It was a painful week for the Phils both literally and figuratively. After winning 2 of 3 against the Mets, the Phils went out to Denver and dropped 3 of 4 in pretty ugly fashion.
The Phils opened against the Mets by dropping a back and forth battle (7-6) that ultimately concluded on an 11th inning error by Rhys Hoskins. After a handful of bad errors in the early part of the season, it makes one wonder if his defense at first isn’t much better than his defense in left. Or is it a lack of practice time playing a position he hadn’t played full time since the end of the 2017 season. The bats came out early and often in game 2 as the Phils touched Steven Matz for 8 runs in the first inning before he even recorded an out. They added 2 more before the inning was over and they were well on their way despite another ineffective outing by Nick Pivetta which would ultimately lead to his demotion after the game. Jerad Eickhoff who was recalled from AAA earlier in the day pitched 4 scoreless innings for the rare extended save in the 14-3 win. The offense went back to sleep in the series finale which turned into a pitcher’s duel which Jake Arrieta won, hands down. Gabe Kapler let Arrieta start the ninth and after 1 batter, the bullpen made things interesting but they were able to hold on for the 3-2 win and another important division series win.
Their trip to Denver was not nearly as effective. The offense was quiet once again in the opening, managing just 5 hits in spacious Coors Field. Zach Eflin allowed just 3 runs (2 earned) in 6 innings. All 3 scored on a 3-run homer in the 6th. After J.T. Realmuto got them within a run with his own 2 run shot in the 7th, Jose Alvarez and Victor Arano combined to allow 3 more in the bottom of the 7th and ultimately shut the door with an ineffective offense. The 6-2 loss would end up being probably the least painful of the 3 losses they’d ultimately be hit with in the series. Game 2 would go to extra innings tied at 2 despite the offense putting together 17 hits in the game. The problem was the fact that they went 1-16 with RISP and left 19 runners on base, including leaving the bases loaded 3 times. Even after all that, Bryce Harper came up with a big RBI double in the 12th to give the Phils the lead. Juan Nicasio was called on to close things out with a depleted bullpen. After recording 2 outs and a walk, Nicasio got a struggling Charlie Blackmon in a 1-2 hole before feeding him a cookie which Blackmon deposited in the bullpen for a 2-run walk off homer and a 4-3 win. Despite another sub-par performance from Aaron Nola on Saturday (allowed runs in each of the first 3 innings), the Phils were able to get the 8-5 win. They managed to put 14 hits on the board but this time actually pushed them across the plate. Phil Gosselin, filling in for Segura and Kingery, got his first RBI’s as a Phillie in the 4th inning to put the Phils ahead. Harper would later hit a 3 run homer to pad the lead and McCutchen hit a solo shot of his own in the 9th to seal things. As the Phils went into Sunday hoping to at least split the series, the offense went back to sleep. They managed just 2 hits through 8 innings. They tried to rally in the 9th but the damage was done and despite finally putting a run up, the Rockies finished the series with a 4-1 win and took 3 of 4 in the series.
Along the way, in addition to losing 4 of 7 games, the Phils watched Jean Segura, Scott Kingery, David Robertson and Odubel Herrera each hit the DL. Andrew McCutchen also left a game early but was back in the lineup the next day. While the Phils are still in first, just 1.5 games currently separate 1st and 4th place.
Last year the inconsistency was the biggest issue. With all of the new faces in place in 2019, that wasn’t supposed to be an issue anymore. Welp, here we are. The Phils hit totals in Colorado alone were 5, 17, 14 and 5 (3 in the 9th inning). With 2 starters (Segura, Herrera) and 1 backup (Kingery- who was making a strong case to change his role) currently on the DL, one has to hope that none of those will last much beyond the current 10 days expected. (Sidenote: One should also ask the training staff about exercises for the hammy). That said, it’s extremely nice to see the majority of your starters hitting above .270 (Hernandez, the lone exception at .241).Roman Quinn was recalled to play CF while Herrera is out but he’s off to an extremely slow start. 2 of the more encouraging signs both came from Harper. Harper laid down a well place bunt for a single to beat the shift and he also went 5-7 on Saturday. He has currently reached base in every game this season. It’s well documented that he is a fast starter and a streaky hitter. So far, he’s living up to the billing.
