After finally winning a series against the Braves, the Phils took on the Blue Jays with a chance at first in the N.L. East for the first time in a REAL long time. Things did not go as well as they could have against a team having lost 7 of their last 10.
On Friday night, the Phils were stifled offensively until the latter stages of the game. Their first hit came in the 3rd courtesy of a 400+ foot shot to the bullpen by starter, Zach Eflin. They were already in a 3-0 whole by that point however after a shaky first inning. Eflin allowed 3 more in the 5th before departing. The bullpen closed things out the rest of the way while the offense finally got on track in the 6th. Carlos Santana hit a 2 run HR in the 6th to cut the lead. The grabbed another run in the 8th on a Rhys Hoskins RBI double and loaded the bases with one out in the 9th before Hoskins K’d looking (I wonder if Kap will say that strikeout is as good as any other out??) and Odubel Herrera hit a weak humpback liner to 2nd on the 1st pitch he saw. With the 6-5 loss, the Phils missed out on their first opportunity to take over the division.
Saturday was the Aaron Nola show although the final box score may not clearly say as much. Nola went into the 7th with a no hitter although he was throwing a lot of pitches thanks to his 10 K’s. Nola walked a runner in the first but no other Blue Jay sniffed first base after that until the 7th. In the meantime, Maikel Franco homered in the 5th to give the Phils a 1-0 lead and it looked like that may be enough. In the 7th, Nola began to labor as his pitch count went over 100 and he walked 2 batters. With 2 outs, Russel Martin finally broke through and singled home a run to tie the game. After 6.2 innings of near perfection, Nola was lifted for Seranthony Dominguez who came on to record the final out in the 7th and also worked the 8th. The damage was done however as Nola lost his no hitter and was no longer in line to even get the win. In the bottom of the 8th, the Phils had the Jays right where they wanted them…Nick Williams coming up as a pinch hitter. Williams did what he does best and blaster a 424 footer to center field to give the Phils the lead once again. Luis Garcia worked a scoreless 9th and courtesy of the Red Sox beating the Braves, the Phils were in first place thanks to the 2-1 win. Dominguez recorded his first MLB win and Garcia got his first save of the season.
Now the big question was how long would their reign last. The answer wasn’t what most of us would have hoped for. Nick Pivetta gave up an early 2 run double in the 2nd but settled down after that. Unfortunately, J.A. Happ was better. Happ shut down the Phils offense through 6.2 before the Phils finally started catching up. After a leadoff double by Scott Kingery and a foul out by Andrew Knapp, Gabe Kapler, looking to somehow get a run across, made the curious decision to pinch hit for Pivetta in the the 5th despite throwing just 86 pitches. Pedro Florimon never took the bat off his shoulder however as he watched 5 pitches go past him, 3 of which were strikes. I’m fairly confident Pivetta could have done that. Cesar Hernandez popped out on 1 pitch and that was that. Kap’s next decision didn’t fare any better as Tommy Hunter was brought in for the 6th and proceeded to allow 1 walk, 2 singles, a double and 2 more runs doubling the Jays lead to 4-0. The Phils finally started to string together a few hits in the 6th and were able to plate 3 runs on Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams RBI singles. The 4-3 lead could have potentially been a 3-2 lead if not for Kap’s move in the 5th. Hector Neris came in to hold the 1 run lead in the 9th. He didn’t. After striking out the first 2 hitters, Curtis Granderson took Neris deep to right to extend the lead to 5-3 which is where it would eventually end despite the Phils getting a couple base runners in the 9th.
The Phils certainly had their chances in this series and it could very easily have been a sweep rather than a series loss. The inconsistency of the offense and their inability to put the ball in play when needed doomed the Phils this weekend. It was nice to see some of the more inconsistent guys finally string a few hits together. Carlos Santana was 7-20 this week with a HR and 4 BB’s. Nick Williams got a few more AB’s and took advantage going 5-15 with 2 HR’s. Even Kingery got into the mix with 5 hits, including 2 doubles. Hopefully, that’s the beginning of a player busting out of a long slump. In the 6 games, the Phils only managed to score 18 runs. When your 1 and 2 hole hitters (Hernandez and Hoskins) hit a combined 7-47, things are not usually going to go your way. The lineup has not been consistent at all and it is time that it starts. Hoskins needs a few days to rest and get his head straight as he isn’t hitting anything that isn’t a mistake down the middle right now. If Kap isn’t going to sit him though, he needs to get him out of the 2 hole.
