Buckle up Phillies fans, because the season defining moment is here!
Rain in the Philadelphia-region Monday morning comes on the heels of a disappointing 2-4 west coast road trip for the Phillies. Perhaps even more disheartening, the team dropped two of three to the lowly San Diego Padres with Zach Eflin, Aaron Nola, and Jake Arrieta all taking the hill.
What’s next? A two-game date with the 85-35 Boston Red Sox, who have won 9 of their last 10, 37-13 in their last 50, and on pace to win 115 games. Philadelphia is scheduled to face Rick Porcello (14-5, 4.17 ERA) and Nathan Eovaldi (5-4, 3.74 ERA; 2-0, 2.04 ERA with BOS).
For Philadelphia? It may have been easier last time around on the road against the Sox because they had Nola and Arrieta there to carry them at all costs. This time, they will have to face Boston with Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez, who are just about as consistent as a weather forecast.
It is entirely possible that these two games will be the toughest of the year and have the potential to define the rest of the year for Philadelphia. The team sits in a tie for first place in the National League East with the Atlanta Braves, who have two games in hand and will begin a four-game series with the Miami Marlins today with a doubleheader.
Perhaps this is why Gabe Kapler wants the extra bat on the bench after sending Eflin down to AAA. Justin Bour’s presence as a pinch hitter will be extremely important in the late innings if Kapler decides that five solid innings from his starter are enough against a lineup that features a team run differential of +213 and two of the league’s three top OPS hitters in Mookie Betts and JD Martinez.
Every single advantage, hitting, pitching, and fielding, needs to be taken in every plate appearance this series.
Hopefully, the offense shows up and the home-effect has its way. Philly hitters have combined for a .738 OPS at Citizens Bank Park, with an opponent’s OPS of .671. On the road, that Phillies OPS takes a dip to .684.
It may also help that the offense will not have to face Chris Sale, David Price, and Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston’s top three starters. But they should not take anyone lightly. That’s a recipe for disaster.
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Has must-win been more prevalent now than ever for this team?
Forget data and sabermetrics for a moment, could you imagine what the emotional impact of winning one or both games? The confidence boost could be transforming. It could propel the Phillies to a red-hot finish of the 2018 season and give them a division crown for the first time in seven years, knowing that they can beat any team in baseball.
Get swept in the two games? Perhaps the Braves win all four games against the Marlins, and now the Phillies find themselves three games out in the division by the time Wednesday is all said and done. Not to mention, the three teams all within two and a half games of the wild card spots will be thirsty for blood as well.
Facing the Red Sox on the road two weeks ago and splitting the two games was huge. But now, it gets even bigger. Pivetta and Velasquez will have the opportunity to show the national stage who they really are.
Bring snacks, because I don’t want to miss a single second of episodes 118 and 119 of the Phillies 2018 season.