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Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Phillies Notebook: Resiliency being tested

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 15

Manager Gabe Kapler is fond of saying he likes how the Phillies respond when they’re punched in the face. They’re resiliency certainly is being tested this week.

After spending most of the summer in first place, the Phillies were knocked out of the top spot Monday when the Braves, fueled by rookie Ronald Acuna Jr.’s home run streak, swept a doubleheader from the Marlins. The Braves’ victory on Tuesday, combined with the Phillies’ 2-1 loss to the Red Sox, leaves the Phillies two games out of first place.

How will they respond when faced with true adversity?

The Phillies’ biggest problem is their offense. They’ve scored 16 runs in their last seven games, with 10 of those runs occurring during their only two victories during that stretch.

The Phillies were shut out twice during those seven games. In the series finale against the Padres, they scored three runs in the eighth inning to avoid being shut out. During Tuesday’s loss to the Red Sox, they managed only two hits, both of which came in the fifth inning. One of those hits was Rhys Hoskins’ 23rd home run of the season. In other words, the Phillies narrowly avoided being shut out twice more during this seven-game stretch.

It’s one thing to struggle against Rick Porcello of the Red Sox. It’s another thing to struggle when the Padres, with the worst record in the National League, roll out three rookie starting pitchers.

There aren’t any easy answers to what appears to be a slump affecting nearly the entire team. Only Maikel Franco (.277) has a batting average above .270. Asdrubal Cabrera is batting just .218 since joining the Phillies. Hoskins, Scott Kingery and Andrew Knapp are struggling mightily at the plate. The season-long wait for Carlos Santana to raise his batting average (.214) continues.

The Phillies have other issues as well. Their defense remains poor. Only three teams in Major League Baseball have made more errors than the Phillies. And anyone who has watched the Phillies regularly knows there are plenty of botched plays that don’t go in the error column.

Baserunning is also a problem. Teams have stolen 81 bases against the Phillies. The Phillies have only stolen 42 bases. The Phillies have also had some bad baserunning, with Odubel Herrera being the worst offender.

The poor baserunning is part of the Phillies’ offensive difficulties. They don’t move runners very well, which leaves them reliant on home runs to generate offense. When the power is shut off, the Phillies don’t score runs. That’s why their offense is so inconsistent.

The Phillies need to figure out how to score runs in a hurry. With 44 games left in the season, they are two games behind the Braves and have only a one-game lead over the Cardinals in the battle for the second National League wild card. The Cardinals, Rockies and Dodgers are all within 2½ games of the second wild card.

The Phillies have been punched in the face. This time the punch was a little harder than in the past. It will be interesting to see how they respond.

                               *****                               

SAVING GRACE: Despite their 2-5 slump, the Phillies continue to receive terrific starting pitching, with Nick Pivetta’s performance Tuesday the latest example. In an all-too-familiar scenario, Pivetta limited the powerful Red Sox to one run in six innings, but left with a no-decision. It’s almost a surprise when the Phillies don’t get a quality start from their rotation.

*****

HOSKINS STRUGGLING: Rhys Hoskins has two hits in his last nine games, going 0 for 30 during that stretch. His batting average has dropped from .268 to .253. His home run Tuesday was his first in 10 games. Hoskins’ importance in the lineup can’t be overstated.

*****

DISAPPEARING ACT: Scott Kingery, who was starting at shortstop after shifting positions earlier in the season, has virtually disappeared since the trading deadline. Kingery’s playing time has diminished since the Phillies traded for Asdrubal Cabrera, but he hasn’t made much of a case to get back into the lineup.

Kingery has just nine official at-bats in August – and he doesn’t have a hit. He walked once, which is the only time he’s reached base on his own. His last hit came on July 27. That’s why he’s been relegated to being a pinch runner in most of the games this month.

*****

RAMOS WATCH: The Phillies’ offense could receive a boost from catcher Wilson Ramos, who is reportedly close to being ready to play. Ramos was sidelined with a hamstring injury when the Phillies acquired him from the Rays. Ramos is batting .297 this season, with 14 home runs and 53 RBI.

