Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler was acquired by Philadelphia to pitch in big games, and his club’s matchup with the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday certainly fits that description.
Philadelphia (28-30) will try to keep its slim playoff hopes alive against the American League East champion Rays (38-20) Saturday night in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the regular-season’s penultimate game.
The season will wrap up Sunday in a matinee affair, but all eyes Saturday will be on Wheeler, an offseason acquisition in December after pitching five seasons with the National League East rival New York Mets.
The Phillies know a couple of things: They won’t finish any better than third in the NL East this season, and they need to win and have help out West.
Their loss combined with Miami’s 4-3 win over the Yankees in New York in 10 innings meant the Phillies can only finish tied with the Marlins, who hold the tiebreaker edge and are guaranteed second place and a playoff spot for the first time since 2003.
That puts the pressure squarely on Wheeler, and Philadelphia has lost the right-hander’s last two starts.
Wheeler (4-1, 2.67 ERA), who has never faced the Rays, needs to turn in a strong outing and go deep because Philadelphia’s bullpen has been downright horrendous. In fact, the Phillies have lost eight games when leading by at least three runs this season — the rest of the division has combined to lose eight total.
“I know (a collapse) has happened to other bullpens, but I’ve personally never been part of one that’s struggled,” said first-year manager Joe Girardi, whose team’s 6-4 loss to the Rays assured the Phillies of their ninth consecutive non-winning season.
The team finds itself in a push for a wild-card spot with San Francisco, and the best case is winning the final two games and hoping the Giants lose out against the San Diego Padres this weekend.
Tampa Bay left Tropicana Field unsure of its status in the AL’s postseason.
The club entered Friday’s contest with a magic number of two to clinch the junior circuit’s top seed in the eight-team playoff.
The Rays accomplished the first part in Friday’s win over the Phillies to open the three-game series, but they needed an Oakland loss against Seattle in a late start on the West Coast to secure the No. 1 spot. Instead, the A’s defeated the Mariners in 10 innings.
Joey Wendle provided the heroics in the team’s 19th come-from-behind win — half of its overall win total. Batting leadoff, Wendle laced a two-out single to right to score Yoshi Tsutsugo and Hunter Renfroe to break a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the eighth.
Four Rays relievers spun four scoreless, hitless innings with two walks and five strikeouts at Philadelphia after the visitors grabbed a 4-1 lead against starter Charlie Morton.
Nick Anderson earned the win with a scoreless eighth, and John Curtiss — making his first career appearance against the Phillies — fanned the side in the ninth for his second save.
Curtiss will serve as the opener in Saturday’s game, joining Andrew Kittredge as the second Rays pitcher this season to finish a game and start the following night. The right-hander is 3-0 with a 1.85 ERA this season, and he will be making his third start and 17th appearance of the year.
Manager Kevin Cash said Morton would start Game 3 of the playoffs on an extra day of rest.
“He fought himself a little bit,” Cash said of Morton’s five-inning start that yielded three earned runs. “We all know in this clubhouse that when Charlie needs to find an extra gear, he can find it.”
–Field Level Media