Phillies

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

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

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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.

Hmm

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 soaks in the sting of elimination, stores it for motivation next season

Gabe Kapler soaks in the sting of elimination, stores it for motivation next season

ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler knows what the Atlanta Braves were feeling as they streamed euphorically out of the dugout Saturday after clinching the National League East with a 5-3 win over the Phillies. As a player, Kapler was a World Series champion with the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Nonetheless, Kapler lingered on the top step of the dugout and watched the Braves celebrate for several moments after they had eliminated his Phillies from contention (see story).

“I think it's important to feel the blow of that,” Kapler said. “Because up until a couple of days ago, I felt like we had a chance to be the ones having that moment at our ballpark. And I never came off that position because I always thought it to be possible, and I always believed in the players in that room. I think there's some value in just allowing the sting of that to sink in and acknowledge it and use it as motivation for next season.”

The Braves are NL East champs for the first time since 2013. They went 68-93 in 2016 and 72-90 last year, finishing 25 games out of first place. The Braves considered replacing manager Brian Snitker after last season. They stuck with him and now he is a strong candidate for NL manager of the year.

Kapler’s name was being mentioned as a manager of the year candidate when the Phillies were 15 games over .500 and leading the division by 1½ games on Aug. 5. The Phillies are 15-28 since then. There are eight games remaining in the season and the Phils need to win half of them to have their first winning season since 2011. They went 66-96 last season. 

Beyond saying that Aaron Nola would make his scheduled start Sunday, Kapler was not ready to say how he would approach the final eight games of the season.

“This is a really important moment to reflect back to the beginning of the season and even the offseason,” he said. “Yes, we feel disappointment. But if we had said that we were going to be playing a meaningful game on Sept. 22, I think a lot of people would've said that that's not a reasonable thought. On the flip side, this is ultimately a sting. This hurts. But I'm really proud of the guys in that room for putting us in this position and for fighting to be in Atlanta with kind of the season on the line today.”

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Jake Arrieta, Rhys Hoskins take responsibility in wake of Phillies’ elimination

Jake Arrieta, Rhys Hoskins take responsibility in wake of Phillies’ elimination

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ATLANTA — There were no excuses from two of the biggest names in the Phillies clubhouse.

Jake Arrieta didn’t get the job done Saturday and he said as much.

Rhys Hoskins didn’t get the job done down the stretch and he said as much.

The Phillies have breathed their last in the National League East race. Their long, painful collapse became official in a 5-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday (see first take). The Braves are NL East champions for the first time since 2013. They trailed the Phillies by 1 ½ game on Aug. 5 then went 27-20 to eliminate the Phillies. The Phils are 15-28 since being 15 games over .500 on Aug. 5.

The slow fade culminated with Arrieta lasting just two innings Saturday. He issued a four-pitch walk to three of the first four batters he faced and gave up four hits and four runs in the shortest start of his career. There was no politicking to try to stay in the game.

“If I did, my case wouldn’t have been very good,” Arrieta said. “I didn’t do my job today. You’ve got to tip your cap. They won the division. They really did.

“This wasn’t something that started today, obviously. Individually, the last month or so I haven’t been very good and we didn’t really take care of our business to get the job done. They did. That’s why we have the result we have.

“Defense, pitching and we didn’t swing the bats well. That’s all phases of the game that we weren’t as good and I think that’s pretty obvious.”

In March, the Phillies signed Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract — his $30 million salary this season is the largest ever for a Philadelphia athlete — because they believed his talent and veteran experience would be valuable in snapping a long postseason drought.

The 32-year-old right-hander failed to deliver down the stretch. He has a 6.64 ERA over his last eight starts. In 12 starts after the all-star break, his ERA is 5.09.

“This game is humbling,” Arrieta said. “You don’t always have it figured out and when you feel like you do you get kicked in the teeth. I’m not blaming it on anything other than just not being very good.”

With eight games to go, Hoskins is hitting .247 with 32 homers and 93 RBIs in his first full big-league season. At 25, he is a core building block for the future. But like Arrieta, he expected more from himself down the stretch. He is hitting just .204 with a .729 OPS over his last 44 games. He was hitless in 12 at-bats in the series before an RBI single in the eighth inning Saturday.

“It's disappointing,” Hoskins said in the postgame clubhouse. “You probably see that on a lot of our faces.

“I take a lot of responsibility for it. I wasn't me. That's frustrating and disappointing. But all you can do is learn from it.

“The inconsistency is frustrating. That's what makes good players great. I think it comes as a learned skill. All I can do is take what has happened, albeit disappointing, and learn from it and move forward with it.”

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