Phillies must improve in 7-inning doubleheaders

Alec Bohm #28 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Alec Bohm #28 of the Philadelphia Phillies (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

The Philadelphia Phillies will play a pair of seven-inning doubleheaders against the New York Mets on Tuesday, as a result of Monday night’s series opener rainout.

The Joe Girardi-led squad will look to keep the momentum going after Alec Bohm‘s controversial slide — and home runs from Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, and Didi Gregorius — powered them to victory in nationally televised action against the Atlanta Braves on Sunday.

The shortened makeup games were first introduced during the pandemic-shortened season in 2020. Roughly 12 percent of last year’s games were played in seven-inning doubleheaders, and they are here to stay for at least one more season.

The Phillies did not fare well in such twin bills in their first year under Girardi. Scheduling difficulties forced them to play more than one-quarter (26%) of their 60 game schedule in this format. The Phillies were swept four times and finished 5-11 overall.

They will need better results in 2021, with any hopes of making the postseason.

Endless bullpen failures

Although the thought of a shortened game initially appeared to favor a team whose bullpen was a major question, the seven-inning doubleheaders exposed the team’s lack of pitching depth.

The trouble began in the second game of the first doubleheader against the New York Yankees on August 5, when Tommy Hunter allowed two runs to break a seventh-inning tie in a 3-1 loss. It was an early indicator of the Phillies’ late-game struggles that ultimately prevented them from reaching the postseason.

The Phillies were forced to use only bullpen pitchers on three occasions in seven-inning doubleheader games. Vince Velasquez was also forced into an expanded role out of necessity, due to the condensed schedule.

Backbreaking losses

The Phillies were swept in doubleheaders by the Atlanta Braves on August 9, the Miami Marlins on September 13, and the Washington Nationals on September 22. The six division losses accounted for 10 percent of their schedule during a season in which the importance of divisional play was maximized.

The most demoralizing doubleheader sweep, however, came on August 20 in Buffalo, New York — at the temporary home of the Toronto Blue Jays. In the first game, the Phillies got out to a 2-0 lead, but lost one of their only bullpen bright spots when reliever Jose Alvarez suffered a gruesome injury that ultimately ended his season. Hunter and Deolis Guerra then surrendered the Phillies lead in the eventual 3-2 loss.

In Game 2, the Phillies jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, and held a 7-2 cushion entering the sixth. The Blue Jays rallied for seven runs and defeated the Phillies 9-8 in an embarrassing bullpen meltdown. For a team that was just win one shy of the postseason, this loss still stings today.

The hope for Spencer Howard

Top Phillies prospect Spencer Howard was underwhelming in limited rookie action in 2020, finishing 1-2 with a 5.92 ERA in six starts. He started two seven-inning doubleheader games as part of the team’s plan to limit his workload. The Phillies lost both games, and Howard did not complete five innings of work in either start.

Now 24, Howard hopes to improve his numbers in 2021. Although, he is not currently on the active roster. He figures to be used in a “tricky formula” this season — including some long relief appearances.

Howard could provide value in seven-inning doubleheaders. His development could mean better success for the Phillies in the second year of the MLB’s new seven-inning doubleheader format.

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