Lineup Lunacy

After the Phils dropped 2 of 3 to the Nats, the Phils got some help and actually gained ground on Atlanta. Then, the weekend came and went and so did their forward momentum.

As the Cubs came to town for a critical series, things started on a positive note on Friday night when Asdrubal Cabrera played the hero. Nick Pivetta wasn’t his best but allowed just 1 run (a 5th inning Javier Baez solo homer) in 5 innings. He threw 105 pitches though and had to be lifted early. The offense managed to get the run back in the 6th on a 2 out RBI single by Cesar Hernandez. It was up to the bullpen from there. 5 pitchers strung together 5 innings of 4 hit ball until Cabrera came up in the 10th and sent the fans home happy with a walk off homer to left-center for the 2-1 win. In what could be a first, the box score indicates a Neshek (W)-Cishek (L) final tally.

Things began going downhill on Saturday. Gabe Kapler decided to get “creative” with his lineup again and let’s just say, it didn’t work out. Things started poorly with a Cabrera first inning error leading to 1 run and setting up the 2nd. The Cubs doubled their lead with a 2 run triple in the 3rd. Nick Williams got a run back in the 4th with an RBI single but that would be the only offense the Phils would  scrape together. After Edubray Ramos allowed a solo homer in the 7th, Austin Davis and his “illegal” index card conceded 2 more meaningless runs in the 9th and the Cubs evened the series with the 7-1 win. Note: MLB later indicated the card was legal.

The Phils sent Aaron Nola to the mound on Sunday (he was moved up a day to start at home) with a chance to finally win a series and at first, it seemed like a foregone conclusion. After recording 6 of the first 7 outs via strikeout, things went a bit off the rails for Nola. Nola allowed a solo homer with 2 outs in the 3rd, then another to lead off the 4th. After another solo shot in the 6th and an RBI triple, Nola was lifted after taking a major hit to his Cy Young chances despite recording 11 K’s. Of the 10 times Nola has allowed multiple HR’s in his career, oddly, 3 of them have come on September 2nd. Maybe moving him up a day wasn’t such a great move?? Meanwhile, Kapler’s latest lineup configuration was virtually non-existent. While they actually outhit the Cubs 10-9, the couldn’t string anything together until scoring their lone run in the 9th on a Jorge Alfaro RBI double. Luis Garcia allowed 4 runs in the 8th while recording just 1 out putting the finishing touches on a game they were never really in. Final tally: 8-1

The Phils were outscored 16-4 in the series against the top team in the NL while they watched the Braves extend their lead back to 4 games.

Offense

Kapler continued to experiment but also continued to leave his best (though scuffling of late) hitter, Maikel Franco and his hottest, Roman Quinn (.351 since returning to the big club) on the bench more often than not. He put Cesar Hernandez into the 3-hole despite his .212 average and 42 K’s since the All Star break. He moved Carlos Santana into the leadoff spot despite the fact that he clogs the base paths once he gets on (which he actually did this week going 7-23 but only 2 runs scored). I’m starting to think he has a dartboard with player pictures that he uses to make his lineups. After scoring 15 runs against the Nats, they scraped together just 4 runs in the Cubs series. Somehow, while being 4 games out of first (albeit in a weak division) the Phils have a -9 run differential.

Pitching

Nola’s first outing was Nola-esque while his 2nd was certainly not. Somehow, statistician Gabe missed that whole September 2nd stat. Jake Arrieta was bad. Zach Eflin was double bad. The bullpen did their part once again with the exception of Garcia’s Sunday outing. However, with no offense, it doesn’t matter what the pitching staff does.

Around the N.L. East

Braves– The Braves split a 2 game series with the Rays, lost a makeup game to the Cubs, then lost the opener to the Pirates opening the door for the Phils. However, while the Phils were faltering over the weekend, the Braves took the final 2 games of their series and moved back to 4 games up. This week will be the real test and may help decide the fate of the N.L. East. First up, the Red Sox come to the ATL for a 3 game set. Then, the Braves head out west to face the D-backs for 4 games. The D-backs just dropped out of first in the West and will be looking to get back on top.

Nationals– After taking 2 of 3 from the Phils, the Brewers came to D.C. and won 2 of 3. The Nats traded away a few more pieces and have essentially conceded the 2018 season. At 8.5 out in the East and 8 out in the Wild Card, the fork is pretty much in the Nats. This week, the Cardinals come to D.C. for 3 before the Cubs come in for 4.

Mets– After losing 2 of 3 to the Cubs in Wrigley, a trip out west seemed to help. They dropped the opener to the Giants but the pitching did the job as they won the final 2 games of the series. At 15 out in the East, it doesn’t mean much but they’ll have their chance at meaningful games this week. First up is 3 games in L.A. with the Dodgers who just took the lead in the West and will be looking to stay there. Then, it’s a trip back east starting at CBP for 3 with the Phils who are clinging to playoff hopes.

Marlins– The A.L. East was not kind to the Marlins who now sit 22.5 games back in the East. After the Red Sox swept a 2 game series, the Fish managed to win 1 of 3 against the Blue Jays. This week, starting in Miami the Marlins will get their shot at the Phils who they are 5-8 against this season. Then the Pirates come to town for 3.

The Phils, in theory, have a chance to make up some ground this week. While they head out on the road this week, it’s against the bottom 2 teams in the East, the Mets and Marlins. Vince Velasquez (9-9), Jake Arrieta (9-9) and Nick Pivetta (7-10) will take on the Marlins. The Marlins will oppose them with 3 starters combining for an 8-19 record: Jose Urena (4-12), Trevor Richards (3-7) and Sandy Alcantera (1-0). Then, it’s off to New York to square off against the Mets. Eflin (9-6) , Nola (15-4) and Velasquez will face Steven Matz (5-11), Noah Syndergaard (10-3) and some guy named deGrom (8-8). While the Braves have a tough schedule this week, ultimately, the Phils need to take care of things on their end. If they don’t win at least 4 of 6, they could find themselves buried with just 3 weeks remaining. Or, they’ll at worst, find themselves needing to sweep the Braves in their 2 series at the end of the schedule.

The offense has to produce in 2 ballparks that lend themselves to hitting. Kapler needs to put people in the right spots and the pitching needs to continue keeping them in games. If not, whatever fans are at CBP next week will likely be making/hearing a lot of E-A-G-L-E-S chants while turning their attention away from playoff baseball and focusing on the start of a repeat season.

Go Phils!

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