Adding Ramos would likely come at the expense of Jorge Alfaro. The Phillies’ willingness to displace the 25-year-old Alfaro, who is supposed to be their catcher of the future, tells us a lot about the Phillies’ commitment to making the postseason this year.

*****

BAT MAN: The Phillies added a left-handed bat to their bench by acquiring first baseman Justin Bour from the Marlins in exchange for minor-league pitcher McKenzie Mills. Bour was only hitting .227 with the Marlins, but he had 19 home runs and 54 RBI. Bour also has a good eye at the plate, which fits in with the Phillies’ philosophy of plate patience.

Bour is 1 for 1 with a walk in his first two plate appearances. So far, so good.

*****

CENTURY CITY: Striking out no longer has the stigma attached to it that it once did, but the Phillies already have four players with 100 strikeouts. Jorge Alfaro leads the way with 119 strikeouts, followed by Cesar Hernandez and Rhys Hoskins (110 apiece) and Scott Kingery (100). Odubel Herrera (97) and Nick Williams (89) are close to joining the club, and Aaron Altherr (81 in 89 games) certainly would have joined if he hadn’t been sent to the minors.

*****

HONORING THE PAST: The Phillies should be commended for the exceptional job they did honoring the past during Alumni Weekend. From Shane Victorino’s retirement as a Phillie to the Wall of Fame ceremony to the celebration of the 2008 World Series championship team, everything was wonderful.

There were numerous highlights. Brad Lidge delivered a wonderful speech during the ceremony honoring the 2008 team. Jayson Werth, heavily booed while with the Nationals, received a warm ovation when he was announced. And it’s hard not to smile while listening to Charlie Manuel.

But the highlight of the weekend was the Wall of Fame induction of Roy Halladay, who perished in a plane crash last November. From the emotional remarks by his wife, Brandy, to having former catcher Carlos Ruiz reveal Halladay’s Wall of Fame plaque, with Ruiz delivering a kiss to the plaque, it was a beautiful moment.

*****

MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE: Zach Eflin has had a terrific season, going 8-4 with a 3.57 ERA. But when the Phillies found themselves in a roster crunch after acquiring Justin Bour, Eflin was the odd man out. The Phillies sent Eflin to the minors to make room on the roster for Bour.

The Phillies chose to send down Eflin for a 10-day minor-league assignment because they have a doubleheader with the Mets on Thursday. Major League Baseball allows teams to call up a 26th player for a doubleheader. So the Phillies will recall Eflin to pitch on Thursday and then send him back to Class AAA Lehigh Valley.

Eflin won’t miss a start. What he will miss is his major-league salary during his 10-day stint in the minors. I understand the Phillies’ roster maneuvering, but I feel bad for Eflin, who lost salary because he was the convenient guy to send down rather than because of his performance.

*****

MIXED NEWS: Hector Neris was called back up from Class AAA Lehigh Valley this week, with infielder J.P. Crawford, recently removed from the disabled list, optioned to Lehigh Valley. Whether Neris’ return is good news or bad news is up to you. I know some of you wish it were fake news.

*****

VAST IMPROVEMENT: The Phillies’ next win will match their total (66) for all of last season. The fact that it would disappointing if the Phillies missed the playoffs demonstrates how much they have improved.

*****

LOOKAHEAD: After completing a two-game series with the Red Sox tonight (Wednesday), the Phillies will host the fourth-place Mets for four games. A single-admission doubleheader on Thursday (4 p.m.), which includes a makeup of a postponed game from May 12, will be followed by games Friday (6 p.m.), Saturday (4 p.m.) and Sunday (7:10 p.m.). Sunday’s game will be played in Williamsport, Pa., as MLB’s Little League Classic.

After a day off on Monday, the Phillies will begin a six-game road trip to Washington and Toronto. The Phillies play what could be a desperate Nationals team six times in nine days.

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