And it seems like the offense still is. After returning from the All-Star break, the Phils offense stumbled out of the gate like Ryan Howard with a blown Achilles (poor taste???). They managed to get shutout in the first game back and score a total of 6 runs over the other 2.
Nick Pivetta who, for some Kapler-esque reason started the 2nd half of the season against Stephen Strasburg, pitched fairly well over 5 innings (6 H, 3 R, 2BB, 2 K) before being lifted, after only 87 pitches, for a pinch hitter to lead off the bottom of the 5th. Roman Quinn proceeded to K on 4 pitches (note: the other 2 PH’s used in the game K’d as well). I don’t care how rested the ‘pen was, this staff is never rested enough. Meanwhile Bryce Harper (2) and Maikel Franco (3) combined for 5 of the Phils 8 hits. Since they don’t bat anywhere near each other, that equated to absolutely nothing and the Phils dropped the opener 4-0.
Aaron Nola was dominant yet again over 6 innings (though he threw 110 pitches). The bullpen? Not so much. After the Phils built a 3-0 lead against Patrick Corbin after 4 innings and held it through 7, things went downhill. After a clean 13 pitch 7th inning by Tommy Hunter (who is back on the Injured List AGAIN!) Adam Morgan allowed 2 hits and an unearned run (bad timing for an error by the typically sure-handed Franco) in the 8th before Kapler went to Hector Neris with 2 outs (because no one else can come get that one out). After 3-4-5 of the Phils order went down in order, Neris came back out for the 9th. After recording 2 outs on 4 pitches, things looked ok. After an Anthony Rendon single, Juan Soto took Neris deep to left-center on the first pitch and took the air out of the ballpark as a 3-0 lead one inning earlier was now a 4-3 deficit. Neris K’d the next batter and left it to the offense who were hitless since a double in the 6th to stage a comeback. Franco singled with one out and was lifted for a pinch runner. Adam Haseley was retired on a fielder’s choice by Roman Quinn and it was left to Andrew Knapp (yes, he of the 1-19 stretch). After Quinn stole 2nd, Knapp was eventually retired on a line out to left and the damage was officially done as the Nats extended their lead over the Phils with a 4-3 win.
Jake Arrieta took the mound in must-win situation on Sunday and gutted out 5 innings of 4 hit, 1 run ball. Meanwhile, the offense got the Phils out to a lead yet again with individual runs in the 4th (J.T. Realmuto RBI single), 5th (an unearned run thanks to an error by Adam Eaton) and 6th (Realmuto solo HR). After striking out the first batter he faced in the 7th, J.D. Hammer (an appropriate name considering what a lot of ML hitters have done since his call-up) allowed back to back walks followed by back to back singles. Four straight baserunners and 2 runs later and it was a tie game at 3. This time however, Maikey came through. After a Jay Bruce K to start the 9th, Franco returned the favor and turned on a first pitch and drove it to nearly the same spot as Soto’s blast the night before. The bell rang and the Phils walked it off to salvage a win and delay their fade to oblivion for one more day. Phils win, 4-3.
The Phils still sit 1 1/2 games behind the Nats and 8 1/2 behind the Braves.
Yeah… there wasn’t much. 6 runs in 3 games is not what $500 million should buy you. I’ve defended Harper a lot and still believe it was a good signing but, holy hell man, come up with a big hit once in a while. The bench has to be, by far, the worst in the majors. If it’s not, God bless that team. But hey, we just signed a career .239 hitter (Logan Morrison) off the scrap heap. That’s gotta help, right? The lineup needs to be adjusted. They need to play small ball when it helps win games. Andrew Knapp needs to go…anywhere else. More than anything, they need to earn their money. Kapler talked about how they don’t quit. Well, more often than not, it sure as hell seems like they have.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, the Phils actually got 3 straight decent starts. Other than Nola, they weren’t great, but they were enough to win. If the offense showed a little heart and the bullpen didn’t blow, this series may have had a totally different look, feel and maybe result. But yeah, this current minor league bullpen is going to be the death of this team unless they start mashing the ball soon. I am not hopeful about what the upcoming Dodgers series will look like.
Around the N.L. East
Braves– The Braves got to start their 2nd half in lovely San Diego and picked up where they left off with a sweep over the Padres. This week gets a bit tougher. On their way home, they’ll stop in Milwaukee for 3 games with the Brewers before taking on the Nats at home. The Braves can put a stranglehold on the East with a big week.
Nationals– After their near-sweep of the Phils, the Nats make a detour through Baltimore for a quick 2 game set. Then it’s off to Atlanta for a huge 4 game series with the Braves that could swing this division in either direction.
Mets– Yes, the Mets are officially closer to the Phils now than the Phils are to the Braves. The Mets started the 2nd half in Miami where they took 2 of 3 from the Fish. More than likely, it’s not going to change their status as far as the trade deadline where they are certainly going to be hearing offers for the likes of Wheeler and Syndergaard…and I’m sure there will be attempts to pry deGrom away as well though I’d deem that pretty unlikely. This week, they start with a 2 game set against the A.L. Central-leading Twins in Minnesota before heading out west. They’ll face the bottom-dwelling Giants for 4 games before heading home next week.
Marlins– After losing 2 of 3 to the Mets, the Fish welcome the Padres to Miami for 3 games before they head to L.A. to get smashed in a 3 game set with the Dodgers.
As the 62-33 Dodgers come to town this weekend, this is essentially a make or break series. Anything short of a 50/50 split and this season is toast and Matt Klentak can take the rest of the season off. Franco is likely the only piece that they would consider selling as the rest of the lineup is expected to return next year. He’s upped his production again lately and may be peaking at just the right time to get something worthwhile in a deal.
Zach Eflin (7-8, 3.78) will open the series against a healthy and revamped Clayton Kershaw (7-2, 3.09). Vince Velasquez (2-5, 4.63) faces Walker Buehler (8-1, 3.46) in game 2. Nick Pivetta (4-4, 5.81) attempts to have a 2nd straight good start against Kenta Maeda (7-6, 3.82) and Nola (8-2, 3.63) closes out the series against Ross Stripling (4-3, 3.65). So, they score a lot and don’t give up a ton of runs.
3 games in Pittsburgh should be a welcome sign for most teams but this team hasn’t done anything to give that level of confidence. Regardless of the outcome with the Dodgers, a sweep here is a near must.
Is it possible that the Phils get the spark that is needed to turn this season around? Sure. Is it likely? Probably not. Short of the offense finally putting it all together at the same time, this team is not going to win the games they need to. Can they hang on for a Wild Card spot? Absolutely. Will 1 extra game and the potential of being undressed by the Dodgers prove anything? I don’t think so. I had high hopes in the beginning of this year that maybe the offense could just outscore everyone. That hasn’t been even close to the case (currently a -2 run differential). Any pitcher not named Nola probably doesn’t belong at this level or at least on a contending team. When your manager keeps preaching sunshine and roses, there is nothing pushing these players to win. I’m done calling for a managerial change at this point because it’s likely too late. Go out in the offseason and get a baseball manager, not a psychologist, to run the team in 2020. Oh…and a major league ready rotation/bullpen.
I’m still all in because I still love baseball. It doesn’t mean I’m not gonna be pissed most nights and it won’t come out in my writing each week but as is the Philly mantra…there’s always next year.