Phillies

It's getting more and more difficult to envision this sloppy Phillies team making the postseason

It's getting more and more difficult to envision this sloppy Phillies team making the postseason

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Nights like this are why it’s difficult to believe these Phillies can live to play October baseball.

They are a bad defensive team. And they don’t hit enough to play over their defensive shortcomings.

The inability to make a couple of routine plays cost the Phils dearly in a 5-3 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Monday night (see first take). The crowd on the first night of an important homestand was just 21,261. The Phils have lost seven of their last nine ballgames and 13 of their last 20. They lost a half-game in the standings and trail first-place Atlanta by 3½ games in the NL East with 31 to play.

The Phillies’ goal, as general manager Matt Klentak alluded to before the game, is to stay close the rest of the way and take their chances in seven head-to-head matchups with the Braves over the final 11 games of the season.

But if the Phillies don’t clean up a lot of things and start winning consistently real soon, those seven games with Atlanta over the final 11 days of the season aren’t going to mean much.

“I actually think we’re in a perfectly good spot right now,” Klentak said before the game. “We are three games out of the division. We are two games out of the wild card and we are a team that has lost 90-plus games three years in a row and hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2011. There are 32 games left to play, seven of which are against the Braves. We are in a good spot. We get hot and play well in September, we can do some damage and play some October baseball. That is the goal for these players, for this coaching staff and for this organization.”

The Phillies entered Monday night’s game ranked 27th in the majors with a .238 batting average. They ranked 29th in the majors in hits (1,045) and were able to add just six to that total. Phillie killer Stephen Strasburg (11-2 career against the Phils) pitched six innings of five-hit, two-run ball for the win.

The Phillies are averaging just 3.75 runs over the last 20 games.

But offense wasn’t the killer Monday night. Defense was. It was a 2-2 game in the top of the fourth inning when starting pitcher Zach Eflin and leftfielder Rhys Hoskins both made defensive miscues that led to runs. The Nats took a 4-2 lead on the mistakes and never looked back.

“The story of the game tonight is very simple and straightforward,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We gave a club with a very good, deep lineup additional outs. We can't afford to do that. We did it with a pretty good start from Strasburg on the other side. Against a team like this, you have to get the outs when you have a chance to get the outs.”

Defense has been a season-long issue for the Phils. They entered the game with 99 errors, second most in the majors, and they ranked last in the majors with minus-101 defensive runs saved, according to Fangraphs data.

Defensive shifts also hurt the Phils in this one. Eflin gave up a run on three straight two-out singles in the first inning. But the first hit went right through the area of second base that was vacated by the shift. In other words, without the shift it would have been an out. In the fourth, Eflin gave up another shift-aided hit, a leadoff single to Juan Soto. Soto eventually scored on Eflin’s throwing error to the plate.

“I take a lot of pride in being able to field my position and being able to throw to bases whenever I want,” Eflin said. “That one really hit home for me. I'm not happy about it. I'm actually pretty damn disappointed in myself.”

Seven of the eight hits that Eflin allowed were singles. One of them was a misplay by Hoskins in left and several others were ground balls that found holes and two were shift-aided.

“It's frustrating at times but at the end of the day I typically look and see where everybody is playing before each batter,” Eflin said. “You can say the same thing on the reverse side — what if they would hit it into the shift every time tonight? So you give and take. It goes both ways. The past two outings they've found the hole just about every single time, so at times it can frustrate you but the only thing you can do is keep your head up and focus on the next guy. It's just baseball.”

Trailing 5-2 in the sixth inning, the Phils appeared to be putting something together when Wilson Ramos and Asdrubal Cabrera both singled with no outs. Cabrera’s single went to right field and Ramos tried to go first to third on the play. But Ramos was thrown out after letting up to protect his sore hamstrings. Ramos, in the lineup because the Phillies are desperate for a bat, heard a few boos for what was perceived as lack of hustle.

Kapler defended Ramos.

“He's playing through a lot,” Kapler said. “I spoke to him after the game. I just shared with him that, 'Just stop at second. Go base to base.' In hindsight, he probably would have done that. Maybe in his mind he thought he was going to make it to third base easily. That wasn't the case. But I think he deserves to be recognized for being especially tough and posting for us tonight.”

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O-H, yeah, Bryce Harper gives Indians fans a little something to remember him by

O-H, yeah, Bryce Harper gives Indians fans a little something to remember him by

CLEVELAND — Bryce Harper knows how to play a crowd. He’s done it all season at Citizens Bank Park with his pre-game bow to the fans in the right-field seats followed by his heaving of a warm-up ball into the upper deck.

The fans love it.

They love it even more when he hits home runs.

Harper belted his 33rd homer of the season to lead a 9-4 Phillies’ win over the Cleveland Indians on Saturday night. The home run was an impressive one, a three-run shot that put the Phils ahead, 5-4, with one out in the fifth inning.

The Phillies have played 153 games and they are in the midst of an 11-game road trip. At this time of year, the days seem to become a blur. Sometimes players don’t even know what day it is, or what city they’re waking up in. All they know is that there is another game to play.

But Harper was keenly aware of his surroundings Saturday night, keenly aware of what state he was in. As he crossed home plate after his go-ahead homer, he raised his arms and made the "O-H” sign above his head. And as he spoke with reporters after the game, he wore an Ohio State cap — backwards, of course.

“Big win for the Bucks today,” he said of the 76-5 whooping that Ohio State’s football team put on Miami of Ohio.

