In case anybody was wondering how Rob Thomson planned to approach the final five games of the season, now that the Phillies have clinched the top wild card spot when the postseason tournament begins next Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, the manager answered without saying a word.
All he had to do was post his lineup.
Kyle Schwarber? Have a seat. Trea Turner? Grab some pine. Nick Castellanos? Take a load off. J.T. Realmuto? Don’t even try. Alec Bohm? Fuhgebbaboudit. Brandon Marsh? Leave your glove in the clubhouse. You’re the DH for the first time this year.
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It was the kind of batting order, in other words, that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow for a Grapefruit League game against the Rays in Port Charlotte but was a clear sign of unusual circumstances for what public address announcer Dan Baker unfailingly referred to as last night’s National League game.
Thomson has stuff he wants to accomplish between now and the moment Zack Wheeler throws the first pitch against the Diamondbacks or Cubs (or Marlins or Reds) in the best-two-of-three Wild Card Series opener. Winning isn’t one of them.
“That doesn’t matter now. Not one bit,” he said. “I mean, it would be nice to get to 90 wins. It would be good. But to put people in jeopardy to get 90 wins? I’m not going to do that.”
Tonight’s 7-6 win over the Pirates left the Phillies with 89 wins for the season with four to play.
A year ago, the Phillies had less time to rebalance their portfolio since they claimed the last available seat at the table with just two games left. They promptly lost both – the first a lopsided 10-0 stinker – but then went on a roll that carried them all the way to the World Series.
“The main thing for me is just making sure guys are ready to go when we start (the playoffs).” Thomson said. “So I’d just like to give the position players (a break). On a day-by-day basis, just make sure the guys are rested. But at the same time stay sharp. There’s that balance you have to create.”
He’s also aware that some players have personal goals within reach. Bohm, for example, needs five RBI to drive in 100 for the season.
The same principle applies as the Phillies sort through their pitching options. Barring something calamitous, Wheeler and Aaron Nola will start the first two games of the WCS. Who would get the ball for Game 3, if needed, remains up in the air.
Part would depend on whether Thomson feels the need to use Ranger Suarez out of the bullpen in one of the first two games. If so, the choice would then come down to lefty Cristopher Sanchez or righthander Taijuan Walker. Which in turn could hinge on who they end up facing.
“You want them all pitching well. If one’s a lot better than the other one, then it tells you something,” Thomson observed pointedly.
In the meantime, the workload of all the pitchers will be carefully charted.
Wheeler (13-6, 3.64) will start as scheduled in Thursday’s 6:05 p.m. finale against Pittsburgh, but is unlikely to pitch deep into the game. “I think as we go down to the end here we’ll have some pullback on some of our starters,” Thomson said.
Which, of course, translates into extra innings for the relievers. “And then be very scheduled in our bullpen usage so we have the proper days off and everybody set up to go Game 1,” the manager added.
Nola would have been lined up to pitch Sunday against the Mets at Citi Field, but he won’t pitch again during the regular season. Walker will start Friday in New York and pitchers for the final two games have not been announced.
Of course, it’s also possible that moves could be made before the playoffs start.
“We haven’t really talked roster yet, but that’s why those guys are down in Clearwater,” Thomson said. “To stay ready. It all depends on who we’re playing. What kind of bullpens we’re looking at. Like, do they have five lefties in the bullpen? Once we figure that one out, we’ll set the roster after that.”
“Those guys” are righthanders Andrew Bellatti, Connor Brogdon, Yunior Marte, Nick Nerlson, Luis Ortiz and lefthander Michael Plassmeyer along with position players Wes Wilson (R), Darick Hall (L), Kody Clemens (L) and Rafael Marchan (S).
In his remarks to the team following Tuesday night’s clincher, Thomson told the players they were built for postseason success. Wednesday afternoon he explained why.
“Just because of all the parts to the club,” he elaborated. “I mean, we have good starting pitching. We have a good bullpen. And we have a good offense. And we have a couple really high-end starters at the front end. So I think we are built for it. It was just a matter of getting in. And now we’ll see what we’ve got.”
Starting next Tuesday, everybody will see what they’ve got.