After a disastrous showing against the Marlins, the Phils went to D.C. to take on the Nats for the first time this season. It had it’s moments but ended with a missed opportunity.
Bryce Harper opened the flood gates in the Nats’ first at bat of the series on Friday night taking a low and away fastball from Nick Pivetta and depositing it in the seats in left. The Nats plated 2 more in the first after what should have been a strike out/throw out DP was missed by the home plate umpire. Regardless, Pivetta didn’t look to be in any kind of command. When Harper came around again in the 2nd inning, he had 2 men on and did triple the damage with a monster bomb to straight away center. Drew Hutchison relieved Pivetta and promptly ceded a bomb to Matt Adams for a 7-0 lead. Hutchison settled down and threw 5 innings allowing just 3 hits and the one run. After a 4th inning rain delay, the Phils managed to score 3 runs on back to back HR’s by Carlos Santana and Maikel Franco in the 6th. That was it however as the Nats bullpen shut the Phils down for the final 3.2 innings. Had that first inning DP gone the other way, this may have been a different game but as it stands, it went down as a 7-3 loss…another to a division opponent. The Phils K’d 9 times in the game (more on this in a bit).
Saturday went a little better as Rhys Hoskins took a page out of Harper’s book and went deep for a 2 run homer in the first. Vince Velasquez played like Dr. Jekyll this week showing what he CAN do. Velasquez had one of his good outings shutting the Nats down for 5 innings. He took a no-hitter into the 5th before Wilmer Difo took him deep for the Nats only run. Velasquez would finish the inning and Franco would get him the run back in the 6th with an RBI single. The bullpen took over from there and shut the Nats down for the final 4 innings., Hector Neris tried to make things interesting in the 9th by walking 2 hitters (again, more on this later) but the Phils managed to get out with a 3-1 win. Despite the win, the Phils K’d 11 more times.
Sunday rolled around and it was a battle of the last 2 N.L. Cy Young winners, Max Scherzer and Jake Arrieta. Arrieta was coming off his worst start as a Phillie but rebounded to look like the ace he was/is/can be(?). Despite both pitchers dominating the other lineup, neither would factor into the final outcome. Scherzer absolutely dominated the Phillies hitters with the exception of possibly Odubel Herrera. A Matt Adams solo homer in the 2nd looked like the only help he would need. The Phils K’d 15 times against Scherzer in just 6.1 innings (that’s 15 of a possible 19 outs for those doing the math at home). He did allow 5 hits and 2 walks but most of that was Herrera. Ultimately, his pitch count got too high (maybe the K’s were a good thing?) and he was lifted after allowing a baserunner in the 7th. The Phils took full advantage. Nick Williams, pinch hitting for Arrieta who threw 6 innings of 2 hit, 1 run ball) singled to score Pedro Florimon who had stolen 2nd. Hoskins doubled to the gap to score Williams and Odubel got his 3rd hit of the day to score Hoskins and suddenly, the Phils were up 3-1 and Arrieta was in line for the win. Then Gabe Kapler and his bullpen roulette took over. 3 pitchers worked their way through the 7th inning, each recording an out. After Franco added an insurance run with a blast in the 8th inning, the wheels fell off. Luis Garcia and Tommy Hunter combined to allow 2 hits and 2 walks in the bottom of the 8th and suddenly, it was just a 1 run game. Despite his shaky outing on Saturday, Kapler went back to Neris with a 1 run lead in the 9th. Neris hit one batter, loaded the bases, walked in the first run then gave up the game winning single to Difo all without recording an out. Oh, and there was no one warming up at any point. When all was said and done, the Nats took game 3 by a score of 5-4 and blew a chance at puling into a tie for first in the East.