In any given week, when your pitching staff puts together and ERA of 2.00 and allows just 12 ER, you need to come away with a record better than 3-3. With the exception of Zach Eflin (5 ER), the starting rotation was dominant this week (4 ER’s between the other 4 starters). The bullpen, Tommy Hunter excluded, did their job as well. Every loss this week could have been a win with some offensive help and every win could have been a loss if not for the pitching. There’s not a whole lot to complain about with the exception of Hunter who is stealing a paycheck (though not as much badly as Pat Neshek is). Dominguez has allowed just 2 hits (no BB’s) in 10.1 innings with a win, a save and 5 holds. With a team ERA of 3.38, the Phil shave the 4th best ERA in the NL and it seems like it’s getting better. It is not likely to last without some help though. In addition to the offensive woes, they currently have the worst fielding percentage in the NL (.980) and the 2nd most errors (37).
Around the N.L. East
Braves– It was a tough week for the Braves but when all was said and done, they were right where they were this time last week…on top of the division. After the Phils shut them out twice and finally won a series against them, they had to go into Boston where the Sox pounded them for 14 runs in the first 2 games. Everything came together on Sunday however as the took the series finale with a 7-1 win. Combined with the Phils loss, the Braves went back on top by a half a game. This week, it’s all division opponents. First up, the Mets come to Atlanta for 3 games. The Braves are 5-1 against the Mets so far this season and most of the games have not been close. The Nats come in for 4 games on the weekend. The teams haven’t played each other since early April where they split 2 series. Both teams are playing different baseball than they were at that time so this one could be interesting, especially with the Nats currently just a game back.
Nationals– The Nats took advantage of a week where they had 6 games against two of the worst teams in baseball. The Padres came to town first and the Nats took the first 2 games before dropping the last game of the series. After that, it was off to Miami where they swept the Fish by a combined 18-8 score. In the process, while the Braves and Mets were splitting series, the Nats clawed to within a game of the Braves and a half game of the Phils. Things don’t get much harder for the Nats to start this week. First up it’s a trip to Baltimore to face the Orioles. Then it’s down to Atlanta for a critical 4 game series. All things being equal, I’d be surprised if the Nats aren’t sitting atop the division as I sit down to type next week.
Mets– The Mets started things well against their opponents but just couldn’t finish. After a series opening win against the Marlins, they dropped the next 2 to lose the home series. A trip to Milwaukee didn’t fare any better. The Mets started the series on a high note with a 5-0 win. They then proceeded to lose the remaining 3 games by a combined 29-16, including a 17-6 beat down on Saturday. Somehow, the Mets find themselves just 4 games out in the East though. A four game set in Atlanta, including a doubleheader on Monday could swing things in either direction. Then the up and down Cubs come to New York for 4 games.
Marlins– After taking 2 of 3 from the Mets, things didn’t go so well against the Nationals. As we near the end of May, the Fish are 11.5 out in the East and are pretty much fried before things even get hot. This week, they start off with 4 games against a team that is almost as bad as them, the Padres, in San Diego. Then it’s 3 games in Arizona against a team that is somehow playing .500 ball despite a league-worst .211 batting average. Both teams present a chance at wins but nothing is a given with this team.
The Phils head out west this week to take on a pair of underachieving (to this point) teams. First up it’s 4 games with the Chase Utley and the Dodgers in L.A. After losing 6 straight a couple weeks ago, the Dodgers have now won 8 of their last 10, including a sweep of the Nats last week. Vince Velasquez and Jake Arrieta will start things off followed by Eflin and Nola. Then it’s a trip north to San Fran to take on the Giants who have lost 7 of 10. The Phils should have opportunities in both series but could go either way depending on which teams show up. The Dodgers are virtually identical offensively as the Phils (same team BA- .236- and 1 more run scored. The Giants have scored fewer runs but have an average that is 21 points higher than the Phils (.257). The pitching staffs should be the key as the Phils 3.38 ERA is significantly stronger than that of the Dodgers (3.59) or Giants (4.55). If the Phils offense can do their jobs, the Phils should have a strong chance to, at worst, maintain their current position in the East. I’ll be asleep for most of the games though so, maybe I can just dream that everyone is hitting if they don’t actually do it.