Phillies

Self-destructive Phillies suffer embarrassing loss to Indians on national TV

Self-destructive Phillies suffer embarrassing loss to Indians on national TV

BOX SCORE

CLEVELAND — The Phillies began the final week of their season with an embarrassing 10-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians in a nationally televised game on Sunday night.

A series of self-inflicted wounds hurt the Phillies in the fifth inning and the Indians delivered a knockout blow with six runs in the seventh.

The Indians scored three unearned runs in the fifth inning — all on a home run by Oscar Mercado — to take control of the game.

Mercado’s homer came on an 0-2 pitch from Vince Velasquez with two outs in the inning. The frame began with two Indians reaching base on a pair of Phillies errors, one by Jean Segura, one by Velasquez.

The Phillies made three errors in the game. They have had multi-error games in three of the six games on this trip.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 79-75. They need three wins in their final eight games to have their first winning season since 2011.

The Phillies’ microscopic postseason hopes could be extinguished as soon as Tuesday. Their elimination number is two (see story).

The 92-win Indians are tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot.

A big problem

Phillies pitchers have allowed a club record 244 homers this season. That’s the second most in the NL. The old team record was 221.

Velasquez was one strike away from getting out of the fifth inning. Catcher J.T. Realmuto called for a fastball up in the zone but Velasquez did not get it up high enough and Mercado crushed it into the left-field seats for three runs and a Cleveland lead.

Phillies pitchers have been careless executing 0-2 pitches this season. They have allowed 16 homers in that count, the most in the majors.

Inspiring performance

Cleveland right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who missed part of this season undergoing treatment for leukemia, came on in the top of the fifth and rolled a big double-play ball. He then put up a shutdown inning in the sixth and finished with 2 2/3 scoreless innings.

Carrasco was originally Phillies property. He was dealt to Cleveland in the package for Cliff Lee a decade ago. He led the American League with 18 wins in 2017.

The offense

The Phillies had just five hits. Scott Kingery had a pair of doubles. He entered the game hitting .159 (11 for 70) in September.

And another one

Realmuto threw out another runner trying to steal second base. It was his 38th of the season, most in the majors. He also doubled home the Phillies’ only run to give the club a 1-0 lead in the third inning.

Up next

The Phillies move on to Washington for a five-game series against the Nationals beginning Monday night. Zach Eflin (9-12, 4.00) will pitch the opener against Washington lefty Patrick Corbin (13-7, 3.10).

The teams will play a day-night doubleheader on Tuesday. Neither team has named a starter for the first game. Aaron Nola (12-6, 3.75) is scheduled to face Max Scherzer (10-7, 2.81) in the nightcap.

On Wednesday night, the Phils will send Drew Smyly (4-7, 6.44) to the mound against right-hander Anibal Sanchez (10-8, 3.91).

Lefty Jason Vargas (7-8, 4.40) will pitch Thursday afternoon against right-hander Stephen Strasburg (17-6, 3.37).

The Nationals are bidding to win the NL wild card.

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Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Good thing the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the offseason as the No. 2 starting pitcher in free agency behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Wheeler, is returning to the Nationals on a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

As historically good as Strasburg was in October, that is an insane number for him. He will turn 32 midway through the first of the seven years. He has made 30 starts in just three of nine seasons and reached 200 innings twice. He was more durable than ever in 2019 and, boy, did he cash in because of it. 

Two seasons ago, in 2018, Strasburg made 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Had he had that type of season in 2019, he probably wouldn't have even opted out of the remaining three years and $75 million to find this next payday.

Good for him. But also good for the Phillies in agreeing with Wheeler five days before the Nats retained Strasburg. Because if Wheeler was still on the board today, that number is at least $20 million higher and maybe more. Would a team go to $140 million for Wheeler? What about $160 million? Think about how many free agents the White Sox have struck out on in recent years. Wouldn't they have been likely to up their offer one more time if Wheeler was still out there to see what Strasburg signed for?

Strasburg is a great pitcher, don't get it twisted. He proved in 2019 that he can be the most reliable and important arm in the league when the pressure is at its peak. But forget Year 6, by Year 3 or 4 of this deal, the Nationals could be regretting it mightily.

And if this is what it took to sign Strasburg, Gerrit Cole is even more likely to approach $300 million.

There has been much more offseason activity leaguewide than there was at this point a year ago. The five best remaining free agents are Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The next three would be Nick Castellanos, Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna and then you're getting into back-end-rotation types.

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How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

The Phillies, after signing Zack Wheeler for $118 million over five years, are approximately $20 million below MLB's luxury tax threshold for the 2020 season.

John Middleton was asked at a news conference six weeks ago about his willingness to exceed the $208 million tax, which for a first-time offender like the Phillies would result in a 20 percent penalty for every dollar they are over $208M.

This is what the Phils' managing partner said:

Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team. That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

The 2020 Phillies are not one piece away from seriously contending for a World Series. Even after the Wheeler splash, they still need at least one more strong regular in the lineup, at least one starting pitcher, a couple semi-reliable relief arms and a more competent bench. The strength of the Nationals and Braves also complicates things.

Suffice it to say, this does not sound like the situation Middleton described above.

That does not mean, however, that the Phillies' front office is treating the tax threshold like a hard cap. If the right opportunity presents itself, they will pounce. If the expected dollar figure for Anthony Rendon somehow doesn't materialize, the Phillies wouldn't pass up a great deal for a great fit just to stay under in 2020.

They're just going to be logical about it. There is reason to leave flexibility for midseason when you have a better idea of how close you are to contending for a division title. Why overpay a middling reliever or starter now when you can potentially acquire a difference-making one in July? 

This is a key season coming up for the Phillies. After 2020, they free up $38 million as the contracts of Jake Arrieta and David Robertson expire. That's money that can be reallocated to a very good starting pitcher and a very good everyday player. Right now, those two contracts are hindrances. Robertson is unlikely to contribute in 2020 and the Phillies desperately need Arrieta to be better than a No. 4.

The Phillies' proximity to that $208 million luxury tax threshold helps explain why they didn't beat the Braves' one-year, $18 million offer to Cole Hamels. As nice as a reunion with Hamels would have been, they could probably replicate his production for half the money or maybe a little more with someone like Wade Miley or Rick Porcello.

The Phillies won't close the door on any free agent, but don't be shocked if their splashiest move came before the Winter Meetings even began.

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