Phillies

Phillies’ disappointing road trip makes you wonder what Monday will bring

Phillies’ disappointing road trip makes you wonder what Monday will bring

SAN FRANCISCO – This Phillies season continues to spiral downward with a new low point seemingly occurring every other day.

If they’re not getting one-hit, they’re losing with late bullpen implosions and poor outings from the starting pitchers.

The Phillies lost again Sunday night, 9-6, when the San Francisco Giants rallied for three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

The brutal loss wrapped up a 2-5 road trip for the Phillies, who have gone 27-34 since the start of June to fall from first place in the NL East to fourth.

Things have gone so badly for the Phillies lately that you have to wonder if the front office will use the opportunity of an off day on Monday to shake some things up with possibly a coaching change or a personnel move.

Just something maybe to keep an eye on. The situation seems ripe. The Phils are two games out of the NL wild-card chase, trailing two teams. There are 44 games left and as bad as things have been, manager Gabe Kapler is still full of fight.

“It was a tough trip, a disappointing trip,” Kapler said moments after Sunday’s night’s nationally televised defeat. “We didn’t execute enough on offense or on the mound and now we go back home. We know we’re in the hunt and we have to continue to fight. What we have control over is how we respond to getting knocked down and this road trip was definitely that. We will get up and we will get up strong.”

The Phillies might be getting up without Jake Arrieta. He blew a 5-2 lead in the third inning and was out of the game after that. It was his shortest start in the six that he’s made since disclosing he was pitching with a bone spur in his elbow. He gave up seven hits and five runs in his three painful innings of work.

“Yeah, it hurts every day,” Arrieta said afterward. “Today, I lacked the ability to throw any off-speed stuff with effectiveness and they made me pay for it.

“The offense put up enough runs to win the game. I just wasn’t able to get through my share of the outing and preserve the lead.”

After his previous starts, Arrieta had always been adamant that he wants to keep pitching with the bone spur. He plans corrective surgery in the offseason.

But after this one, he hedged when asked if he would keep pitching.

“I don’t necessarily want to make a decision right now,” he said. “We’ll have the off day Monday and maybe have a conversation on Tuesday.”

The Phils lost two of three in Arizona and three of four in San Francisco. The Giants won in a one-hitter on Thursday and a three-hitter on Saturday.

“They took care of business against us, really,” Arrieta said.

The Phillies had 10 hits in Sunday night’s game and they scored six runs, usually a good sign as they were 52-15 when scoring more than four runs. But the Phils stranded 15 runners on base and left the bases loaded twice, including in the seventh when Rhys Hoskins (2 for 24, 0 RBIs on the trip) popped out with two outs.

“Rhys has been our most consistent hitter all year, hovering around a .900 OPS,” Kapler said. “He has been very clutch the last couple of years. He’s not having a lot of luck right now and it’s frustrating for him. But I want him up there in every big situation.”

The Phils tied the game at 6-6 in the top of the eighth. Lefty Jose Alvarez allowed a leadoff hit in the bottom of the inning then got two outs. Kapler went to righty Nick Pivetta for righty-hitting Kevin Pillar. The Phils chose not to walk Pillar for struggling Brandon Crawford because Pivetta-Pillar was the matchup they wanted. Pivetta threw a wild pitch then gave up a tie-breaking triple to right-center on a 3-1 pitch. After an intentional walk to Crawford (and a stolen base), Pivetta gave up a two-run single to the opposing relief pitcher, Will Smith. It was the first at-bat of Smith’s seven-year career and it was a symbolic haymaker to the Phillies’ chin.

“Pillar has chased quite a bit recently,” Kapler said. “He’s chased up out of the zone and below the zone. We had that matchup tailor-made. It was the matchup we looked for. We talked about it before the inning. We were going to set up Pivetta for fastballs up and out, hammers down. We weren’t able to execute.”

That was a common refrain on the trip.

What will Monday’s off day bring?

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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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