Harper’s wife, Kayla, played soccer at Ohio State. That was the birth of his fandom.

The fans in Cleveland appreciated the love that Harper showed for the Buckeyes.

They just would have preferred that he’d done it after, say, a harmless single.

Phillies starter Jason Vargas really appreciated the homer. He gave up four runs in the first two innings — two were unearned after Jean Segura’s error in the first inning — but kept his club in the game until the bats got going in the middle innings. Vargas pitched 6 2/3 bullpen-saving innings and ended up with his first win since July 28, when he was a member of the Mets.

Brad Miller hit the first of his two homers in the fourth inning and Harper put the Phils ahead with his three-run shot in the fifth. Harper’s homer was preceded by hits from Adam Haseley and J.T. Realmuto. 

With his team up, 4-2, Cleveland manager Terry Francona brought in lefty Oliver Perez to face Harper. Perez had retired Harper the night before. This time, Harper fouled off five pitches before hitting the ninth pitch, a full-count slider, over the wall in right field.

“It’s nice to be able to stay competitive and keep us in position to get back into the game and then, golly, I mean I can’t say that I’ve seen a more professional at-bat than the one Harper had against Perez right there,” Vargas said. “I think that any time you see an at-bat like that from your main guy, it’s just — he really didn’t give in and he really made the effort to stay in the at-bat and do everything he could do to get his pitch and he really capitalized and made a difference for us.”

Harper has 15 homers and 36 RBIs in his last 40 games.

“He has been tremendous in the second half of the season for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We win when Harper hits.

“That nine-pitch at-bat felt determined to me. Like he was determined not to fail. He was determined to put the ball in play and put it in play hard. He just did a good job of getting up underneath that baseball and putting it in the air.”

The Phils hit four homers on the night and they got excellent work from the bullpen, which has a 2.69 ERA — second-best in baseball — over the last 20 games.

A smiling Vargas stood in the dugout and greeted reliever Jared Hughes when he retired dangerous Francisco Lindor to end the seventh.

The victory was the 99th of Vargas’ career and it kept the Phils mathematically alive in the NL wild-card race at five games back with nine to play.

Vargas, 36, intends to pitch next season — the Phillies hold a $6 million option on his contract, though it’s unclear if they will pick that up — but he would prefer to get his 100th win before then.

He lines up to make one more start this season.

“I’d definitely like to get it sooner than later, obviously, but I’ve gone this long without having 100,” Vargas said. “It will be nice when it comes and hopefully it comes. It would definitely be a nice thing to have.”

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Bryce Harper hits go-ahead home run as Phillies power past Indians

Bryce Harper hits go-ahead home run as Phillies power past Indians

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CLEVELAND — The math says the Phillies still have a chance at making the postseason.

But sitting five games back in the National League wild-card race with just nine games remaining has turned them into spoilers.

With that, the Phils threw a little hurdle in the way of the Cleveland Indians with a 9-4 win on Saturday night.

The 91-win Indians entered the night tied with Tampa Bay for the second American League wild-card spot. They had won five in a row.

The Phils trailed 4-1 after two innings, but they came back to take the lead on the strength of home runs by Brad Miller and Bryce Harper. Harper’s three-run shot in the fifth gave the Phillies the lead.

Jay Bruce and Miller — he blasted his second homer of the game in the ninth — padded the lead with solo homers.

Jason Vargas gave a tired bullpen a break with 6 2/3 strong innings.

The Phillies are 79-74. They need to win three of their final nine games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Vargas’ night

The veteran lefty came into the game with a 7.17 ERA in his previous five starts and he lasted just three innings in his previous two.

Vargas survived a costly error in the first inning and held the Indians to four runs, two of which were unearned. His fastball topped out in the mid-80s, but he was able to change speeds off of that on his way to eight strikeouts. His changeup was a good pitch.

The win was Vargas’ first since July 28, when he was with the Mets. He has 99 career wins.

Good job by the ‘pen

Jared Hughes, Jose Alvarez and Edgar Garcia teamed on 2 1/3 scoreless innings to protect the lead.

Over the last 20 games, the Phillies’ bullpen has posted a 2.69 ERA. That’s second-best in the majors over that span.

Win the battle

On Friday night, lefty reliever Oliver Perez came out of the bullpen and retired Bryce Harper on a ground ball. Cleveland manager Terry Francona went back to Perez when Harper came up with two men on base and one out in the fifth inning. This time, Harper won a long, nine-pitch battle against Perez. He fouled off five pitches before clubbing a full-count slider over the wall in right-center. The three-run homer gave the Phillies a 5-4 lead. Jay Bruce lengthened the lead to 6-4 with a solo homer later in the inning. Bruce, who has missed time with an elbow injury, has just two hits since the All-Star break. Both are homers.

Harper has 33 homers on the season.

No excuse

Shortstop Jean Segura committed a first-inning error that eventually cost Vargas two runs. Cleveland leadoff man Francisco Lindor hit a ground ball right at Segura and he made a low throw across the diamond that Rhys Hoskins could not pull out of the dirt. It was a play that a top defensive first baseman makes, but that’s not the point. The error was completely avoidable and never would have happened if Segura had not been so nonchalant in flipping his throw across the diamond. His lack of intensity on the play cost the team two runs.

Later in the game, Segura made an excellent play when he ranged behind the second-base bag, spun and fired to first base to get Franmil Reyes. Segura can do it when he wants to.

Up next

Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89) gets the ball in Sunday night’s series finale. He will go up against Cleveland right-hander Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34).

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