Phillies

Phillies hurt by base-running blunders, pitching mistakes in loss to Pirates

Phillies hurt by base-running blunders, pitching mistakes in loss to Pirates

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Phillies manager Pete Mackanin disclosed that he and his coaching staff will have a meeting with general manager Matt Klentak on Friday to go over the team's disappointing first half and discuss an approach for the second half.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that one.

No one expected these Phillies to contend this season, but no one expected them to be this hellaciously bad either. The Phillies' 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates (the Bucs took three of four in the series) on Thursday night dropped them to a majors-worst 28-56 (see Instant Replay). They are the only team in the majors with less than 30 wins. The Houston Astros have 31 wins — on the road.

As an icebreaker to Friday's meeting, the Phillies’ braintrust can talk about the club's latest loss and the series of self-inflicted wounds that led to it.

Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson hung a pair of changeups in the fourth inning and they led to a pair of Pittsburgh home runs and three runs.

The Phillies, who scored the game's first run on a bizarre three-base throwing error by Pittsburgh catcher Elias Diaz that allowed Andrew Knapp to score from first base, forged back to tie the game on a two-run single by Aaron Altherr in the bottom of the seventh inning only to see reliever Joaquin Benoit give up four hits and three runs in the top of the eighth as the Pirates surged ahead by three runs. Josh Bell broke the tie with a double down the first-base line and Mackanin didn't mince words after the game.

"I thought he should have caught it," Mackanin said of first baseman Tommy Joseph.

The wounds that cost the Phillies most were three — count 'em, three — base runners that were cut down at second base trying to stretch singles into doubles. Pirates leftfielder Jose Osuna got them all — Altherr twice and Odubel Herrera once. And the plays weren't close. Osuna entered the game with just one assist and ended it with four.

Having three runners wiped off the bases in a close game is a killer.

"You know what's interesting about those plays is I encourage the guys to be aggressive, to try to turn a single into a double," Mackanin said. "However, when you take that hard turn going to second base you should have time to decide whether or not to go, and I think those guys, if they had to do it all over again, would have stopped and went out back to first.

"If they were closer plays it wouldn't have been a big deal, but when you're out by that much, I think they should have shut it down."

Altherr got nailed in the second inning on a scorcher off the left-field wall. Herrera got nailed on the next play, a blooper to left. Altherr was cut down again on a ball to left-center on his game-tying single in the seventh.

"I thought I had both of those, easy doubles, and then all of a sudden he makes a perfect throw and got me out," Altherr said. "I'm going to have to think twice next time on that guy. He made good plays.

"There's not too much I can do about that, just read it a little better and stay at first next time."

Altherr said the Phillies went over Osuna's arm before the series.

"We know all the guys," he said. "It's just matter of I'm trying to make something happen and I didn't make it happen. It's all good, though. Just keep battling and come back tomorrow."

With only three runs of support, Hellickson could not afford any mistakes. He made two of them in the fourth. Bell hit a 1-0 changeup for a two-run homer. Gregory Polanco hit a full-count changeup for a solo homer.

"I'd definitely like to have those two back," Hellickson said. "I more aimed them and babied them. I made sure I threw a strike and it hung up. Those pitches both hurt me."

Hellickson is one of a handful of trade candidates on the Phillies’ roster. This was his final start before the All-Star break. He is 5-5 with a 4.49 ERA in 18 starts.

"Inconsistent is the best word to describe it," Hellickson said of his first half.

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

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Coming out of spring training, the consensus opinion on the Phillies was that they’d pick up on the improvement they showed in the second half of last year’s 66-96 season and maybe push .500.

The thinking was that would be a nice step in the right direction for a team that had pushed its rebuild into field-goal range.

Then the season got going and the Phillies started winning, and contending, and by the first week of July they were in first place in the NL East.

They entered August in first place and that was meaningful because, in a sport where the long haul matters, four months is a significant chunk of time.

Becoming a contender a year before most envisioned changed the way these Phillies are viewed. Had they been plugging along hoping to finish the season at .500 and fuel a little optimism for the future, then Tuesday night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox might have been seen as a good thing, an oh-look-at-how-we-hung-with-the-big-boys moral victory (see first take).

But as a contender and a team with legitimate postseason hopes, the 2-1 loss stung and it stung even worse when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed the final score from Atlanta, where the Braves beat the Marlins, 10-6.

In two days, the Phillies have lost two games in the standings to the Braves and now trail them by two games in the NL East.

The Phillies are 2-5 in their last seven games and they have scored just 16 runs over that span. They have another one on tap against Boston on Wednesday night.

The Red Sox are the majors’ best team, on pace to win 115 games, and the Phillies have played them tough in three games over the last two weeks. Boston has won a pair of 2-1 games and the Phils have won a 3-1 contest. But the Phils are past the point where playing a good team tough makes them feel good. 

