NEW YORK — Nick Vincent wasn't even here a week ago. Now he's taken walk-off losses in consecutive games for a Phillies team falling fast out of the wild-card race.
After the Phillies mounted a late comeback thanks, again, to J.T. Realmuto, Gabe Kapler turned to Mike Morin and Vincent in the bottom of the ninth and the results were ugly. Morin put runners on the corners with two outs before Vincent hit Jeff McNeil and walked Pete Alonso to force in the game-winning run.
We've spent plenty of time this season lamenting the Phillies' weak rotation. Right now, the bullpen is just as shaky. Sure, Phillies relievers had a 3.75 ERA in the 40 games preceding Friday night, but that ERA was not a result of lights-out, swing-and-miss stuff from the back end of the 'pen. "Smoke and mirrors" may be a bit strong but is closer to explaining the success this bullpen had out of the All-Star break.
Consider that Vincent, Morin and Blake Parker — three of the final four relievers used Friday — were all let go by teams during the season and picked up by the Phillies for free. That fact alone does not mean none of them can be productive for a stretch, but high-quality relievers just do not become available for free. The more they're exposed, the more their flaws show.
Realmuto, who hit the two-run homer off Edwin Diaz to force the bottom of the ninth, felt for Vincent.
"Extremely tough," the catcher said. "I talked to him after the game on the bench, told him not to hang his head because everybody here knows how tough that spot is he just got thrown into. He's thrown three out of four games with a sick day in between. I'm sure he's a little tired, a little worn out. Everybody in this clubhouse knows that's a really tough spot he was just put in."
They can know it, and they can support their teammate, but it won't stop this slide. The Phillies did not lose ground on the Cubs Friday but the Cubs are not the only team to worry about. The Phillies are four behind the Cubs, 1½ games behind the Diamondbacks and now tied with the Brewers and Mets. To earn that second wild-card spot, they will need to outplay all four of those teams over the final 22 games.
"We're not doing what it takes to win games," Realmuto said. "We're playing OK, we're staying in the game but we're not quite finishing it when we need to, you know? We're right there in the last couple innings. Something always seems to happen where we don't get it done pitching, we don't get it done hitting. ... Of course it's frustrating."
Kapler's hands are tied. He can't force guys like Morin, Parker or Vincent to be better. He can't nurse David Robertson, Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and Victor Arano back to health. He can work with only what he has, and right now that is not nearly enough.
How many teams can remain in a playoff race with two legitimate starting pitchers and one or two reliable high-leverage relievers?
"It's definitely a challenge and one that we have to meet," Kapler said.
The clock has almost expired on a season in which the Phillies have been forced to use more players (55) than any in franchise history.
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