There could come a time when the Phillies begin to look toward a new season instead of the next game. They could roll with lineups favoring players they need to learn more about, and shy away from the veterans they've acquired this summer. They could ease up on their young starting pitchers, end their seasons early, and allow them extra time to recover. The Phillies could start 2019 a bit early.
But Friday night — as the Phillies rocked the Marlins, 14-2, to keep their slim playoff hopes alive — was not that time. Aaron Altherr homered twice, Rhys Hoskins hit his 31st home run of the year, Mitch Walding homered off a position player for his first major-league hit, and Zach Eflin reached the seventh inning thanks to a dominant four-seam fastball. The Phillies were staying in 2018 for now.
"We still have a chip and a chair," manager Gabe Kapler said. "And I think as long as we have a chip and a chair we are going to put the emphasis on winning tonight's baseball game."
>> MORE PHOTOS: Phillies 14, Marlins 2
The Phillies still do have a chair at the postseason card table, and they are clinging to that final chip. If they're going to cash in come October, they'll have to go on a heater. They entered Friday night's game at Citizens Bank Park trailing Atlanta by7½ games with 16 remaining. The win snapped a five-game losing streak. A win Saturday or Sunday will give them their first series win in six weeks. The Phillies still have seven games left with the first-place Braves. A hot hand might be unlikely, but it is still possible.
The Phillies were able to field a team Friday that was best fit to win that game while also providing some insight into the future. Altherr homered for the first time since June 6 as he spent the majority of the the second half in triple A.
He was such a promising piece of the team's future last season before fizzling out this year. Altherr had an .856 OPS last season with 19 homers in 412 at-bats. The Phillies need to find out if that's who Altherr is or if he's closer to the batter who had a .305 slugging percentage in late July when he was dropped to the minors. The final two weeks could give a better picture, and Friday was a start.
"I know who I am and I'm not worried about that," Altherr said. "For whatever reason this year hasn't gone my way, but I know what I can do on the field. Just have to keep the confidence alive."
Altherr was in the lineup because Kapler wanted to provide Eflin with an optimal defensive outfield. The smooth, athletic Altherr may be the best defender the Phillies have. And the manager also wanted to stack his lineup with righthanded hitters against Miami lefthanded Wei-Yin Chen.
The Phillies started a lineup exclusively of righthanded batters and switch hitters. The strategy worked. Altherr blasted Chen's change-up in the second for a two-run homer to left. Roman Quinn, starting for the first time since fracturing his foot last week, followed three batters later with a homer off Chen as a protective brace shielded the injury. The switch-hitting Quinn was only in the lineup because he told Kapler that he felt comfortable batting righthanded despite the injury.
Walding's homer off Bryan Holaday came after Walding began his career with 14 hitless at-bats. But the wait was longer than those 14. Walding reached the majors in May and shuffled between triple A and the majors for most of the summer. His first hit seemed so elusive until Holaday, a catcher, tried to throw him another slow-moving curveball. Walding whiffed at the first one before blasting the second into the right-field seats.
"I was speechless," Walding said. "Probably one of the happiest moments I've ever had in my life. It has been 14 at-bats and I finally got that one. It was just an unbelievable feeling. And you have it with your teammates. Everyone is excited for you. It's really special."
Altherr added another homer in the fifth after the Marlins took an early dip into their bullpen. The game quickly turned into a rout. Altherr provided the Phillies some hope that he could be in their plans for 2019. He also gave them the best chance to win on Friday night. And when you're down to a chip and a chair, every win matters.
"I will say this: I think we had a look at Altherr and just because he hasn't had the success that he's wanted to to this point, it doesn't mean we don't have confidence in the overall package, the baseball player that he is," Kapler said. "He showed it last year. We've seen it in flashes this year. We saw it all in a bunch tonight — the speed on the bases, the good jumps in the outfield, saw pitches, laid off pitches, attacked pitches, hit the ball out of the ballpark, hit the ball up the middle. He did everything that you'd want a baseball player to do tonight."