How many times will we see this sight in September? 
Marlins AP Photo

How many times will we see this sight in September? Marlins AP Photo

Sinking but Not Buried…Yet!

The Phils won their 70th game on Sunday but that ended up as just a nice footnote on another bad week. Another week on the road meant another week of sub-par baseball and another losing record.

The week kicked off in DC and gave Phils fans a sign of some bad things to come. Vince Velasquez got off to a slow start, allowing a run on 3 hits but then pitched 2 lights out innings after a lengthy rain delay. VV was pulled after 4 innings and the Phils offense came to life for a brief period in the 6th. Roman Quinn homered (his first) to tie the game, then the Phils tacked on 3 more runs to jump out to a 4-1 lead. Hector Neris tried his best to blow things up in the 5th but was bailed out by Victor Arano. Arano made his own mess in the 6th though immediately following the Phils 4 run surge and proceeded to hand the lead right back to the Nats who never looked back. After 4 more runs in the 7th and 8th, the Nats (despite having traded 2 key offensive pieces earlier that day) went on to win 10-4.

Zach Eflin was roughed up again but the offense was at least scoring to keep the Phils in the  game. Justin Bour had an RBI double and Maikel Franco homered in the first to give the Phils an early 3-0 lead. Bour then homered in the 3rd to extend the Phils lead to 4-1 after Eflin gave a run back in the first. The Phils jumped back on top again in the 4th on a Quinn RBI single before a Jorge Alfaro error gave it back in the bottom of the inning. The Phils added a run in each of the 6th and 7th to go ahead yet again. After Neris and Tommy Hunter had held the Nats scoreless for 3 innings, Pat Neshek gave a run back in the 8th and set things up for Seranthony Dominguez to close it out. After retiring the first 2 batters easily, Dominguez conceded a double down the line to Juan Soto and finally a painful double turned walk-off HR (via replay) to Ryan Zimmerman who probably should have been on first with an intentional walk. End result: a ROUGH 8-7 loss (their 4th straight).

Aaron Nola dis Nola-esque things out out-pitched Max Scherzer. Nola pitched 8 innings of 5 hit ball. Scherzer allowed just 2 hits but one was a 2-run Odubel Herrera bomb to right in the 7th which proved to be the difference. Nola was lifted after 8 innings and 102 pitches. This time, Neshek would shut the Nats down and close out the 2-0 win ending the losing streak.

Jake Arrieta was not at his best as the Phils went into Toronto but still pitched well enough to win had the offense actually showed up. The Phils got a Wilson Ramos RBI in the first but Arrieta gave that back conceding a HR in the 2nd. Despite 10 hits and 2 walks, the Phils managed just 1 more run on a 7th inning Scott Kingery HR. Meanwhile, Arrieta allowed a 2-run homer in the 3rd and an RBI single in the 5th. When all was said and done, the lack of offense doomed the Phils on this day. Final result: a 4-2 loss.

Game 2 would lead to more bullpen woes. After jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the 3rd and 4th innings, things went quickly downhill. Nick Pivetta gave 3 of those runs back in the 4th and Jorge Alfaro tacked on more run back on in the 5th extending the lead to 6-3. Pivetta allowed 2 more runs in the 7th, cutting the lead to one and was relieved by Dominguez to finish off the inning. Kapler sent Dominguez back out in the 8th which proved to be the wrong call (note: SD finished the 7th against a lefty despite having just traded for a LH specialist for occasions just like that one). Dominguez allowed a single then walked a batter and hit a batter to load the bases. Arano relieved him and recorded the 2nd out on a K before allowing a bases-clearing double and ultimately, the lead. Final score: a crushing 8-6 loss.

The Phils rode the long ball and another quality start from Velasquez on their way to a 8-3 win. Rhys Hoskins and Carlos Santana went back to back in the first and Franco homered in the 3rd after a 2nd inning RBI double from Ramos. 5-0 Phils early…sound familiar? After allowing a 2 run homer in the 3rd, the Phils got a sac fly in the 8th and a 2 run homer from Ramos to cap it off. This time, the bullpen would hold things in place (with the exception of a solo homer off Hunter in the 8th) and the Phils held on to salvage a win in the series.

