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Yes, the Phillies actually gained ground this weekend — checking in on NL wild-card teams

Yes, the Phillies actually gained ground this weekend — checking in on NL wild-card teams

The Phillies had a brutal weekend in Miami yet didn't lose ground in the wild-card race. And so the charade continues.

The second wild card remains reachable for flawed teams like the Phillies, Brewers and Cubs. And one of them, or the slightly-less-flawed Mets, has to finish in that spot.

This weekend, the Phillies lost two of three in Miami. The Mets were swept at home by the Braves. The Cubs were swept at home by the Nationals. The Phillies actually gained a game, silly as that may sound.

The Phillies are 1½ games behind the Cubs, but at 67-62 the Phils are on track to win 84 games and that won't get you into the one-game playoff. Even if you assume that 87, typically a low number for the second wild-card spot, is high enough, that would still require the Phillies to go 20-13 over their final 33 games.

Do you see the Phillies going 20-13 over their final 33 games?

The Phils have three at home with the Pirates this week, an off-day Thursday, then three at home with the Mets. The Phillies have not faced the Mets since the last series before the All-Star break. The Mets ended that series 10 games under .500. They're four over now.

The Phillies' September schedule is daunting. After four games in Cincinnati to begin the month, they have their final three with the Mets at Citi Field, four with the Braves, two vs. the Red Sox, three more in Atlanta, three in Cleveland, five in D.C. and then the Marlins to close out the regular season.

After the Reds series, that's 20 straight games the Phillies will play against teams over .500 and fighting for the playoffs. None of those games will be made easier by a team sitting key players.

The season is now 80 percent complete. The Phillies are what they are — a team slightly above .500. Removing passion or optimism from the equation, their likeliest range is 82 to 85 wins. 

Unless the Phils make a run they haven't made since the fourth week of May, those nine losses against Miami will stick out. The Phillies need to sweep the Marlins the final weekend of September just to avoid a losing record against the National League's worst team.

The injuries will stick out, though if you were told at the beginning of the season that the Phillies would lose Andrew McCutchen for the season along with six of their top seven relievers, 82 to 85 wins would have sounded reasonable.

The 2019 Nationals are a much better team than the 2019 Phillies. They have the deep, powerful and multidimensional offense the Phillies thought they had. Their rotation is far superior. Their bullpen, with the deadline additions of Daniel Hudson and Hunter Strickland, is not the nightly sieve it was in the first half.

The Mets, as of this moment, also have the better roster. They have three dangerous hitters in Pete Alonso, Jeff McNeil and Michael Conforto, a red-hot Amed Rosario and useful offensive pieces in J.D. Davis, Wilson Ramos and Todd Frazier. The offenses of the Mets and Phillies are pretty even, but the Mets have the huge edge in starting pitching and therefore pitching altogether.

The Cubs have a decent but disappointing rotation, a bad bullpen and an offense that has been stale much of the last two months. They're still probably a slightly deeper team than the Phillies, and down the stretch, you'd rather be the team with Jose Quintana, Kyle Hendricks, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester and Yu Darvish than the team with Aaron Nola, Jason Vargas, Drew Smyly, Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez.

The Phillies' run differential of minus-17 suggests they've outperformed their true talent level this season. There are 14 teams with negative run differentials and only the Phillies and Brewers have winning records.

To finish ahead of the Cubs, Mets and Brewers, the Phillies will have to play the kind of baseball they have not played with this group, the kind of baseball the underlying numbers illustrate they're probably incapable of.

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Phillies 6, Brewers 4: Vince Velasquez leads big effort by the bullpen

Phillies 6, Brewers 4: Vince Velasquez leads big effort by the bullpen

BOX SCORE

MILWAUKEE — The Phillies' hard-working bullpen delivered six shutout innings Friday night to help the team win the opener of a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, 6-4, at Miller Park.

The Phils' bullpen has picked up 47 1/3 innings in the last 12 games.

Vince Velasquez made his first appearance of the season out of the bullpen and delivered two scoreless innings. Edgar Garcia, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris (three K's) picked up the rest of the relief innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff failed to make it past the third inning.

Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins had big hits to put the Phils over the top.

The Phils are 3-2 on this seven-game trip. They are 30-21 overall.

The keys

• Harper tied the game with a double in the fifth, McCutchen put the Phils up by a run with a double in the sixth and Hoskins' ended a 15-game home run drought with an important one in the seventh.

• Velasquez entered a tie game in the fifth. He allowed a walk and a hit to the first two batters he faced then struck out four of the next five to finish with two scoreless frames. His shutdown work and the Phils' offense earned him the win.

• J.T Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura hooked up for a big defensive play to end the fifth inning. The Brewers tried to execute a double steal and the catcher and shortstop both delivered perfect throws to cut the run and keep the game tied. The Phils took the lead in the next inning.

Eickhoff's night

Eickhoff gave up five hits, a walk and four runs over three innings. Four of the hits were for extra bases and two of them were homers. He has given up seven homers in his last three starts after giving up none in his first four.

