On Sunday afternoon, the Philadelphia Phillies managed to eke out a win in which they got just enough out of a struggling starting pitcher.
But the real work begins Monday, when the Phillies look to keep squeezing out innings from a beleaguered rotation in the opener of a four-game series against the best team in baseball -- the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin (7-8, 3.78 ERA) will look to follow in the footsteps of Jake Arrieta when he takes the mound Monday night against iconic Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw (7-2, 3.09).
Both teams earned wins Sunday, although the Phillies' victory came a lot earlier than the Dodgers' triumph.
Maikel Franco hit a walk-off homer with one out in the ninth as the Phillies avoided a three-game sweep by beating the visiting Washington Nationals, 4-3. For the Dodgers, Sunday night had bled into Monday morning when they scored three runs in the 12th inning to beat the host Boston Red Sox 7-4 in the rubber game of a three-game set. With the win, Los Angeles improved its record to 62-33.
Arrieta, who pitched Sunday for the first time since he acknowledged he is dealing with a bone spur in his right elbow, didn't factor into the decision, though he left after five innings with a 3-1 lead.
Such effectiveness from starters will be pivotal if the Phillies are to hang on in the wild-card race. Philadelphia will enter Monday with a half-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in the chase for the second wild card despite beginning Sunday with a rotational ERA of 4.53, the fifth-worst mark in the NL.
Eflin will be looking to bounce back from a rough final start of the first half July 4, when he took the loss after allowing seven runs (six earned) over three innings as the Phillies fell to the Atlanta Braves, 12-6.
"Obviously, we need them to step up and be a little bit better for us, and I think they will," Arrieta said of his rotation mates after he lowered his ERA to 4.54, the sixth-highest mark among qualified NL starters. "We need some more out of our starters collectively and I think that's been the message from day one."
Few starting pitchers have done more over the last decade than Kershaw, who has posted a 2.29 ERA and won three Cy Young Awards and one NL MVP since 2010. Kershaw's velocity continues to decline, but the 31-year-old has grown craftier and earned his eighth trip to the All-Star Game by posting a 3.09 ERA in the first half.
Kershaw didn't factor into the decision in his most recent start on July 5, when he allowed two runs (one earned) over seven innings as the Dodgers fell to the San Diego Padres, 3-2.
"He was fun to watch," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "Really on point, pitching to quadrants, he did sequencing. Everything was really good."
Kershaw is 3-5 with a 2.83 ERA in 14 career regular-season starts against the Phillies. Eflin is 0-2 with a 9.18 ERA in four starts against the Dodgers.
--Field Level Media