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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