last night’s loss. Now it’s up to the Phillies to keep it that way.

Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire