(AP PHOTO/NAM Y. HUH)
Philadelphia Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp, left, talks with relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez during the 12th inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Chicago. The Cubs won 5-4.

(AP PHOTO/NAM Y. HUH) Philadelphia Phillies catcher Cameron Rupp, left, talks with relief pitcher Joely Rodriguez during the 12th inning of a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs, Thursday, May 4, 2017, in Chicago. The Cubs won 5-4.

9th Inning Nightmares

Things happen in a long season. I get that. The bullpen is going to make mistakes. They’ll even do it late in games sometimes. However, when you cough up the lead 3 times in 5 games during the 9th inning, things are just bad. That’s what we saw this week. The week started with a quick set with the Marlins as the Phils welcomed back Carlos “Chooch” Ruiz. It was everything fans expected with the exception of the bases clearing double in game 2. As has been the case too many times this year, the Phils offense came out hot scoring 4 in the first and 5 more in the 4th inning of game one. Then, systematically, the pitching staff handed every one of those runs back culminating in a 9th inning double to seal the Phils fate. Game 2 was looking better as Zach Eflin struggled through 6 innings but managed to leave with a 3-3 tie. Then came Joaquin Benoit who promptly game up a 5 spot in the 7th and that was that. Then, just to add insult to injury, the elder statesman of the bullpen decided to throw the blame on his manager and pitching coach. After a rain soaked Friday led to a postponement and a double header on Sunday, things got worse. Nick Pivetta was once again not spectacular but kept the Phils in the game on Saturday. The bullpen held up for a few innings after Pivetta was yanked in the midst of giving up a 4 spot in the 5th. Then, for whatever reason, it was Edubray Ramos’ chance to cough things up. Instead of using their closer (du jour) the Phils went with Ramos who promptly served up a fastball to Bryce Harper who deposited the pitch into the stands for his 2nd walk-off of the season against the Phils. In adding to the blame game, Bob McClure then blamed his catcher for the pitch call (notice a trend yet?). Finally, Sunday rolled around and the Phils got a little bit of payback in game one of the doubleheader. After a mostly lackluster effort, the Phils came into the 9th trailing by 2. Aaron Altherr hit another bomb, followed by 2 doubles and a walk. Ty Kelly then got his chance to be the hero knocking in what proved to be the game winner. The 3 run rally was a nice way to cap a Sunday except…game 2 was looming. At least this time, the bullpen blew it in the 8th instead of waiting until the 9th. After Freddy Galvis had given the Phils the lead with a big double, it was Pat Neshek’s turn (had to happen eventually) to cough one up. The 2 run homer by Michael Taylor were the first runs Neshek has given up this year and couldn’t have happened at a worse time. Just a bad week!

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Offense

With the exception of Maikel Franco (.209), the offense has come around. Pete Mackanin has finally realized that and dropped him in the lineup over the weekend. Tommy Joseph has remained hot in May (.400 & 4 HR) and Aaron Altherr (8 HR, 22 RBI) is doing everything he can to stay in the lineup when Howie Kendrick returns. The offense scored 28 runs in 5 games this week and had a chance in to win all 5 but got no help from the pitching staff. Cesar Hernandez (.311) continues to rake and hopefully with the change to the middle of the order, he’ll make his way around the base paths a little more frequently.

Pitching

There simply isn’t a lot of good to say here. The starters can’t get through 5 and the bullpen can’t do much of anything. Jeremy Hellickson started 4-0 but has a loss and 2 ND’s in his last 3 while his ERA has ballooned by nearly 2 points in that stretch. Until Sunday Night, Pat Neshek had been the shining star of the group but that had to end and did so in a big way and at the worst time. If anything positive is to come of this season, something has to give. The starters need to produce more innings or the bullpen needs to stop hemorrhaging runs at such a prodigious rate, which could be partially tied to the first part (which is the chicken and which is the egg?).

Around the N.L. East

Nationals– Unfortunately for the Nationals, they won’t see the Phils pitching staff again until September. The Nats started the week with a 4 game home and home with the Orioles. The O’s took the first 2 in Baltimore before the Nats got a jump start Wednesday on a week of comebacks. After a late inning rally Wednesday, Thursday was postponed as was Friday’s opener with the Phils. We all know what happened next. The Nats will go on the road this week to take on the respective bottom dwellers in the Central and East. First up it will be the Pirates, followed by the Braves. So long as things go as planned, it’s a pretty good likelihood that the Nats 7.5 game lead will increase this week.

Mets– After getting off to a decent start with 2 wins against the Giants, the Giants took game 3 with a 9th inning 4 spot. The Mets hit the road to take on the Brewers and things went downhill in a big way. The pitching staff conceded 29 runs in the 3 game set an left Milwaukee with brooms being waved. Despite losing 4 straight, the Mets only lost 1 game in the standings and still remain in 2nd place as they head out west for a quick set. The Mets will start the week with 3 games in Arizona against the D-Backs before they come home to welcome Mike Trout and the Angels. Both teams are battling in their respective divisions and will look to gain ground against the struggling Mets.

Marlins– Like the rest of the East, the Marlins just can’t put anything together consistently. The Fish got to stay home this week but there was no comfort to be found. The Cards and Braves outscored the Marlins 33-19 in 5 straight losses before the Fish finally edged out a 3-1 win on Sunday. After dropping to 9.5 back of the Nats, things won’t get any easier against two of the better teams in the N.L. First, the Marlins will finish their home stand with 3 against the Astros before they head out on the road to face the Dodgers for 4 games. A double digit deficit is not out of the question by the time the week ends but in this division, you never know.

Braves– Well, they aren’t alone in the cellar for a change. The Braves had a short week with mixed results. After a quick 2 game sweep by the Astros in Houston, the Braves took 2 of 3 from the Marlins in Miami to pull into a last place tie. They’ll get an opportunity this week against another cellar-dweller as they play a 4 game home and home with the Blue Jays. Once they finish up in Toronto, they’ll head to D.C. to face the Nats for just the 2nd time this season. They will likely need to get a few wins early to even stay in view in the East.

The Phils will head to Texas to take on the Rangers for 3 games but they won’t see an injured Cole Hamels in the series. Despite sitting in 2nd place, the Rangers are a game below .500 and if the Phils can put anything together, they should have a chance in the series. On their way back home, they will stop in Pittsburgh for 3. This week has all the signs of being one of those weeks that can make or break a middling team. Sitting closer to the bottom than the top (1/2 game ahead of the Marlins and Braves), the Phils need to put a few consistent games together to (at least) build some trade value for a few of the current starters.

It’s been a pretty ugly week on and off the field as the blame game has begun. Pete Mackanin has his work cut out for him to get his players and coaching staff on the same page and earn the trust that Matt Klentak showed by extending his contract this week.