In search of a bounce-back start after three straight short outings, Vince Velasquez threw just two pitches Wednesday before exiting with right biceps soreness. Brett Oberholtzer did an admirable job in relief, but the Phillies' bullpen eventually unraveled in an 8-1 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday afternoon.
The defeat makes the Phillies 0-5-1 in their last six series. They've dropped 10 of their last 13 games to fall to 29-31 on the season. The Cubs are 41-17.
Starting pitching report
Velasquez threw two 86 mph fastballs to Dexter Fowler before exiting abruptly. That's a full eight miles per hour less than his 2016 average, something the Phillies picked up on immediately.
If Velasquez is forced to the disabled list, Oberholtzer is a candidate to take his spot in the rotation. He allowed just an unearned run over four innings Wednesday. For all of his struggles this season, Oberholtzer has had some success as a starter, posting a 3.84 ERA in 246⅓ career innings. It's abundantly clear relief duty does not suit his finesse style of pitching.
John Lackey turned in another dominant performance for the Cubs, pitching seven shutout innings. It's Lackey's eighth straight quality start and 10th in 12 tries this season. He's 7-2 with a 2.63 ERA. Last season was Lackey's best and he's been even better this year at age 37.
The Phillies faced the same trio of starting pitchers — Lackey, Jon Lester and Kyle Hendricks — in both series against the Cubs and scored six runs on just 26 hits in 42⅓ innings.
Eflin a candidate?
Another option to start in place of Velasquez would be 22-year-old right-hander Zach Eflin, who was reportedly pulled from his scheduled start for Lehigh Valley on Wednesday.
Eflin is 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 10 starts at Triple A this season, but has allowed 10 runs in 10⅓ innings in his last two starts. Eflin is not on the Phillies' 40-man roster.
Andrew Bailey entered after Oberholtzer exited and had a rough sixth inning, allowing two homers — Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist did the honors — and three runs. Bailey had allowed just one home run in his previous 18 appearances.
Colton Murray stranded a runner at third with one out in the seventh by striking out Fowler and Jason Heyward looking, but he gave up four runs in the eighth to put the game completely out of reach.
At the plate
The Phillies did little offensively against Lackey, mustering just three hits, all singles. They ran themselves out of a prime opportunity in the first inning. Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez began the game with singles to put runners on the corners with nobody out. But Herrera was thrown out at home without a slide trying to score on Freddy Galvis' medium-deep flyball to center, and from there Lackey cruised.
Ryan Howard, starting for a second straight game after homering Tuesday night, went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts.
The Phils' lone run scored on a ninth-inning groundout.
The Cubs have so many weapons at the plate. Bryant went 6 for 14 in the series with two doubles, a homer, three RBIs and four runs. Zobrist went 7 for 19 in the season series vs. the Phils with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs.
Javier Baez provided plenty of offense at the bottom of the order for Chicago, going 4 for 4 Wednesday with a double and three RBIs out of the eight-hole.
The Phillies are off Thursday before beginning a three-game series Friday night in Washington, D.C. against the Nationals.
Jeremy Hellickson, Aaron Nola and Adam Morgan will pitch for the Phillies. The Nationals have yet to announce their rotation plans, but the Phils will avoid Max Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez. Friday would be Stephen Strasburg's night to pitch, but he suffered a calf strain in his last start and his status is unclear.