WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. — It matters not the venue, the New York Mets have made life tough on the Phillies everywhere this season.
The Phillies lost another game and another series to the Mets on Sunday night. Starter Nick Pivetta did not pitch well and the offense was insufficient as the Phils absorbed an 8-2 loss in the Little League Classic at historic Bowman Field (see first take).
The loss was the Phils' third in four days to the Mets. The Phils lost the five-game series and are just 5-8 against the Mets, who are 15 games under .500, this season.
The two teams play six more times in September.
"I think there's something to be said for division rivals," Rhys Hoskins said. "For whatever reason, it seems like they get up to play us. That's what happens when you are at the top of the division."
Actually, the Phils (68-56) are not at the top of the division. They had a chance to move into first place in the NL East with a win Sunday night as Atlanta lost its fourth game in a row earlier in the day. But the Phillies could not capitalize and they trail Atlanta by a half-game. That has been a theme for several weeks. The Phils were in first place from July 6 to Aug. 10 and had several chances to put space between themselves and the Braves, but never could build a lead of more than 2½ games.
Hoskins admitted that was frustrating.
"At the same time, though, we know that we haven't played as well as we can and we're still a half-game out of first place," he said. "So it's hard to be too frustrated. It could be worse. We could not be in striking distance. So, yeah, frustrating, but I think at the same time you can find some positive in being a half-game out."
Manager Gabe Kapler acknowledged that his team has squandered chances to advance.
"We understand we've had some missed opportunities to take some steps forward here," he said. "So at this very moment, I'm not thinking about how fortunate we are. I do feel like we're in a good spot in the standings. But I'm thinking about the fact that we need to take the day off, regroup, and get ready to play the Nationals. We will be prepared for that series."
That three-game series begins Tuesday night and though the Nationals have struggled and are a game under .500 and seven games back in the division, they still have big talent and are dangerous.
Here's how the pitching will go in that series:
Tuesday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (8-9, 4.13) vs. RHP Tanner Roark (8-12, 4.13)
Wednesday night — RHP Zach Eflin (9-4, 3.70) vs. RHP Stephen Strasburg (6-7, 3.90)
Thursday afternoon — RHP Aaron Nola (14-3, 2.24) vs. RHP Max Scherzer (16-5, 2.11)
Sunday night's pitching matchup didn't have the juice that Nola vs. Scherzer will, but the Mets were pleased with the outcome. Lefty Jason Vargas held the Phils to two runs over 5⅓ innings. He gave up just three hits over the first five innings. Hoskins singled with one out in the sixth and Carlos Santana followed with a two-run homer for the Phillies' only runs.
"He mixed well," Hoskins said. "He kept us off balance. That's kind of the pitcher that he is. He executed tonight. Sometimes you run into that. I wish I had more. He just kept the ball off the barrel."
Vargas got off to a poor start this season and entered with an ERA over 8.00.
"I thought Vargas pitched great," Kapler said. "Look, he has a track record of success in Major League Baseball. So despite the fact he hasn't had the same level of success this year, he's still a dangerous pitcher. He's very crafty. He used his changeup off the plate and expanded our zone just a little bit. That's why you saw us put some balls in play to the left side that we don't normally put in play. He made some good pitches. He was a quality starter for the Mets tonight."
Pivetta pitched well in his previous three starts, allowing just three runs in 18 innings. The success did not carry over into this one. He was tagged for five singles and four runs in the second inning. He was charged with two more runs in the fourth inning, one coming after a leadoff walk.
"Nick missed with his location quite a bit," Kapler said. "I think that's why he struggled to go deep into the game for us."
Third baseman Maikel Franco got a night off from the starting lineup. Asdrubal Cabrera started at third base and Scott Kingery at shortstop. Late in the game, Kapler inserted Justin Bour at first base and moved Santana to third base. Could that happen again down the stretch as Kapler looks for runs?
"It's not something we plan on doing regularly," Kapler said. "But in a situation where we're down five runs and we have to find some offense and we might be able to get Bour two at-bats in a game like we were able to do tonight, you probably have to take that shot. Santana has played third base successfully in the past. He takes ground balls there throughout the season. He prepares himself mentally for that opportunity. We'll use it when we need to."