They need some hits.

They need some wins.

“We know that we can go toe to toe with this team,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We showed that we could at Fenway Park. We did it tonight. We came out on the losing end because they played a better baseball game. But we're very confident that tomorrow we're going to be playing the better baseball game. We're looking forward to that.”

The Phillies’ offense ranks second to last in the majors with a .234 batting average and below average in many other important offensive categories. It ran into a good pitcher on top of his game Tuesday night and the results were not good. Boston’s Rick Porcello, a Cy Young winner in 2016, dazzled with seven innings of one-run ball. He walked none and had six 1-2-3 innings. Porcello gave up just two hits – that’s all the Phillies had – and struck out 10. The Phils struck out 13 times as a team – they’ve reached double digits in Ks 60 times this season – and walked just once.

That’ll lose you some ballgames.

“Porcello deserves a lot of credit,” Kapler said. “He was really awesome. Great job by him.”

The Phillies got a strong game from their starter, as well. Nick Pivetta delivered six innings of one-run ball, walked one and struck out six. He exited early for a pinch-hitter as Kapler tried to nudge the offense only to see Roman Quinn go down on a first-pitch fly ball in the bottom of the sixth.

All the scoring came via the long ball. Sandy Leon took Pivetta deep in the third and Rhys Hoskins got Porcello leading off the fifth. Hoskins, who was dropped from second to cleanup, was 1 for 28 before hitting his 23rd homer. The Phillies need his bat to come alive.

With no margin for error, the Phillies’ bullpen – neither bullpen, for that matter – could afford a mistake. Tommy Hunter made one with one out in the eighth and pinch-hitter Brock Holt clubbed it off the facing of the upper deck in right to break a 1-1 tie and propel the Sox to their 86th win.

Holt ambushed the first pitch.

“Yeah, it was a cutter,” Hunter said. “He got it. He hit it. I'll probably throw 16 of them again tomorrow. He got it. Tip your cap.”

The cutter is Hunter’s best pitch and Holt was looking for it.

“Yeah, coming off the bench, he's going to swing at the first pitch,” Hunter said. “I left it a little too far on the plate. I probably should have buried it in off the plate.”

The atmosphere in all three of the Phillies-Red Sox games over the last two weeks has been intense, almost playoff-like.

“It’s two pretty good teams going toe to toe,” Hunter said. “That’s the way you like it though. Throw blows and see who comes out on top.”

Vince Velasquez will try to help the Phillies come out on top Wednesday night.

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Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox

Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox

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The Phillies continue to play the Boston Red Sox tough. But that didn’t produce a win Tuesday night.

The Red Sox, who have the majors’ best record at 86-35, beat the Phillies, 2-1, at Citizens Bank Park. The Sox have beaten the Phillies two out of three games the last two weeks.

Boston’s wins have both been by scores of 2-1.

The Phils won one of the games by a 3-1 score.

The Phillies entered the game in second place in the NL East, a game behind Atlanta. It was the first time since July 4 that the Phils did not enter a game in first place.

The Phillies had just two hits in the game and they struck out 13 times. They have scored just 16 runs in the last seven games. They are 2-5 over that span.

It was a 1-1 game until pinch-hitter Brock Holt came off the bench and launched a first-pitch homer against Tommy Hunter with one out in the top of the eighth inning.

Boston starter Rick Porcello pitched brilliantly with seven innings of one-run ball, no walks and 10 strikeouts.

Porcello was staked to a 1-0 lead on a home run by Sandy Leon in the top of the third inning. Porcello did not allow a hit through the first four innings. Rhys Hoskins broke through with the Phillies’ first hit when he launched his 23rd homer to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. The blast tied the game at 1-1.

After batting second most of the season, Hoskins hit cleanup as manager Gabe Kapler shuffled his lineup in the wake of the Phillies scoring just 15 runs while going 2-4 on their recent trip to Arizona and San Diego. Kapler dropped Carlos Santana from fourth to fifth and used Nick Williams in the No. 2 hole.

Hoskins struggled mightily on the trip with just one hit in 21 at-bats. That was part of a bigger 1-for-27 funk.

Phillies starter Nick Pivetta scattered three hits and a walk over six innings of one-run ball. He struck out six. The only run he allowed came on Leon’s solo home run in the third. The Red Sox continued to threaten in that inning as Porcello doubled with one out and Mookie Betts walked. Pivetta then battled Andrew Benintendi to a full-count showdown and got an important double play on a breaking ball. The double play was one of two the Phils turned behind Pivetta.

Pivetta threw just 84 pitches and was in control. However, he was lifted for pinch-hitter Roman Quinn to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. Before the game, Kapler indicated that he would be aggressive with his bench and bullpen in pivotal situations in the game. That’s why the Phils added a ninth reliever before the game (see story).

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