Nationals 5, Phillies 1: First impressions after another grim performance

Nationals 5, Phillies 1: First impressions after another grim performance


Aaron Nola’s Cy Young chances took a hit in the Phillies’ latest loss Wednesday night. Nola lasted just five innings and gave up four runs, three on a pair of homers, in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals, who swept the three-game series.

Nola’s ability to keep the ball in the yard had been impressive for most of the season. But after allowing just eight homers in his first 27 starts, he has surrendered seven in his last three. Nola is 16-5 with a 2.42 ERA in 30 starts.

Where they stand

Since they topped out at 63-48 and led the NL East by 1½ games on Aug. 5, the Phillies are 11-23. Their record is now 74-71. Incredible as it may seem given where they once were, the Phils might not even finish with a .500 record.

They are still in second place, trailing Atlanta by 7½ games with 17 to play. But they are only a half-game better than third-place Washington.


The Phils’ deficit of 7½ games with 17 to play sounds familiar. Oh, yeah, that’s how far they were behind the Mets when they came back to win the NL East in the Jimmy Rollins, “We’re the team to beat,” year of 2007. This team doesn’t look capable of a similar comeback. This team is going in the wrong direction and appears out of gas.

Phillies have a new owner

Actually they don’t, but Stephen Strasburg does own them in the figurative sense. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball, walked none and struck out nine, to improve his lifetime mark against the Phils to 12-2 in 24 starts.

Not much offense

Manager Gabe Kapler praised his hitting coaches before the game (see story). Then the Phils went out and had just five hits. J.P. Crawford had three of them with an infield single, a bloop single and a homer.

Time to see some kids

Kapler said he would continue to play lineups that give the Phillies the best chance to win, but with their playoff hopes all but faded he is likely to get a look at some of the team’s younger players. The exercise started Wednesday night when Crawford started his first game at shortstop since June 18. Crawford got the Phillies on the scoreboard with a solo homer against Strasburg in the fifth inning.

Another young player, Roman Quinn, could be ready to return to the starting lineup as soon as Friday. He has been out since suffering a broken toe last week.

Kapler is consistent in strategy

The Phils trailed, 4-1, after Crawford’s homer in the fifth. Jorge Alfaro was then hit by a pitch. Nola was on his way out of the game, but it was possible he could have stayed around to try to move Alfaro to second with a bunt. Kapler instead sent Justin Bour to the plate to pinch-hit. That was no surprise because all season Kapler has made it clear that he will play for big innings and you do that by swinging the bat. Bour struck out. Cesar Hernandez struck out. Rhys Hoskins popped out to the catcher. Alfaro never advanced past first base and the Nats added a run on a solo homer by Juan Soto in the top of the sixth.

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Gabe Kapler remains committed to his bullpen principles even after infuriating loss to Cubs

Gabe Kapler remains committed to his bullpen principles even after infuriating loss to Cubs

CHICAGO — The Phillies tried to fight nuclear war with a bayonet on Tuesday night. They got away with it for a while, but in the end suffered one of their most painful and frustrating losses of the season.

If you added the word infuriating to the list, you probably wouldn't be wrong.

With his four best relievers unavailable because of recent workload, manager Gabe Kapler asked the trio of Edgar Garcia, Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio to get the final nine outs with a one-run lead on the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field.

Garcia and Alvarez got through the seventh and eighth innings before Nicasio imploded against the Cubs’ rugged lineup in the bottom of the ninth. The Cubs pushed across two runs in the frame and walked off with a 3-2 victory to snap the Phillies’ four-game winning streak (see observations).

It was a brutal loss not just because it came so suddenly, but because it seemed as if the Phils were fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

Relievers Pat Neshek, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris — all of whom can and have gotten big outs at the end of games —were all unavailable on the same night. That bit of bullpen management left Kapler in the crosshairs of scrutiny, but he did not budge from his belief that giving those four arms a night off was the right thing to do.

For the record, Morgan had pitched three straight days and Neris three of four. Dominguez worked three of the previous five days and threw 32 pitches on Monday night. Neshek had worked two of the previous four days, but had been up in the bullpen four straight.

“We were strict in giving those guys a blow,” Kapler said. “They've all been working really hard, both in the ‘pen getting up, and also getting into games consistently. We definitely believed Nicasio could get the job done. We saw Alvarez get the job done, we saw Garcia get the job done, and we believed Nicasio could, as well. We were asking a lot of him to go through that part of the lineup. It's a really potent portion of the Cubs' lineup.”

Nicasio opened the ninth by walking the dangerous Kris Bryant. He then gave up a double to Anthony Rizzo. After that, it seemed like it was just a matter of time before the Cubs would push across the two runs they needed to win. The first came on a bases-loaded dribbler between the mound and the first-base line, the second on a clean hit by pinch-hitter Javier Baez.

