WASHINGTON — The Phillies can’t even die peacefully.
Several hours after their dim postseason hopes were extinguished in a loss in the first game of a doubleheader against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday afternoon, the Phils blew an early three-run lead and lost the nightcap, 6-5.
With the victory, the Nats sewed up one of two NL wild-card spots. The Nats became the ninth team in big-league history to be 12 games under .500 at one point in the season — they started 19-31 — and make the postseason.
While the Nationals surged this season, the Phillies nosedived.
The Phils were 11 games above .500 and 3½ games up in the NL East on May 29. The Phils lost 16 of their next 22 to fall 6½ games back in the race.
With five games to play in the season, the Phillies are 79-78. They need at least a 3-2 finish to have their first winning season since 2011.
In what might (should?) have been his last start of the season, Aaron Nola threw a season-high 115 pitches and loaded the bases in the sixth inning on a two-out walk of pinch-hitter Howie Kendrick. The Phillies’ dugout was furious with home plate umpire Stu Scheurwater over the walk, alleging that two strikes were missed during the at-bat.
“Man, did Nola earn a better result,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He executed his pitches against Kendrick.”
"I thought they were strikes," Nola said of the two close pitches.
After the walk to Kendrick, Kapler brought in sinkerballer Jared Hughes to face Trea Turner with the bases loaded. Turner clubbed an 0-1 pitch for a grand slam to give the Nats a 6-4 lead. Bryce Harper pounded a mammoth solo homer in the seventh to make it a one-run game, but the Phils never got any closer.
A sizable contingent of Phillies front-office officials, including owner John Middleton, club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak, was on hand for the doubleheader and the team's elimination from contention. Middleton is not happy with the way the season went and is seeking answers from the folks who run his team. Oh, to be a fly on the wall for those meetings.
One of the big questions being pondered is Kapler’s future.
What would Harper say if his opinion on Kapler was sought?
“I think that’s a conversation that if it needs to be had, then it will be had,” he said. “But at this point, he’s our manager and I think all of the guys in this clubhouse back him with what he does every single day as a manager. The staff that we do have with Rob Thomson, and Paco (Figueroa), Dusty (Wathan) and everyone on down. If that conversation needs to be had, that’s way over my head. There’s guys above me that make those decisions. If we do need to have that conversation, I’ll be all ears.”
The Phillies built their early lead on a three-run homer by Brad Miller in the first inning against Max Scherzer. Miller actually got Scherzer twice in the game.
It will be interesting to see if Nola makes another start this season. His 5 2/3 innings increased his season total to 202 1/3 over 34 starts. The right-hander is wrapping up the first year of a four-year, $45 million contract. He is the foundation of the pitching staff. With the team out of contention, there is no reason for him to start the season finale Sunday against Miami — especially now that he’s racked up a 6.51 ERA in five starts this month and the Phillies have gone winless in his last seven.
Kapler was noncommittal on whether Nola would start again or shut down for the season.
“We'll talk about that,” he said. “We'll have that conversation.”
Nola said he wasn’t sure what would happen the rest of the way. Asked if it would be wise to make another start, he said, “I don’t know. I haven’t talked to any of them yet.”
Being eliminated from contention in the afternoon and watching the Nationals celebrate a postseason berth at night wasn’t the way Harper dreamed it when he bolted Washington for Philadelphia and $330 million during spring training.
“They’re a good team,” Harper said. “They’ve been playing really well down the stretch and as a club they’ve done a good job in the last couple of months to put themselves in the driver’s seat to get into that wild-card game. They’re going to be tough to beat.
“We just have got to be better. We have to do what we can to get better as a team.”
Harper is confident the Phillies will get better. He’s going to be around for another 12 years.
“In spring training I said I don’t know if it’s going to be this year or next year or the next,” he said. “It takes time to build something special. As a team and an organization, (the Phillies) have been there. They were there in ‘08 and ‘09 and they built it up to be the team that they were with trades and things like that. I think this franchise is going to do that.”
And what is the Phillies’ biggest offseason need?
“I’ll let you guys know in about five days after the end of the year,” Harper said.
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