Offense– The Phils actually managed to score this week but the pitching was the culprit. A few struggling players managed to get slightly back on track including Herrera and Santana. Ramos, Quinn, Kingery and Bour all produced but in limited action due to more injuries/manager decisions. However, the top of the lineup was nearly invisible. Until Kapler decides to balance his lineup with guys who can hit and not just walk or homer once in a while, things aren’t likely to get any better. His 2 best hitters currently are hitting 6th/7th (Franco) and/or not playing consistently (Quinn). It’s on the players to produce on the field but it’s on Kapler to know when they are not and adjust accordingly.

Pitching– The rotation was effective enough to win more than the 2 games they ended the week with (Eflin excluded). The bullpen on the other hand…not so much. WHIP’s and ERA’s were ballooning throughout the week and Dominguez’s overuse early in the season has come back to haunt the team. Aaron Nola went (f)ace to (f)ace with Scherzer proved why he’s in the Cy Young race. With 15 wins, a WHIP under 1 and an ERA that gets closer to 2 every time he pitches, Nola’s name will be near the top of a lot of ballots. The bullpen needs to put the last week behind them because they’ll get another shot at the Nats and need to adjust.

Around the N.L. East

Braves– After sweeping the Pirates, the Braves couldn’t put things away against the Marlins. The Fish split the series in Miami capping their current division lead at 3 games. They’ll get another chance to do damage this week. Back at home for the week, the Braves will face the Rays for 2 games before making up a game with the Cubs on Thursday. The Pirates go into Atlanta for 3 games on the weekend. If they can hold serve and the Phils don’t right the ship this week, the Braves may have enough edge heading to September to lock things up just playing .500 ball.

Nationals– At 8.5 back, this is likely the final week for the Nats to make a run. The Phils handed them 2 wins then they gave those away to the Mets being shutout in back to back games against 2 guys not named “deGrom”. Apparently they were saving up however as they hung a 14 spot on the Mets in the last 2 innings of Sunday’s game. This week, the Nats head north on I-95 to face the Phils for 3 games. They’ll need to take advantage there because they’ll follow that series with a tough one against the Brewers who currently hold the 2nd Wild Card spot in the N.L..

Mets– The Mets had a pretty good week at 4-2. They’re still 15 games out. After a 4 game split with the Giants, they completely shut down the Nats for 24 of 27 inning. 2 of those other 3 were pretty bad though. This week, they’ll head out west with a stop in Chicago for 3 with the Cubs. They’ll kick off their west coast trip in San Fran with 3 against the Giants. If you stopped reading after “15 games out” I don’t blame you.

Marlins– 3-3 against the Yankees and Braves. Pretty good…still 21 games out. But hey, they helped keep the Phils alive for the time being. This week it’s all A.L. East teams. 2 games in Boston to start the week and 3 at home with the Blue Jays. My guess is they won’t be making much of a dent in the standings.

This is likely a make or break week for the Phils. They’ll hold court at home all week and have 2 tough, critical series. First up, the Nats come to town. A series win is important but a sweep is probably necessary. A sweep here basically buries the Nats and allows the Phils to focus straight ahead at the Braves without looking back over their shoulder. That being said, anything short of a series win could just as easily bury them with the Braves schedule being what it is. Zach Eflin (9-4) will face off against Stephen Strasburg (6-7) in game 1. Nola (15-3) and Scherzer (16-6) will face off for the 2nd time in a week in game 2. Arrieta (9-9) will take on Gio Gonzalez (7-11) in game 3. After the Nats, the Cubs come to town for 3. Sitting atop the Central, the Cubs come in having currently won 5 straight (although against some weak teams) and they’ll be coming off a series with the Mets. They’ll be trying to hold off the Cardinals and Brewers so the series is equally as important for them as it is for the Phils, though for different reasons. The Phils will send Pivetta (7-10), Velasquez (9-9) and Eflin (9-4) to the mound to face Jose Quintana (11-9), Kyle Hendricks (10-10) and Jon Lester (14-5). The sweep requirement may not apply here but couldn’t hurt. A win is probably critical though. Again, the Braves have a pretty good shot at a 5-0 week (on paper) and the Phils can’t give away games.

The Phils have done everything possible of late to hand the division over to the Braves. They fell 2.5 games in the standings despite leading every game at some point last week. They can not play that way. Gabe Kapler needs to make changes. He tried it a couple wees back then reversed course quickly. After the Cubs series, they have just one series against a team (Rockies) outside their division. EVERY game in September will be critical. They need to play a week at a time though. Beat he Nats, beat the Cubs and then move on. If the bullpen gets back on track and the offense can put some innings together, the Phils are in this thing. If last week was a sign of things to come…get a fork ready.

Go Phils!