CLEVELAND — This Phillies season did not go from highly promising six months ago to grossly disappointing heading into the final week on one 0-2 pitch.
But 16 of them?
That surely contributed to the disappointment.
The Phils began their final week of the season — and possibly the final week of Gabe Kapler’s managerial term — with what you might call a national embarrassment Sunday night. They made three errors, two of which were extremely costly, en route to a self-destructive 10-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians on national television (see observations).
The defeat left the Phillies' tragic number at 2. Their minuscule postseason hopes could be extinguished before Aaron Nola even gets to the bullpen to warm up for the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader in Washington. If that happens, the right-hander should pitch four innings, which would get him over 200 for the season, and shut it down until Clearwater.
There are eight games remaining.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Kapler said. “Certainly we’re going to have to win every game. We’re going to have to win out. We understand that’s a tall task. We also understand that’s a possibility. There’s not a guy in that room that’s not going to fight to the very end.”
The Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011. They finish with five against a Washington club that is bearing down on an NL wild-card berth and three against a Miami club that has given them fits. The Phils will need to win three of the final eight to have a winning season.
It’s all kind of hard to believe considering the Phils were 11 games above .500 and 3½ games up in the NL East on May 29.
So many things went wrong for this club, from injuries to inconsistency and underperformance both in pitching and offense, and the front office had no cure at the trade deadline. Now, the club is getting ready to go home for an eighth straight October. That’s certainly not what owner John Middleton expected when he celebrated the offseason addition of J.T. Realmuto and doubled down with a $330 million payout to land Bryce Harper.
The Phils faced almost impossible postseason odds even before Sunday night, but that made the loss to the 92-win Indians no less galling.
It was a 1-1 game in the bottom of the fifth inning, but it didn’t stay that way long. Cleveland’s first two batters of the frame reached on errors by shortstop Jean Segura and pitcher Vince Velasquez. Ultimately, Velasquez got in position to get out of the inning unscathed. In fact, he was one strike away from doing that when Oscar Mercado unloaded on an 0-2 fastball and sent it over the left-field wall for a game-changing three-run homer.
The Indians padded the lead with six runs in the seventh, but the fifth inning was the ballgame and the Phils beat themselves.
“In order for us to win big games, we have to take the outs that they give us,” Kapler said. “We didn’t play our best defensive game. I don’t think there’s any way you can spin it other than just not on top of our game defensively.”
Last week in Atlanta, general manager Matt Klentak praised the Phillies’ improved defense. Since then, the team has racked up multiple-error performances in three of five games.
Mercado’s killer home run Sunday night was the 16th allowed by a Phillies pitcher on an 0-2 count this season. If that seems like a lot, it is. No team has allowed more 0-2 homers this season.
Velasquez started Mercado with a curveball for a strike then got another strike on a 96 mph heater. He went back on the gas on the next pitch and Mercado jumped it.
“I was just trying to go with an elevated fastball,” Velasquez said. “I mean, he was late on the [previous] fastball he swung at. I tried to challenge him with another fastball and he got the head out. I didn't get it up in the zone enough.”
Said Kapler: “I think Vinny will say if he went to a breaking ball right there he probably gets a swing and miss. If he elevates that fastball a little more he probably gets a swing and miss. To that point, Vinny was executing his pitches and he missed with that one.”
Phillies pitchers have allowed a club record 244 homers this season. That’s the second most in the NL. The old team record was 221.
These aren’t the kind of records a team wants to be setting. But this hasn’t been the kind of season the Phillies wanted or expected.
On to Washington as the lights grow dim.
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