Nicasio, who had been very good lately — he hadn’t allowed an earned run in 10 straight appearances — declined to speak with reporters after the game.

First baseman Rhys Hoskins was asked if it was frustrating to lose a ballgame without your best bullpen weapons available for deployment.

“I don’t know if ‘frustrating’ is the word,” he said. “I think over the course of a long season, sometimes that’s not the hand you’re dealt. We’ve had to use some guys in big situations pretty frequently lately and we’ve gotten wins because of it. I think this was a situation that everybody knew what we had going in.”

Hoskins paused and added: “I think as an offense we hoped to do a little more but (Cubs’ starter Jose) Quintana was good tonight.”

Quintana indeed limited the Phils to two hits over six shutout innings, but the Phils got three hits against the Cubs’ bullpen in the seventh and took a 2-1 lead on a two-out hit by Andrew McCutchen.

Zach Eflin reached 104 pitches in six innings and Kapler had to to rely on a compromised bullpen to try to close it out.

“It's difficult to hold the Cubs down like (Garcia and Alvarez) did,” Kapler said. “Certainly, we felt like we were in a good position to win that game. We knew we were going to go through the teeth of their lineup and that's a tall task for anyone.”

Kapler showed no regret over not having his top relievers available. He remains committed to going for wins when they are in front of him, even if that means not being in the best position to win a night or two later.

“I think I've been pretty consistent with the approach of aggressively going after wins when we can lock them down,” he said. “I think you always want to balance winning tonight's baseball game with winning a series and winning the long game.”

The Phillies, who remain in first place in the NL East, are 1-1 in this four-game series against the NL Central-leading Cubs. The two teams will be right back at it Wednesday night and the Phillies should have a fresh bullpen, though you probably already deduced that.

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Cubs 3, Phillies 2: Phillies' winning streak ends on Javier Baez's walk-off single

Cubs 3, Phillies 2: Phillies' winning streak ends on Javier Baez's walk-off single


CHICAGO — The Phillies suffered a painful 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.

The Cubs won it with two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against reliever Juan Nicasio, who was called on to close on a night when four of the team’s top relievers were apparently unavailable because of recent workload.

The Cubs scored the game-tying run on a bases-loaded infield hit by Albert Almora Jr.

They won it on a hit by pinch-hitter Javier Baez.

The Phillies’ bullpen was clearly not at full strength as Pat Neshek, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris were all unavailable because of recent workload.

Edgar Garcia and Jose Alvarez got the Phils through the seventh and eighth innings with the lead, but Nicasio could not hold it.

The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Phillies.

The keys

• Starter Zach Eflin did a lot of bending, but he did not break. In the end, it did not matter.

• Kris Bryant scored from second base on a ground ball to shortstop in the first inning, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Bryant was running on the play. It ended up being a huge run for the Cubs.

• Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco had hits in the seventh to set up Andrew McCutchen for a two-run single that gave the Phils a 2-1 lead.

• The Phillies won a challenge in the bottom of the fourth inning and it kept a run off the board. Bryant stroked a ground-rule double to left with two outs. It initially appeared as if Kyle Schwarber had scored from first on the play, but he was told to return to third after the replay review showed him just past second base as the ball left the field of play. It was a pivotal moment in a close game.

• Nicasio faced an uphill battle after walking the leadoff man in the ninth. He then allowed a double. The Cubs scored the tying run with the bases loaded on a nubber out in front of the plate by Almora. Nicasio's toss home to J.T. Realmuto for an attempted force out was not in time. The next batter, Baez, finished the game with a liner to right field.

Eflin’s night

Eflin worked with catcher Realmuto. His previous four starts had come with Andrew Knapp behind the plate.

The right-hander, who entered the game walking just 1.45 batters pre nine innings (third-best in the majors), was uncharacteristically wild, especially early. He walked a season-high four and three of them came in the first inning.

Eflin was able to survive that early wildness and 32 pitches in the first inning on his way to giving the Phils six innings of one-run ball.

Push for playing time

With Odubel Herrera in an 0-for-15 funk and a lefty on the mound for the Cubs, manager Gabe Kapler used Scott Kingery in center field for the second time in three games. He handled three balls in center and doubled in the ninth. Kingery will continue to get looks in centerfield and has a chance to make a serious dent in Herrera’s playing time if he produces.

Health check

Outfielder Dylan Cozens, who had been playing at Triple A Lehigh Valley, is sidelined indefinitely after requiring surgery to repair a heel injury that bothered him as far back as spring training.

Up next

Rookie Cole Irvin, winner of his first two big-league starts, returns to the mound Wednesday night. He will oppose another left-hander with the same first name. Yes, Cole Hamels will pitch against the Phils for the first time in his career. He is 4-0 with a 3.33 ERA.

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