Storylines to Watch in Final Stretch of Phillies Season

Screenshot 2020-09-07 at 10.03.49
Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

Just under two weeks and 15 games have passed since our midway review of the 2020 Phillies season. The Phillies have gone 8-7 in that stretch with a record of 23-22. Following Sunday’s doubleheader sweep by Miami, the Marlins have claimed second place with a half-game lead over the Phillies at 23-21.

Rather than looking back at the mediocrity that was these past 15 games, today we will look ahead at the important storylines over the final 15 games. But first, we look at where the Phillies stand right now.

The Standings

TeamW-LPct.GBNL EastAL East
Atlanta Braves28-19.59619-149-5
Miami Marlins23-21.5233.516-147-7
Philadelphia Phillies23-22.5114.019-134-9
New York Mets21-26.4477.013-178-9
Washington Nationals17-28.37810.09-188-10

With 13 games remaining in their schedule, the Atlanta Braves are sitting comfortably in first place in the NL East. The Marlins, meanwhile, have seemingly slipped into the inside lane in the race for second place. Monday’s season-series finale may be the most important game of the season for both teams. If the Marlins win, they will own a one and a half game lead and essentially control their own destiny for a playoff berth. If the Phillies win, they will control their own destiny. Following tomorrow’s game, both teams have seven of their final 14-15 games against teams with winning records, so expect a tight race to the end for playoff seeding.

Final Quarter Headlines

Alec Bohm = Rookie of the Year?

The 24-year old third baseman has made a name for himself since his debut on August 13th. Bohm has notched 35 hits in his first 106 career AB’s for a .330 average and an .881 OPS. He has done so batting well against lefties and righties with respective averages of .296 and .342 against them.

Looking deeper, we see that Bohm has a hard hit percentage of 48.8%. That’s within the top eight percent of the league, demonstrating that Bohm is getting the barrel onto the ball just as much as some of the best bats in the game. Look for Bohm to continue this trend in the final 15 games, and except some homers (or, Bohmers) along the way.

Depending on how he finishes the season, he should draw considerable attention for Rookie of the Year. He would be the Phillies’ first since Ryan Howard in 2005, and would join teammate Bryce Harper, who won the award in 2012. Bohm will have some tough competition for the title, however, including former Phillies’ prospect Sixto Sanchez, the Padres’ Jake Cronenworth, and the Dodgers’ Dustin May.

The Injury Bug

The Phillies have gotten off decently well with injuries this season. Then, everything changed during the Marlins’ series. First, Zack Wheeler damaged a fingernail on his pitching hand. Yup, 2020. While not severe currently, if Wheeler lost the fingernail, he would be done for the season. The Phillies are being cautious. The hope is for Wheeler to pitch during the Phillies’ midweek series with the Mets.

Then, in the fourth inning of his start on Saturday, Spencer Howard was removed due to shoulder stiffness. Howard has had shoulder issues in the past, and was placed on the Injured List on Sunday due to the injury. With only 14 days left in the regular season, Howard may only have one start remaining in his underwhelming rookie campaign.

Also during yesterday’s game, first baseman Rhys Hoskins injured his left forearm. Hoskins did not start either game on Sunday and is set to undergo an MRI on Monday to evaluate the severity of the injury.

Also having an MRI on Monday is catcher J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto left the game Saturday night with hip discomfort, forcing Andrew Knapp to catch both halves of Sunday’s double-header. Catching prospect Rafael Marchan has been called up to carry some of the burden over the next few days. If the injury is serious enough to warrant a lengthy IL stint, the contract-less Realmuto may have played his last game in Phillies pinstripes. But more on that later.

Starting Pitcher Shuffle

The Phillies’ starting pitching core was a strength for a majority of the season, carrying a respectable ERA around 3.90 for a stretch. Now, Phillies starters own a combined 5.28 ERA, and the Phillies are down two starters. Only Aaron Nola, Jake Arrieta, and Zach Eflin remain following Howard and Wheeler’s injuries. While Wheeler will return this week, this has left the Phillies to scramble in the most pivotal week of the year. Vince Velasquez will pitch tomorrow while the Phillies have had two bullpen games during the past two double-headers against Miami.

Unfortunately, there isn’t another starting pitcher on the roster. The Phillies didn’t trade for one at the trade deadline, opting rather to trade Nick Pivetta to Boston for Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree.

Bullpen Blues

Speaking of Workman and Hembree, no one thought they would be a messiah-type figure that would save this bullpen from themselves. Fans thought they would at least help. Workman, Hembree, David Hale, and David Phelps have been more of the same in a Phillies’ bullpen designed to pitch against high schoolers.

The bullpen’s ERA stands at 7.29 on the season, which will rank among the worst in MLB history at the end of the season. However, perhaps the ‘pen has a redemption tour up it’s sleeve.

The Common Denominator

What is the common denominator in Realmuto’s contract, the starting rotation, and the bullpen? General Manager Matt Klentak. Brought on as the GM following the 2015 season, Klentak has drawn the ire of many Phillies fans over the years with his managing style (or lack thereof.) We all know John Middleton signed Bryce Harper, not Klentak. Also, Klentak has signed some bad contracts for the Phillies, including David Robertson and Jake Arrieta.

When Gabe Kapler was fired last year, many fans thought Klentak should have went as well. Now, a year later, Klentak does not have a manager to hide behind. Joe Girardi is as competent a manager as any and has tried playing chess this season with an incomplete set of pieces. When the trade deadline came, Klentak made small moves for relievers that have made little positive impact. At least the Phillies don’t have to pay the luxury tax.

To be fair, Phillies’ owner John Middleton has a share of the blame here as well. The man who wants to be the Philadelphia version of George Steinbrenner cannot make a “stupid money” comment and then not go all-in on his team. If he wants to win, it’s time to open up the checkbook.

Even so, general managers have to put the best team possible on the field within their limits. Not only has Klentak not done that, but he has hurt the team as well. When Ruben Amaro Jr. traded away the Phillies’ future to bolster their playoff chances in 2009-11, he did so with a purpose: to put the best team on the field. There has yet to be a trade Klentak has made that has put the Phillies into a definitively better place. Maybe if he signed J.T. Realmuto to a long-term deal, that trade could be ruled a successful one. But considering how Sixto Sanchez is pitching like an ace, I would still rule that trade a failure.

If Klentak wants to keep his job, expect talks with Realmuto, Bohm, and potentially Didi Gregorious for contract extensions. If not, hopefully expect news of Klentak emptying out his office, because the Phillies need a new franchise leader.

The Phillies should be a playoff team this year, but as we move into the final 15 games, it’s hard to look forward to the playoffs when this team should be so much better than it currently is.

Mandatory Credit – Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire