Phillies

Phillies swept yet again and Hector Neris just isn't the same guy

Phillies swept yet again and Hector Neris just isn't the same guy

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"This is not a happy Father's Day!" a Phillies fan in the Hall of Fame club bellowed after Hector Neris allowed the tying run to score in the ninth inning.

It was a hot and steamy Sunday in South Philadelphia, it took the Phillies and Diamondbacks four hours to play nine innings, and it was yet another disappointing blown lead. So it would be tough to find anyone who disagreed with that fan.

Neris, who's been so much more hittable this season than he was last, entered with a one-run lead and walked the first batter he faced in the ninth: light-hitting, all-glove shortstop Nick Ahmed. Two singles later, the game was tied.

Last season's closer, Jeanmar Gomez, took the loss by allowing a home run in the 10th to Rey Fuentes, the first of his career.

But it was Neris' work that sent these fans home unhappy yet again after a 5-4 loss (see Instant Replay). The Phillies are 22-46 and no National League team has started worse through 68 games since the 2013 Marlins, who lost 100.

"His splitter is hot and cold," manager Pete Mackanin said. "For every two good ones he throws, he throws two bad ones. It's hard to figure out what he's doing."

The disappearing splitter was the pitch that made Neris so effective last season. His opponents hit .158 against it with 69 strikeouts in 2016. 

Entering Sunday's game, the opposition had hit .227 against his splitter this season, and Neris had thrown it for a ball about five percent more often.

"I'm throwing the same, I never change anything," Neris said.

The results, though, have been anything but the same. In 30 appearances, Neris has a 3.68 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Through 30 appearances last season as a setup man, he had a 2.27 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. 

"That closer role is tough," Mackanin said. "It's a different role and some guys are good at it and some aren't. I think Neris has a chance to be a closer but he needs to shore up a few things."

Bullpen meltdowns have plagued the Phillies all season. Gomez failed as the closer, Joaquin Benoit was yanked after his first blown save, and Neris himself has had several missteps. The Phils' most consistent reliever has been Pat Neshek, who's allowed just two runs in 27 innings for a 0.76 ERA. But Neshek, who will likely be here for about a month longer before being traded, feels most comfortable in a setup role.

The result has been a whole lot of frustration for the Phillies, their manager and fans. The Phils continue to lose close games. They've played 27 one-run games — four more than any team in the majors — and are 10-17 in them.

When you're losing so often, your closer doesn't have many opportunities. That's been the case lately for Neris, who has just three saves in the Phillies' last 46 games.

Is rust causing his inconsistency?

"There's a fine line between using a guy too little and too much," Mackanin said. "Last year, he pitched an awful lot and that could be a factor in why he has not been consistent because the opportunities haven't been there. But still, you can't walk that leadoff batter, you've got to go right at him."

"You know, I wait for my opportunity to pitch," Neris said. "It's hard sometimes, three days sitting and then go pitch."

The blown save cost Ben Lively his second big-league win. Lively allowed three runs and two homers in the first inning but rebounded to put up five zeroes the rest of the way. Four starts into his career, he has four quality starts and is 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA. On Sunday, he struck out six after whiffing just five total in his first three starts.

Mackanin again applauded Lively's aggressiveness and toughness on the mound. Lively doesn't have the best stuff on the staff but he's been its most consistent strike-thrower the last month.

That was one positive on Father's Day. So was the Phillies' game plan against D-backs lefty Robbie Ray, who had allowed one run in his last 37 innings entering Sunday. The Phils scored four runs and put 12 men on base against him in 5⅓ innings. Aaron Altherr and Maikel Franco each homered, and the Phillies had a man on base in every inning against him.

"We hit the ball pretty well off one of the better pitchers in the league, Ray," Mackanin said.

But they still lost for the 11th time in 12 games and the 37th time in 48 games. It's hard for any team to come up short this frequently and even harder for the wheels to fall off this quickly in a season.

Get ready for another Philly team to have the first pick in the draft.

Analyzing the roads ahead for Phillies and Braves

Analyzing the roads ahead for Phillies and Braves

Exactly a month from today, the Phillies and Braves will meet for the first time since May 23.

The Phillies have 27 games between now and then; the Braves have 29.

The Phils missed a golden chance to pick up ground in the NL East race this weekend by losing the final two games of the Mets series while the Braves were swept at home in a four-game series against the Rockies.

As a result, the Phillies are a half-game back in the division with the regular season 75 percent complete. The wild-card picture is crowded, with the Phillies currently tied with the Rockies and Brewers.

What's been going on with the Braves?

Prior to being swept by the Rockies, the Braves had gone nearly three weeks without losing two in a row. They've been carried lately by rookie Ronald Acuña Jr., who on Sunday did not reach base to begin the game. It was notable because he had reached base to lead off nine games in a row, the longest streak in 18 years.

The Braves have some challenging series ahead but will be a threat down to the final days of the season because of their dynamic top-of-the-order and the consistently solid, clutch production from Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. Whether or not you believe in "clutch," the icy, contained, contact-heavy approach Freeman and Markakis have in pressure situations sets them up for more success than most with runners in scoring position.

In the rotation, lefty Sean Newcomb has allowed five-plus runs in four of his last eight starts. Kevin Gausman has been a valuable addition so far, allowing two runs in six innings, one in eight and three in five since the trade from Baltimore.

The Braves' bullpen has been shaky. With closer Arodys Vizcaino on the DL, second-year lefty A.J. Minter has been closing games. He had an ugly meltdown Saturday night with two outs, nobody on and the Braves ahead 3-0. He's blown two of his last six games.

The upcoming schedules

The Braves have just one off day between Aug. 20 and Sept. 13. 

They begin a seven-game road trip tonight — three in Pittsburgh, four in Miami. 

The Pirates have faded from contention but are a pesky team that makes a lot of contact and has a very good bullpen combination with Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela. These should be low-scoring games.

The Braves are 7-1 against the Marlins since the All-Star break. Miami can't be relied on for much spoiling at this juncture.

Following that for the Braves is a nine-game homestand against the Rays (2), Cubs (1), Pirates (3) and Red Sox (3).

Hopefully, the Red Sox still care about wins and losses two weeks from now. Their lead is so big. 

After that comes a real test for the Braves, a late-season, seven-game West Coast road trip to Arizona and San Francisco. The Diamondbacks are in the thick of the race and the Giants are on the periphery but still far from a doormat. 

The Phillies, meanwhile, have just one series left all season outside the Eastern Time Zone.

After that West Coast trip, the Braves have three with the Nationals, three with the Cardinals, then come the Phillies.

Just to review, the Braves' schedule leading up to Phillies series:

• 3 at Pirates
• 4 at Marlins
• 2 vs. Rays
• 1 vs. Cubs
• 3 vs. Pirates
• 3 vs. Red Sox
• 4 at Diamondbacks
• 3 at Giants
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Cardinals

And the Phillies' schedule leading up to that point:

• 3 at Nationals
• 3 at Blue Jays
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Cubs
• 3 at Marlins
• 3 at Mets
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Marlins
• 3 vs. Mets

More on the Phillies

Krukcast: Memories from Little League

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Krukcast: Memories from Little League

On this edition of Krukcast, Gregg Murphy and John Kruk share memories of Little League Baseball. Kruk on what it was like covering the Little League World Series. Also, the guys discuss what they hope today's kids experience playing in Little League.

1:00 - Kruk was a dominant Little Leaguer.
5:00 - What made Little League so enjoyable.
9:00 - Lessons Kruk learned growing up in Little League.
14:00 - Covering the LLWS.

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