Eickhoff had some bad luck in the first inning as Ryan Braun reached on a swinging bunt with two outs. Mike Moustakas then hopped on a curveball and stroked it for an RBI double.

Eickhoff gave up three damaging hits on fastballs, none of which were above 91 mph. Orlando Arcia hit one for a solo homer in the second. Christian Yelich hit a 3-2 fastball for his 20th homer in the third and Yasmani Grandal clubbed a 2-2 fastball for an RBI double after a two-out walk in the third.

Over his last three starts, Eickhoff has been tagged for 17 hits and 13 runs in 12 innings.

What's up with Pat?

Pat Neshek did not appear happy as he left the field after working out with the rest of the relievers late in the afternoon. He clearly was not available to pitch as he did not even report to the bullpen for the game. It's not immediately clear what the issue was.

(Update: Neshek has a sore shoulder and is headed back to Philadelphia, manager Gabe Kapler said after the game. He will go on the 10-day injured list.)

Transaction

Velasquez was activated from the IL and assigned to the bullpen, at least for the next few days. He or Nick Pivetta will start Tuesday. All the details here.

Health check

Roman Quinn has recovered from his groin strain. He is doing all baseball drills and working toward starting a minor-league rehabilitation assignment late next week, according to Kapler.

Up next

Jake Arrieta (4-4, 3.77) opposes Jhoulys Chacin (3-5, 4.65) on Saturday afternoon.

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'Action steps have to come' for Phillies after Brewers show what a top-tier offense looks like

'Action steps have to come' for Phillies after Brewers show what a top-tier offense looks like

There's no doubt that this week's series against the Brewers was a measuring stick for the Phillies and they came up short. After winning the opener, they were outscored 22-6 by a top-tier Milwaukee team that has one of the best lineups in baseball.

Phillies pitching struggled nearly every time through the Brewers' order Tuesday through Thursday. Christian Yelich hurt them. Ryan Braun killed them. Yasmani Grandal came up with runners in scoring position all week and made the Phils pay with a pair of three-run homers. Mike Moustakas had productive ABs. On Thursday, even Brewers pitcher Zach Davies got into the act with a double and an RBI bunt single.

The Phillies start another series with the Brewers a week from Friday. In between are three home games against the Rockies and four with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. This is a grueling stretch, the Phillies' toughest of the season.

And adjustments need to be made for them to maintain their lead on the rest of the NL East.

"Action steps have to come following a series like this," manager Gabe Kapler said, choosing not to expand until he had a longer look back at these four games. "You can't just sit on your hands and hope it's going to get better for the next series.

"We have to play very good baseball to beat teams like Milwaukee, Colorado and Chicago. We don't have the margin for error, most teams don't, when you play the best teams in the league."

This series highlighted a few things. It showed how much work the Phillies have to do to be a consistent, upper-echelon team. It showed how much better Yelich is than every hitter in the NL, including Bryce Harper. It showed that the Phillies, right now, just don't have enough players clicking at the plate.

"When we were really clicking or clicking better, as an offense, you'd get production from each part of the lineup — top, middle and end," Kapler said. "Right now, we're not getting that."

Kapler switched things up atop his order for the first time all season on Thursday, batting Harper second and Jean Segura third. It did work early. Segura homered in his first at-bat and drove in a run with a groundout in his second AB. Harper and Andrew McCutchen each reached base and scored a run in their second at-bats. 

The benefit of that 1-2-3 is that McCutchen and Harper each reach base at an extremely high clip and Segura is money with runners in scoring position with his ability to hit a ball wherever it's pitched and use the whole field.

The hindrance of that 1-2-3 is that, when J.T. Realmuto starts, it gives the Phillies three right-handed hitters in a row batting 3-4-5. That would make things a bit easier for opposing managers late in games.

The Phillies couldn't muster nearly enough offense against a Brewers team that scored at least one run in seven of nine innings Thursday (see observations). Get past Yelich and you have to deal with Braun. Get past Braun and the powerful lefty Moustakas and switch-hitting Grandal are waiting.

Zach Eflin fared better against the Brew Crew than Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Arrieta, but not by much. Eflin allowed four runs in five innings, walking two, hitting a batter and striking out seven. He kept the Phillies in the game and the score close but the bullpen did not.

Eflin said the pitches that hurt him most were those intended to leak back over the outside or inside corner but instead caught too much plate. He has earned the benefit of the doubt by excelling in six of his nine starts and bouncing back in a strong way after his only clunker April 13 in Miami.

Now, the Phillies move on to the Rockies, who are well-rested after off-days Monday and Thursday but may not have Trevor Story, who bruised his knee Wednesday in Boston. The Rockies are 20-22 but have a dangerous lineup, one nearly as potent as the Brewers'.

"If you don't do your job, you're going to get your butt kicked," McCutchen said of the Brewers series and the tough games that await the Phillies. "That's plain and simple. We can all agree here that we didn't play our best baseball and in return, we got our butt kicked. Nothing to cry over, we just have to show up and be ready to go tomorrow."

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