No one outside the Phillies organization expected them to be in contention of the National League East approaching the last month of the season. If you were to ask fans in March if they’d be satisfied with a 68-56 squad that’s a half game out of first place heading into August 20, it would be hard to find someone who’d say no.
But, that was March. This is now. There’s widespread parity in the National League and the Phillies are in the mix, despite being second to last in batting average and hits heading into Monday night, as well as a defensive disaster.
Simply put, they are flushing a tremendous opportunity to lead the division down the South Philadelphia sewage system.
Dating back prior to the All-Star break, the Phillies are 3-5-2 in their last 10 series. Four of those five series lost were at the Marlins, Reds, Padres and against the Mets. Despite Cincinnati playing better than their record, it’s still the four worst teams in the NL.
Manager Gabe Kapler insists the Phillies don’t play down to opponents at the bottom of the standings, but wins and losses, suggest otherwise. Altogether, the Phils are 16-16 in that 10 series stretch and 11-12 versus those teams listed above.
Why are the Phils able to be competitive and play well against a powerhouse like the Red Sox, but go 5-8 when facing the embarrassing Mets?
Pretend like this was a division series in the playoffs. The Phils dropped three out of five to New York, capped off by a rubber match in Williamsport at MLB’s Little League Classic.
The series opened with a doubleheader in Philadelphia. The first game was a horrendous 24-4 loss. The Phillies committed four errors and surrendered 11 unearned runs. Kapler thought the game was out of reach in the fifth inning when trailing by double digits, so he called on injury-prone Roman Quinn and rookie Scott Kingery to pitch a combined three innings to finish the nightmare.
“When you’re in the fifth inning, you’re starting to look towards the second game,” Kapler said to the media after the first game of the doubleheader. “That’s what we did. We played a strategy game in the first game so we would be good in the second game because we knew we were going to lose that game down 10 runs, 11 runs.”
Maybe a poor choice of words, but Kapler basically admitted forfeit.
Kingery couldn’t light up the radar gun.
Scott Kingery testing the limits of how soft you can throw a pitch and still put it in the strike zone. pic.twitter.com/PLHeHrT8JZ
— Ben Harris (@byBenHarris) August 16, 2018
“I think [the fans] were probably more entertained than they have been, frankly,” Kapler told a group of reporters when asked if he was OK with giving this product to the paying customer. “I would bet it was more entertaining to watch what we just saw than, in the same kind of blowout game, one of our relievers that they see regularly.”
The Phils put themselves in the situation of being down an overwhelming amount of runs because their defense didn’t sufficiently back up spot starter Ranger Suarez. Their fielding is a constant Achilles heel and the lack of fundamentals is on the players, Kapler and his coaching staff.
After winning 9-6 in the nightcap of the doubleheader and 4-2 Friday behind a brilliant performance from Aaron Nola, the Phils faced arguably the best pitcher in baseball Saturday in Jacob deGrom.
The Mets right hander tossed a complete game at Citizens Bank Park, giving up one unearned run. Recently acquired Justin Bour, a career .381 hitter against deGrom (8-21) with two home runs and a double, was kept out of the Phillies lineup for Carlos Santana because Jake Arrieta is a ground ball pitcher.
“Carlos is a very, very good defensive first baseman,” Kapler continues to insist according to video posted at Phillies.com. “Despite a play that he wasn’t able to make today, he’s very good over there and he makes our infielders look good…Sometimes we optimize for defense over putting a guy who’s had success against deGrom and he has been good against him.”
deGrom’s earned run average is an outstanding 1.71. It’s very hard to score against the Cy Young candidate, so it would suit opponents to counter with their best possible lineup to try and score as many runs as possible. The Phils’ defense is already suspect, so catering towards that part of the game when facing a pitcher with deGrom’s caliber is poor strategy. One could argue both ways, but this writer will opine that Kapler didn’t give the Phils the best chance to win Saturday.
The Phillies lost the five game series rubber match 8-2 Sunday in Williamsport against left handed pitcher Jason Vargas, who entered the game with an 8.10 earned run average. The Phillies got six hits against him. Right handed hitting Maikel Franco, a .281 hitter with a .300 average in August didn’t start. Kapler explained they were working Franco very hard for a while and he was due rest.
“It was a planned day off,” Kapler said on video posted at Phillies.com. “It didn’t happen tonight. It was several days in advance that we gave him that day off.”
The Phillies were already scheduled to be off Monday before beginning a three game set in Washington.
There’s no other way to put what happened against the Mets as a lost opportunity. The same goes for the Marlins, Reds and Padres. But, as the Phils dropped three of five to New York, the Braves were swept by the visiting Rockies in four and the Nationals lost two of three to Miami.
The Phils should be at least a handful of games up in the division, but at the same time, they’re lucky they’re only a half game out heading to Monday night.
“We understand we’ve had some missed opportunities to take some steps forward here,” Kapler said Sunday night. “So, at this very moment I’m not thinking about how fortunate we are. I do feel like we’re in a good spot in the standings. But, I’m thinking about the fact that we need to take the day off, regroup and get ready to play the Nationals. We’re going to be prepared for that series.”