Well, Arrieta looks good. With 3 wins and a 2.25 ERA in the early going, Arrieta looks like the guy the Phils are shelling out $75 million for. Aaron Nola still hasn’t found his way and it’s officially becoming a concern. Until things turn around, questions will be asked if it’s injury-related, mechanical, mental or something else. The longer it takes to figure out though, the tougher things will be for the Phils to put any distance between themselves and the division. The bullpen has been taxed of late (23.1 innings in the last week) and it’s showing. They have had some really bad innings thus far and a few really good ones. They’ve also had some good ones that were ruined with 1 bad pitch (at least 2 walk-off’s I can remember with 2 outs/2 strikes). Nola needs to get straightened out. The other starters need to not stink and the bullpen needs to hold leads. It seems so simple, doesn’t it.
Around the N.L. East
Mets– The Mets started the week on a high note stealing a win from the Phils in extras. Then they lost the next 2 and the Phils hung onto first. A trip to St. Louis ended in similar fashion with a win, a beat-down loss and a close loss preventing them from gaining ground while the Phils struggled in Denver. This week will start similar to last week but the Phils will be in New York this time around. The 3 game set will be a battle for first again and may even allow another team to jump up a spot. Then they host the Milwaukee Yelich’s for 3 games. Anything above keeping Yelich in the park will be a moral victory.
Braves– While the Phils and Mets struggled, the Braves decided to follow suit rather than make a jump. The D-backs came to Atlanta and swept the 3-game series. The Braves made a trip to Cleveland and were welcomed with a Friday night rain out which led to a Saturday doubleheader, which they split. With a win on Sunday, the Braves left town with a series win and a move up in the standings. They’ll open this week with the 8-13 Reds and a chance to maneuver into first as the Phils and Mets battle in NY. Then, they are back home as the Rockies come in for 3 games on the weekend.
Nationals– While 10-10 doesn’t sound good, the Nats currently sit just 1.5 games back of the Phils. They were able to start the week taking 2 of 3 from the lowly Giants but then gave it back losing 2 of 3 to the equally lowly Marlins. This week gets tougher as thy will have to travel to Colorado for 3 games before flying back home for 3 with the Padres.
Marlins– After being swept by the Cubs, the Marlins had lost 9 of 10. Then they took 2 of 3 from the Nats somehow. The short version…they still stink. This week the Marlins head on the road. They’ll start with a quick 2 game set in Cleveland before heading back east to CBP for 4 games with the Phils.
The Phils have yet another division-heavy week ahead. The recently completed Rockies series was just their 2nd against a non-division team. This week, they’ll take on the Mets and Marlins yet again. Thus far, they are 9-5 against the division and just 3-4 against non-division opponents. They’ll need to keep up their division winning ways this week. The Phils will open things in New York with their hottest pitcher (Arrieta) facing a guy they tagged for 8 1st inning runs this past week. Then it’s Zach (Eflin) vs. Zack (Wheeler) on Tuesday. Eflin has struggled after a hot start. The Phils will hope he can get back to the latter version. Vince Velasquez will close the series out vs. Jason Vargas. A Mets series without Syndergaard or deGrom is always a welcome sight. The question is whether the Phils can take advantage. After leaving New York, it’s back to CBP for 4 games with the Marlins. No matter how things go vs. the Mets, the Phils need to take care of the Marlins. After the series, the Phils will have their first day off since April 11th. That will be an important rest day for a team that has been taxed by injuries and heavy bullpen use.
They say baseball is a marathon, not a sprint and it’s true. That being said, every time you have an opportunity to put some space between yourself and the pack, you need to do so. After the Marlins series, the Phils will only have 1 more division series between then and June 14th. The more room they have now, the better. With no aces in New York and 4 against the Fish, they have to put a little space between themselves and the division. One of the biggest questions is can Kapler do that without his usual no-brainer lineup. We’ll find out starting tonight.