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Phils' playoff hopes dim after lead slips away

@ToddZolecki
September 26, 2020

The Phillies turned to Vince Velasquez on Friday night for the first game of their most important series since the 2011 National League Division Series. In that unforgettable 1-0 loss in Game 5, Chris Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay, and Ryan Howard tore his Achilles on the final play. Nothing has

The Phillies turned to Vince Velasquez on Friday night for the first game of their most important series since the 2011 National League Division Series.

In that unforgettable 1-0 loss in Game 5, Chris Carpenter outdueled Roy Halladay, and Ryan Howard tore his Achilles on the final play. Nothing has been the same since. The Phillies have not finished a season with a winning record or made the postseason. Friday’s 6-4 loss to the Rays at Tropicana Field dropped the Phillies to 28-30 and guaranteed they will finish without a winning record for a ninth consecutive season. They still have a chance to make the postseason, but they need help.

Box score

It should have been better by now.

“With the amount of talent that we have in the room, I think that we should be playing well over .500,” left-hander Adam Morgan said. “But you know what? This is how the cookie crumbles. The cards that we’ve been dealt aren’t necessarily good cards, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s been a crazy 2020.”

Crazy in that the Phillies entered the season following years of rebuilding with the highest payroll in franchise history, only to watch the Marlins clinch second place in the National League East and an automatic berth in the NL’s eight-team postseason field with a 10-inning victory on Friday over the Yankees. The Marlins lost 105 games last season.

The Phillies’ best chance to make the postseason is winning their final two games and hoping that Gabe Kapler’s Giants lose once this weekend against the Padres in San Francisco. The Phillies own the tiebreaker over the Giants, so if both teams finish 30-30, the Phillies win the eighth a final spot. The Phillies can hope for a miracle from the Cardinals, too. But they need St. Louis to lose four consecutive games because it has the tiebreaker over the Phillies. FanGraphs puts the Phillies’ postseason odds at 29.1 percent. They were 87 percent last Saturday.

“We never took that step, or we never took advantage of what we were capable of having as a group,” Velasquez said about the team’s shortcomings the past three years. “It just seemed like there was a lot of injuries or something always came up. Again, it’s just one of those things where it’s out of your control.”

Velasquez joined the Phillies in December 2015 as the key piece in Matt Klentak’s first trade as general manager. Klentak shipped Ken Giles to the Astros in a four-player deal that included Velasquez, Mark Appel, Brett Oberholtzer and Harold Arauz. Klentak hoped the trade could jumpstart his rebuild and propel the Phillies back to the postseason in a few years.

Appel, Oberholtzer and Arauz are long gone. Velasquez has shown flashes of his potential, but inconsistency has bounced him from the rotation to the bullpen to Triple-A Lehigh Valley the past couple years. On Friday he allowed one run in his first four innings, then ran into trouble in the fifth, when he allowed a leadoff single to Joey Wendle and a double to Randy Arozarena to put runners on second and third with no outs.

Velasquez lasted two more batters. Both Wendle and Arozarena scored to cut the Phillies’ lead to 4-3.

“I have to shut that inning down,” Velasquez said. “That’s a shutdown inning for me and the whole team to continue that energy.”

Tommy Hunter allowed a game-tying home run to Brett Phillips in the sixth, although a 1-2 fastball in the strike zone was called a ball. Phillips hit Hunter’s next pitch for the home run.

Morgan loaded the bases with one out in the eighth. Second baseman Wendle, who grew up in West Chester, Pa., hit a single to right field off Héctor Neris to plate two runs and hand the Rays a 6-4 lead.

It was the eighth time this season the Phillies lost a game in which they held a three-run lead.

The Philles’ bullpen has a 7.17 ERA, on pace to be the worst in baseball in 90 years and the second worst in history.

“I don’t know if I have an answer for that,” Morgan said about the bullpen’s struggles. “I know that everybody down there is working hard. And nobody’s thrown in the towel down there. We’re coming in every day, trying to get better. We hate it. You know, we hate that we have to kind of wear the burden right now. But you know what? Sometimes it happens, but we’re putting one foot in front of the other and trying to do the best we can.”

Todd Zolecki has covered the Phillies since 2003, and for MLB.com since 2009. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook .