August has been a crazy month for the Phillies, a time of fist-pumping highs and disappointing lows. The team has put its fans through the wringer, surging one moment, slipping the next. And there are still two weeks to go before the calendar turns to September.
On Aug. 1, the Phils awakened in Pittsburgh with a deficit of 4½ games in the National League East. Over the course of eight days, they proceeded to rattle off eight wins in a row to take a two-game lead in the division.
Ten days later, they are 2½ games back after following that eight-game winning streak with a string of five defeats in seven games, the latest being a 3-2 loss to the lowly Arizona Diamondbacks in Phoenix on Tuesday night.
While the mercurial Phillies have gone from hot to cold, the Atlanta Braves have just been hot. They rallied for single runs in the eighth and ninth innings to beat the Miami Marlins, 2-0, on Tuesday night. It was the Braves’ fifth win in a row. They are 12-3 in August.
The Braves have capitalized on a favorable schedule. They swept the white-flag Washington Nationals and will go for a sweep of the last-place Marlins on Wednesday night.
After Miami, the Braves move on to Baltimore for three with the Orioles, the worst team in the majors, before their schedule toughens with eight straight against the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Phillies’ stretch-drive schedule is also favorable, starting with the current series in Arizona. The Diamondbacks are the worst team in the NL, but that didn’t stop five of their pitchers from holding the Phillies to just three hits Tuesday night.
After the game, manager Joe Girardi said he didn’t want to hear about the Phillies’ having an easy finishing schedule anymore.
“We got beat because we didn’t hit,” he said. “No matter who you play, if you don't hit, if you don't pitch, if you don't run the bases, if you don't play defense, you're going to lose in this league. That's the bottom line."
Offense fueled the eight-game winning streak. During the run, the Phils hit .289 (81 for 280) with a .901 OPS and averaged two homers and 6.9 runs per game.
Over the last seven games, the offense has gone dry. The team batting average during the skid is just .183 (40 for 218) and the OPS is a woeful .556. The Phils have averaged just 2.5 runs during the skid and hit a total of just four homers.
It’s tough to win with an offense that anemic. Kyle Gibson kept the Phillies in Tuesday night’s game with six innings of three-run ball. On Wednesday night, Ranger Suarez will make his fourth start since transitioning from the bullpen. He has allowed just one run in 10 innings in his three starts and the Phils have won all of them. Suarez has been cleared to push 90 pitches, maybe a few more, in the start, but he’ll need some run support. His family will be watching back home in Venezuela.
Right-hander Humberto Castellanos will pitch for Arizona. It will be his second big-league start.
Zack Wheeler and Madison Bumgarner will start the series finale on Thursday before the Phils head to San Diego for three.