Well, here we are in September. After doing (mostly) what they should have against the Pirates, the Phils came up short yet again as they dropped 2 of 3 to the Mets.
After Aaron Nola battled through 6.1 innings Friday night, allowing just 1 run, the bullpen allowed 10 runs in the next 2.2 innings turning a close game into a laugher. Meanwhile, the offense sat around too long and came up short despite scoring 4 runs in the 9th as the Mets took the opener 11-5.
Saturday’s matchup featured a role reversal. This time, Jason Vargas got lit up for 5 runs in 4+ innings and the bullpen came in and closed the door. However, the offense once again couldn’t come through when it counted. After Bryce Harper homered in the 6th to cut the lead to 3 and the Phils loaded the bases plus a run-scoring walk by Andrew Knapp, Adam Haseley hit into an inning ending double play and that was all she wrote as the Mets closed out the day with a 6-3 win.
Zach Eflin pitched his best game in approximately forever allowing just 3 hits and 1 run in 7 innings. However, that nasty old “we don’t need offense to win” mentality crept back in to the Phils routine. Brad Miller hit a solo HR in the 2nd followed by an RBI single by Corey Dickerson. After that, it was left to the pitchers to hold things down. And they did until the 8th. Mike Morin go in trouble putting runners on 2nd and 3rd with 1 out. Hector Neris came in for the 5 out save (always a great idea) and nearly got out of it. He coaxed the first hitter he faced into a fielder’s choice to first where Rhys Hoskins threw the runner out at home. Then, in grand Phillies fashion, he walked the next batter BUT ball 4 was a wild pitch and the Mets had tied it up. Chalk up another blown save for Neris (albeit in a tough spot). Luckily, Scott Kingery bailed him (and Gabe Kapler) out in the bottom of the 8th. After Harper singled and Hoskins walked, Kapler tried to screw things up in his analytics heavy way. With 2 on and 2 out, Kap decided bunting the go ahead run over was NOT a good idea. He lucked out as Brad Miller hit the ball just deep enough to center to move Harper over and Hoskins astutely followed the throw and went to 2nd. Had Miller not gotten them over, fans would have been calling for Kaps’ head (again). Instead, the Mets walked Cesar Hernandez intentionally, setting the scene for Kingery to play hero. Kingery took the first pitch for a ball before getting the same exact pitch immediately afterwards and driving it to the left-center gap clearing the bases. Kap allowed Neris to hit (a 6 pitch K where the bat never left his shoulder) and go back out for the 9th where he closed things out rather easily to get the win after blowing the save. The 5-2 Phils win puts the Phils 2.5 back in the WC race though it seems much bigger the way they are playing.
After averaging 7+ against the Pirates, the Mets held the Phils offense to just over 4. The biggest takeaway from the past week is that Hoskins put together 7 hits, including 2 doubles and a triple. That said, he only managed 2 RBI. The offense performed well against the Pirates but fell short once the Mets came to town. Despite all of the everyday starters hitting over .300 for the week except Jean Segura, they still only managed a 3-3 week as they couldn’t get the runners home when they needed. It seemed that just about every time the offense came through, the pitching didn’t (or vice versa). I’ve said this many times but they need to put both phases together. With the rosters expanding this week (the Phils have already brought up some help with more expected soon), maybe a deeper bench will help.
The starters weren’t bad but they weren’t all good either. Vargas threw just 10 innings in 2 starts allowing 9 runs on 16 hits. The bullpen…well, they weren’t very good allowing 14 runs in 22 innings of work…though most of them came in Friday’s outing at the hands of Morin and Edgar Garcia. Again, hopefully a few extra available arms will help. The starters need to get deeper though. If the pen needs to go 4 and 5 innings 3-4 times a week it is going to wear on them leading to nights like Friday.
Around the N.L. East
Braves– Despite a rough travel week, the Braves showed that they are still the class of the division. After flying from New York to Denver for 1 game with the Rockies (a loss) then to Toronto for 2 with the Blue Jays (a split), they flew back home for 3 with the White Sox (a sweep). The 4-2 week kept them 5.5 ahead of the Nats (though with 7 match-ups remaining) and they would need to completely implode in order to blow their lead. This week, Toronto heads into Atlanta for 2 games followed by the Nats for 4.
Nationals– With a cozy schedule, the Nats did pretty much what they needed to in order to hang around the Braves. After a series opening loss to the Orioles, they ran off 4 straight against the O’s and Marlins. Yes folks, the Marlins are beatable (despite what the Phillies have shown this year). This week, the Mets come to town for 3 followed by their 4 game set in Atlanta which will have huge implications both in the division and Wild Card races.
Mets– The Mets had a huge chance to make a run at a WC spot facing the 2 teams directly in front of them, the Cubs and Phillies. After being swept by the Cubs, they pretty much wrote themselves out of the picture. Taking 2 of 3 from the Phils helped but they are still behind both teams. Despite sitting 1.5 behind the Phils, their playoff chances are actually significantly better as the Phils have one of the toughest schedules in baseball in the final month. They’ll get a chance to improve that this week with 3 in D.C. before heading home to face the Phils again.
Marlins– After losing 6 of 7 to the Reds and Nats, surprisingly, they are still not in the playoff hunt. On the bright side, they get to play the Pirates and Royals this week which could lead to a win or 3 for a change….or maybe not.
This is probably the final straw for the Phils. The week starts off with 4 games in Cincy before a trip to New York to face the Mets again. Anything short of 5 out of 7 would pretty much write them off. With the majority of games in September against playoff contending teams, they can’t waste their limited opportunities against the lesser teams.
First up is a 4 game set with the Reds. Drew Smyly (2-6, 6.95) starts things off on Monday afternoon against Anthony DeSclafani (9-7, 4-05). Vince Velasquez (6-7, 4.86) goes in game 2 against Alex Wood (1-3, 5.80) followed by Aaron Nola (12-4, 3.45) vs. Trevor Bauer (10-12, 4.53…1-4, 8.40 with the Reds). Jason Vargas (6-7, 4.31) faces Sonny Gray (10-6, 2.80) in the finale. Eflin, Smyly and Velasquez will take the mound in New York over the weekend in 3 must-win games.
The odds are not in the Phils favor. Per ESPN, they have just a 4.8% chance of making the playoffs compared to a 12.8% chance for the Mets who trail them in the standings. If there is ever a time where everything is going to come together, this has to be the time. The new additions have all been on a bit of a hot streak, Hoskins may have finally found himself again and they are getting some extra bench help. They need to score runs and they need to score them in bunches…and consistently.
This team has under-performed for sure but they have also had their moments. If they can put together the 10-12 game run that we’ve been waiting all year for then they still have a chance. If they leave New York next Sunday with a without having gained any ground in the standings, then they are done. We’ve seen it done in this ballpark before. On a year where some of the best players and teams in franchise history were honored, maybe this team can find a bit of the magic that those teams had as well.