Phillies

No offense, no urgency, no chance at playoffs if Phillies don’t string some wins together fast

No offense, no urgency, no chance at playoffs if Phillies don’t string some wins together fast

PHOENIX – The Phillies played sloppy baseball Wednesday night, they did not hit and they showed none of the urgency you’d expect from a team trying to stay in a playoff race.

A three-hour, 10-minute sleepwalk produced a 6-1 loss to the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The Phils played a strong all-around game in winning the first game of the series, 7-3, on Monday night. After that, the offense vanished and the Phils were outscored, 14-5, in losing the next two. Only a way-too-late, ninth-inning homer by Bryce Harper saved the Phils from being shut out on Wednesday night.

“I think we’re all pretty frustrated,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Certainly we’re a much better offensive club than we’re showing.”

At a time when the Phillies need to win series to make a playoff push, they have lost three of their last four series.

The National League East standings tell a painful tale for these Phillies. They led the division by three games on the last day of May. Nine weeks later, they are just a half-game out of fourth place in the division. The New York Mets, once thought dead and buried, have reeled off wins in 13 of their last 14 games are poised to overtake the Phillies for third place in the division. (Mets skipper Mickey Callaway, nearly fired a few weeks ago, could end up being the NL manager of the year if his team keeps this up.)

Of more relevance, the Mets have played themselves into the thick of the playoff race and are poised to overtake the Phillies in the wild-card standings.

The Phils headed for San Francisco after Wednesday night’s loss tied with Milwaukee for the second wild-card spot, but the Mets and Cardinals were just a half-game behind and Arizona was 1 ½ game out.

“We still in second in the wild card?” Harper asked reporters. “I’ll take it. If the season ended today, we’re in the playoffs. We just have to keep going, keep working. San Fran is a tough place to play. We have to go in there and hopefully split or win that series.”

There are 48 games left.

It’s time for the Phillies to turn it on.

But are they capable of a run with the inconsistencies in their offense and the problems with their pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen?

“When our club is playing our best baseball, we are going to be unbeatable,” Kapler said.

The Phillies did not play their best baseball the last two nights in Arizona. They got only 10 innings from their starting pitchers (Jake Arrieta and Jason Vargas) and the bullpen got tagged for eight runs. The defense was bad on Wednesday night and the offense was sluggish both nights.

The Phils followed up Tuesday night’s 2-for-17 performance with runners in scoring position with an 0-for-3 effort Wednesday night. Scott Kingery walked and stole second base to open the third inning. The next three batters struck out.

The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, until the ninth inning when Harper homered.

The lack of offense has given the pitching little margin for error.

“We’re a team here,” Kapler said. “We win as a team, we lose as a team, we fight as a team. We scratch and claw for every advantage as a team and when we’re not getting it done as a group we all put additional pressure on ourselves.

“So, obviously, if the offense isn’t performing to its capability, I think our pitching staff is going to put a little extra pressure on itself to make the perfect pitch. And if our pitching staff isn’t throwing up zeroes then our offense is going to put a tremendous amount of pressure on itself to score runs. That’s never the best environment and we have to find ways to get stronger as a unit so we can remove some of the pressure from each other as teammates.”

The offense could get a boost in San Francisco. Jay Bruce is expected to be activated from the injured list in the next day or two.

The Phils could use his bat.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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