Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Phillies Notebook: Slip, sliding away

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 30

My last Phillies Notebook was titled “Resiliency being tested.” At the time, the Phillies had been knocked out of first place by the Braves. How would they respond? So far, the answer is: not very well.

The Phillies are 5-9 since I wrote that notebook. Since sweeping a four-game series from the Marlins at the start of August, the Phillies are 8-14 and haven’t won a series.

Three of those seven wins were earned by Aaron Nola. Opponents have scored just three runs (two earned) in 28 innings in Nola’s last four. But the rest of the starters have been increasingly inconsistent, which means they’re not able to compensate for the Phillies’ inconsistent offense and porous defense.

There have been some embarrassing losses this month. In one six game stretch, the Phillies suffered 24-4 and 8-2 losses at the hands of the Mets, and a 10-4 loss to the Nationals. The loss to the Nationals followed the Nationals seemingly waving the white flag by trading Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams.

As bad as the lopsided losses may have been, the 8-7 loss to the Nationals the night after the 10-4 defeat was even worse. In both losses to the Nationals, the Phillies blew a 4-1 lead. But what made the second game worse is the Phillies held a two-run lead entering the bottom of the eighth inning. But the Nationals scored a run in the eighth off the normally reliable Pat Neshek, and then won the game on Ryan Zimmerman’s 2-run walkoff home run off Seranthony Dominguez in the ninth.

The 8-7 heartbreaker against the Nationals could only lay a claim to being the worst loss of the season for three days. On Saturday the Phillies held a 5-0 lead until the Blue Jays rallied for an 8-6 victory. The Blue Jays scored two runs in the seventh inning and three in the eighth, with Dominguez once against being saddled with the loss.

There doesn’t seem to be much hope for the Phillies right now. Even on Monday, when all of the teams the Phillies are competing with for a playoff berth were idle, the Phillies lost ground by losing to the Nationals, 5-3. On Wednesday, with Nola on the mound, the Phillies blew a 3-0 lead in a 5-4 defeat.

After Wednesday’s win over the Nationals, the Phillies are 3½ games behind the Braves in the National League East Division. They also have fallen 3 games off the pace in the wild card race. The Cardinals and Brewers are currently in wild card position, with the Rockies 1½ games behind the Brewers. The Dodgers are two games behind the Brewers, so the Phillies must leap frog three teams to earn a wild card.

There aren’t any signs – unless Nola pitches every night – that the Phillies (71-62) can play well enough during their final 29 games to make the playoffs. They must show much more resiliency than they demonstrated the past two weeks.


MICROCOSM: The Phillies’ 5-4 loss to the Nationals was a microcosm of the Phillies’ shortcomings this season. Carlos Santana’s error led to one unearned run, and Rhys Hoskins allowing a catchable fly ball in front of him led to another. All of the Phillies’ runs scored on home runs, which is typical this season, and the final out came when pinch runner Vince Velasquez left early while tagging up on a fly out by Jorge Alfaro.

The bullpen has also been an issue most of this season. In this game, Tonny Hunter allowed the first baserunner in the ninth inning, then Anthony Rendon hit a two-run homer off Pat Neshek to give the Nationals the lead. Ryan Zimmerman doubled, and then scored when Alfaro’s throw on an attempted steal of third went into left field.

Gabe Kapler’s substitution also backfired on him. He brought Roman Quinn in for left fielder Rhys Hopkins to improve the defense. However, when Kapler needed a pinch runner in the bottom of the ninth inning, Quinn wasn’t available. That’s why Kapler chose Velasquez to pinch run. And when the Nationals took the lead, Hoskins’ bat was out of the lineup during the comeback attempt.

Bad fielding. Bad baserunning. The offense is stagnant with home runs. Poor relief. That should like a summary of the Phillies’ problems.


PERSPECTIVE MATTERS: Some have said that the Phillies have a favorable schedule during September because seven of their last 11 games are against the NL East-leading Braves. This gives the Phillies a golden opportunity to catch the Braves. On the other hand, the schedule gives the Braves a chance to pull away from the Phillies.

Although the Phillies get to play the Marlins six times, they also play the Mets six times and the Nationals three times. The Phillies have struggled against both the Nationals and Mets. Their only games against teams outside the NL East are a three-game series with the Cubs and a four-game series with the Rockies. The Phillies need to make up ground during the first 19 days of September because an 8-game road trip split evenly between Atlanta and Colorado, which is competing for the wild card, could render the final series of the season, against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, meaningless in terms of playoff berths.


SHIFTINESS: Huge defensive shifts in the outfield are credited when a grounder is hit to the player shifted far to his left or right, but how often don’t they work? The shift worked against pitcher Zach Eflin several times during Monday’s loss to the Nationals. During Tuesday’s 5-4 loss to the Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman took advantage of the shift, with third baseman Adrubal Cabrera far off the bag, to steal third base. When Jorge Alfaro was unable to connect with a moving Cabrera, the ball went into left field, allowing Zimmerman to score what turned out to be the winning run.


PERFECT FIT: With Justin Bour sidelined by an oblique injury, the Phillies acquired outfielder Jose Bautista from the Mets. Bautista made an immediate impact in his second game, singling home the winning run in addition to walking twice and being hit by a pitch. Bautista, 37, was batting .196 this season with 11 home runs. In other words, as yet another power bat who doesn’t move runners with productive outs, Bautista is a perfect fit for the Phillies.


POINTING EAST: Jose Bautista has played for the Braves, Mets and Phillies this season – three National League East teams.


MONEY FOR MEDIOCRITY: Jake Arrieta is 9-9 this season, and was lucky to escape without a loss Wednesday after allowing four runs in three innings. To put it mildly, he hasn’t been worth his 3-year, $75 million contract.


WILD RACE: The National League wild card race is extremely tight. The Cardinals and Brewers are tied for the two wild card berths. The Rockies are 1½ games behind, the Dodgers are two games behind and the Phillies are three games behind.


NOT SO WILD: There really isn’t much of a playoff race in the American League. The Red Sox have a 7½-game lead over the Yankees in the AL East, the Indians lead the Twins by 14 games in the AL Central and the Astros have a 2½-game lead over the A’s in the AL West, the only competitive division. The Yankees are virtually assured a wild card berth, and the A’s have a 5½ game lead over the Mariners.


LOOKAHEAD: The Phillies host the NL Central-leading Cubs for three games this weekend (Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m., then Sunday at 1:30 p.m.), then hit the road for series with the Marlins, starting with a Labor Day game (1:10 p.m.) and Mets (Friday-Sunday).

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