PHILS INSIDER

Phillies' bats go quiet in final game before pivotal series in Atlanta

PHILS INSIDER

Having run out of competent, big-league quality starting pitching, the Phillies rolled the dice on a guy who'd pitched just one game -- 4 innings, to be exact -- above the Double A level in the final home game of the 2021 season.

Hans Crouse did not have a memorable major-league debut.

But he was not the Phillies' problem Sunday afternoon.

A lack of offense was.

The bats came up small in a 6-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates that damaged the Phillies' thin playoff hopes.

Rookie Max Kranick, who entered the game with a 7.28 ERA, held the Phillies scoreless over five innings in his eighth big-league start and the Pirates' bullpen did the rest to avoid a four-game sweep.

For the day, the Phillies had just six hits and five were singles. They struck out 11 times.

"We just never got the hit when we needed it," manager Joe Girardi lamented.

The Phillies won three of four in the series, but they needed to be greedy and sweep the lowly Pirates. The Phils are 2½ games behind the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves, who won Sunday in San Diego to lower their magic number for clinching the division to five.

The Phillies and Braves play a huge three-game series in Atlanta starting on Tuesday night. With six games left, the Phils, who have not been to the playoffs since 2011, need to think sweep. They will send Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Kyle Gibson to the mound. The Braves will counter with Charlie Morton, Max Fried and Ian Anderson.

 

"Every time you play somebody you want to sweep them," Bryce Harper said. "We'd be up half a game, right, if we went in there and swept? So, yeah, I would imagine a sweep would be nice."

At 81-75, the Phils are one victory shy of their first winning season since 2011. They finished the home portion of their schedule at 47-34. They are 34-41 on the road.

Crouse, 23, was acquired from Texas in July in the same trade that netted the Phillies pitchers Gibson and Ian Kennedy. He made six starts at Double A Reading and one at Triple A Lehigh Valley after the trade.

Three-fifths of the Phillies' season-opening rotation is out of the picture. Zach Eflin is out for the season with a knee injury, Chase Anderson was released, and Matt Moore lost his spot and is now on the injured list. Vince Velasquez made 17 starts after opening the season in the bullpen, but he, too, has been released.

With no quality starting pitching depth close to helping, the Phillies have been forced to scramble for a starter every fifth game this month. The bullpen filled three starts. Adonis Medina filled one. On Sunday, Crouse, a right-hander with a funky delivery, got the surprise call.

Crouse will never forget his first pitch in the majors, a 94-mph fastball that Pirates leadoff man Cole Tucker clanged off the right-field foul pole for a 1-0 lead.

"To be honest with you, I was just trying to throw a strike," Crouse said. "That's all that was going through my mind. And then, sure enough, Tucker hit it. I was hoping it was going to keep going foul. And then, once I saw it go off the pole, I just said to myself, 'Well, that's one way to start a career.'

"It is what it is. I'm happy with how I composed myself and how I got two quick outs after that and got into a rhythm."

Crouse lasted three innings and gave up just that one run. He allowed six baserunners, four on walks, and was fortunate the Pirates did not score more. The wind knocked down a ball that might have been a three-run homer in the first.

Still, Crouse and Cristopher Sanchez, another rookie, managed to keep the Pirates to just a run over five innings.

The problem was the Phillies' offense -- or lack thereof. J.T. Realmuto, batting behind Harper, had big chances with runners on base in the third and fifth innings and both times could not come up with a hit that might have changed the course of the game. He struck out and grounded to shortstop in those two at-bats.

"Again, he's not going to hit 1.000 with runners in scoring position," Girardi said. "I've yet to find a player to do that. He battled today. He's been grinding. He's been grinding so the day off (Monday) will probably really help him."

 

The Phils trailed, 1-0, when things got ugly in the seventh. Veteran reliever Jose Alvarado was tagged for a pair of runs on a pinch-hit double by Ke'Bryan Hayes in an inning that included two conventional walks, two intentional walks, a wild pitch, a balk and generally a whole lot of ugliness.

The Pirates scored two more against Medina in the eighth.

Medina was bypassed for the start, so it was interesting that Girardi went to him in the eighth while trailing by just three runs with six outs remaining. Afterward, Girardi said that neither Sam Coonrod (sore thumb) nor Kennedy (workload) were available. Hector Neris was held back in case the Phillies rallied and needed a closer. The irony there is, the pitchers Girardi used late in the game could not keep it close to where a rally would have really mattered.

The attendance on Fan Appreciation Day was 29,336. The Phils drew 1,515,888 for the season, their smallest total since 1997. The ballpark, however, was not open to full capacity until June.

Will the Phillies be back at Citizens Bank Park this season for a playoff game?

Or will the place go dark and the playoff drought reach a decade?

The next three games in Atlanta will tell a lot.

"You get to the end of the year and you look to have an opportunity to get to the playoffs," Girardi said. "That's exactly what we have. We have an opportunity to get there. Find a way to win a game Tuesday and let's see where we're at and we'll go from there. It's exciting. We have a shot."