The Phils scored just 20 runs in their 6 games this week. 11 of those runs were scored on 7 HR’s. Franco hit 3 of those HR’s and added 3 doubles. Only one of the HR’s accounted for more than one run as no one else is getting on base ahead of him. Franco and Herrera are both on a bit of a tear but if no one is on base, it doesn’t help. Carlos Santana had 3 doubles, a triple and HR but still went just 5-24 on the week. The biggest killer on this team right now is the K’s. Hoskins, had a 2 big hits during the week but he struck out 11 times in 25 AB’s. Jorge Alfaro also K’d 11 times but in just 19 AB’s. The team as a whole struck out 58 times in 6 games. That’s an average of 9.7 K’s per game. When you only get somewhere between 24-27 outs per game, that’s not a good percentage. The Phils currently have 7 hitters with enough AB’s to qualify for the batting title. Three of those hitters are batting .210 or lower (Scott Kingery @ .210, Aaron Altherr @ .205 and Santana @ .169). Santana’s .299 OBP is no longer making up for that average either. Kapler may tell you that K’s are ok and they are the same as any other out but not when runners are on base and you can’t move them. And not when there’s a man on 3rd with less than 2 outs who stays there. If this team had 3 or 4 hitters with high averages or double digit HR’s, that argument might stick. As it stands, Franco and Hoskins have 6 and 5, respectively and only Herrera is hitting over .300. The Phils are still sitting just a game off the pace in the East but it’s unlikely that they will be able to hold on to win a ton of games with 3 runs or less as the weather heats up and so do other offenses.
The Phils starters only had 2 bad outings. The other 4 were pretty much lights out. The bullpen had a little rougher time of it allowing 8 runs in 22+ innings. Neris looked bad in back to back outings and, while he may have “the stuff” to be the closer, just doesn’t have the consistency to do it (2 blown saves in 8 opportunities). In a weak division, with a rotation/early bullpen that ‘s keeping you in games and a hit or miss offense, the Phils need someone in that role that they can trust. Neris isn’t that guy. With a combined 4.03 ERA among the starters (skewed a bit by really good Aaron Nola and really bad Ben Lively), that would tell you the offense needs to put up at least 4 runs a game. Right now they are averaging 4.5 (again, skewed by some ups and downs). The bullpen will likely not stay as hot as they have…or maybe it will. Maybe a Jerad Eickhoff return solidifies the 5 spot…maybe it doesn’t. So far, they’ve been the impetus in the Phils 18 wins.
Around the N.L. East
Braves– The Braves youth movement is in full effect and has pushed them into first place heading into the 2nd week of May. After leaving Philly with 2 straight wins last weekend, they rolled right through the Mets in New York to up their win streak to 5. When they returned home to face the Giants, it all came crashing down as they were outscored 24-9 in the 3 game series. Combined with the Phils blowup on Sunday, they maintained a 1 game lead in the East. After a short stint at home, it’s right back on the road. They’ll start the week with a 2 game inter-league series with the Rays in Tampa before heading to Miami for 4. With both teams struggling and under .500, it could be a good week for the Braves to lick their wounds and gain some breathing room.
Mets– Not a whole lot went right for the Mets this week. They took on the Braves and Rockies at home and lost all 6 by a combined 34-11. They were shutout 3 times and fell from 1st to 3rd in the division. They’ll head out on the road this week to face the 8-26 Reds before coming into CBP to battle the Phightins over the weekend. Those are 3 teams with some pretty bad offenses right now so they may not be the most exciting games for the average baseball enthusiast to watch.
Nationals– The Nats finished a 10 game homestand in style. After a 4 game sweep of the Pirates, they took 2 of 3 from the Phils to push them over the .500 mark. Unfortunately for them, it’s still only good for 4th in the division, though they are just 2 games back and on a bit of a tear. This week, they’ll head out West to face the best and worst teams in the N.L. West. First up is a 3 game set in San Diego with the Padres. Then, they’ll head to Arizona for 4 games with the best in the N.L. D-backs.
Marlins– After winning 2 of 3 from the Phils then 2 more against the Reds, the Marlins offense has suddenly come to life. In their 4 wins, they scored at least 6 runs 3 times, with one of those against Jake Arrieta. Granted, they only scored 3 runs total in the other 3 games but there are signs of life. They are 8-3 in their last 11. Despite that, they are currently the only East team under .500 at 13-20. This week they head to the “friendly confines” of Wrigley to face the Cubs before a 4 game home set with the Braves (their first meeting of the season).
As for the Phils, things aren’t getting any easier. The Giants come into town to start the week with a 4 game series. The Giants have won 7 of 8 after their sweep of the Braves and have scored 33 runs in their last 4 games. In the opener, Zach Eflin will get his 2nd start, facing Jeff Samardzija, hoping to build on his first outing. Nola, Pivetta and Velasquez will start the final 3 games. Then the Mets come into town for a weekend set. The offense needs to score runs this week. With the weather expected to be warm all week, maybe it’s finally “hitting weather”.
With 4 teams bunched up and a lot of good/bad matchups, we could see a lot of movement in the standings by this time next week.