There’s more than a race for the division title going on in the National League East.
There’s a race for pitching. An intense one.
The Phillies, 6-4 losers to the Washington Nationals on Tuesday night, thought they had struck a deal with Pittsburgh for lefty Tyler Anderson earlier in the day, but the deal stalled when the Pirates didn’t like what they saw on the medical report of minor-league pitcher Cristian Hernandez, one of two players that the Phillies had agreed to part with.
The deal remained in limbo throughout the evening Tuesday and there was some thought among well-placed baseball insiders that the New York Mets had jumped into the Anderson sweepstakes and possibly offered the Pirates a more attractive package.
The Mets, who lead the division, have starting pitching issues, just like the Phillies do. They used starter Jerad Eickhoff for 3 1/3 innings Tuesday night and he gave up 10 runs in a loss to the Atlanta Braves.
The Mets (53-46) lead the division by 3 ½ games over the Phillies (50-50). The Braves (50-51) are 4 games back.
The Phillies had their own starting pitching issues Tuesday night. Again. Matt Moore allowed six runs in four innings. All of the runs came in the first two innings on a pair of three-run homers, one by Josh Bell and the other by Juan Soto.
“It was tough,” manager Joe Girardi said. “When you spot someone a 6-1 lead, it makes it difficult. We’ve got to find people to get us outs.”
Shortstop Didi Gregorius contributed to the carnage in the first two innings with a pair of defensive miscues. He failed to make a play on a ground ball by Trea Turner with one out in the first inning. It was scored an infield hit. Soto followed with a hit and Bell launched his homer.
An inning later, Gregorius ran far down the left-field line for a foul pop up by Victor Robles. It was a tough play, but Gregorius got to the ball, had it in his glove – then dropped it. The at-bat continued and Moore walked Robles with no outs. Two outs later, Gerardo Parra, who had come into the game when Turner was pulled after testing positive for COVID-19, singled and Soto came up and belted a three-run homer to make it 6-1.
Moore settled down and gave the Phils a pair of scoreless innings before departing after four. Though he finished better than he started, Moore certainly did not pitch well. He allowed eight hits and a walk in four innings. His season ERA is up to 6.46. He has a 7.15 ERA in five July starts.
Moore’s performance was another indication of how badly the Phillies need a starting pitching upgrade.
Who knows if the deal for Anderson will go through before Friday's trade deadline? Maybe it can be restructured with another player other than Hernandez going to the Pirates. Or maybe the Mets have cut the Phillies off at the pass. Wouldn't that spice up the rivalry between the two clubs? Phillies catching prospect Abrahan Gutierrez is also in the proposed deal.
Bryce Harper was genuinely surprised after the game when he heard the trade had not been completed. He said he was under the impression that Anderson would be in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
“You can always use starting pitching,” he said. “Pitching and defense will always be king. If you have the guys who can give you five, six-plus innings, that’ll always be good for you. Then let the bullpen have the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. We need to be better.”
Phillies officials will be none too happy if the deal falls through. Pirates general manager Ben Cherington was pushed aside in Boston – and ultimately left on his own – when Dave Dombrowski, now leading the Phillies baseball operation, arrived there in 2015. Is Cherington messing with Dombrowski? More than one baseball person asked that question Tuesday night.
Down 6-1 early, the Phillies made a game out with a single run in the fourth and two in the fifth on back-to-back homers by Harper and Andrew McCutchen. Harper’s was an inside-the-park homer, the first of his career. The consecutive homers put the Phils within two runs, but they got no closer. There was no ninth-inning magic this time.
On a positive note, the Phillies have their best starter, Zack Wheeler, on the mound Wednesday night. He will face Washington lefty Patrick Corbin.