Phillies get mugged in Miami — their inability to beat bad teams could prove fatal to playoff hopes

Phillies get mugged in Miami — their inability to beat bad teams could prove fatal to playoff hopes

MIAMI — How does this happen? How do the Phillies manage to sweep formidable clubs like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox (in Fenway Park, no less) and stumble against teams like the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins in recent weeks?

Obviously, it’s lack of performance, lack of execution, but are there other factors, like, possibly, a lack of concentration that has led the Phillies to play down to the competition so often?

While you ponder this rhetorical question, keep this in mind: The Phillies open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at home on Monday night.

The Pirates are another bad team.

That’s good for the Phillies, who desperately need wins over the final 33 games.

It’s also bad for the Phillies, who in recent weeks have lost series to the White Sox, Padres and Marlins.

The latest fall-on-your face performance was capped Sunday in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins, who are 47-82, last in the NL East.

The Marlins mugged Aaron Nola for three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take the lead moments after Rhys Hoskins had belted a two-run homer to put the Phillies on top. Nola had retired 11 straight batters before giving up a one-out double, a walk, an RBI single and a two-run double in the sixth. It was a shocking implosion by the Phillies’ ace and his mates, playing without Bryce Harper (paternity leave) for a third straight day, produced just four hits on the day so there was no bailing him out.

“He was cruising,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He lost a little command in the sixth. Sometimes even the best pitchers lose command and that's enough.”

Nola, who had held Boston’s thundering offense to two runs in seven innings in his previous start, did not have his best fastball.

“I didn’t really feel like I had my fastball early in the game,” he said. “I was pulling it a lot. My changeup was working today. It was the only thing really working today.”

The Phillies won two in Boston on this trip then lost two of three in Miami. They scored 11 runs on Friday night and still lost. That’s because they blew a 7-0 lead.

If the Phils fail to make the playoffs, they will look back to their performance against the Marlins as the reason why. The Phils are 7-9 against Miami. Atlanta is 15-4 against the Marlins. The Mets are 11-4. Washington is 10-3.

Sunday's loss left the Phils 1½ games back in the wild-card race.

“It’s very frustrating,” Hoskins said. “You often hear you’re playing against yourself, right? If we play our game, we obviously can beat any team. We swept the Cubs, we swept the Red Sox on the road. Yeah, it’s tough. This is just a different place to play here. Credit to those guys. They came up with some big hits in some big situations off Noles and they … I don’t really have much more to say.”

Kapler, already agitated by Cesar Hernandez' lack of hustle in the game, was also at a loss for words when asked about his team’s struggles against the Marlins.

“Whatever the reason, we have to find a way to win these baseball games,” he said.

So, how do the Phillies avoid a similar letdown against the Pirates, who are 11-30 since the All-Star break? How do they do it without having Nola go to the mound in the series? Surely, Harper's return should help.

“We remind them how good they are, how much they're capable of, how much confidence we have in them,” Kapler said. “Everybody in the clubhouse knows that it's all of our responsibilities to step up to the plate and be stronger and be better.”

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No jitters for Bryce Harper, just an RBI, a stolen base and a little 'glam'

No jitters for Bryce Harper, just an RBI, a stolen base and a little 'glam'

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Everybody's stomach is a little different.

So while Jake Arrieta had a few butterflies before his first start of the spring Tuesday, Bryce Harper's pulse barely quickened.

"Kind of the opposite," Harper said, comparing the feel of his spring debut to Arrieta's. "Spring training is kind of spring training. I don't want to get too high or anything like that. I just want to get out there, stay healthy and compete. When I get to opening day, there's your jitters."

Harper played five innings in right field. He came to the plate three times. He drove home a run with a sacrifice fly in his first at-bat and later walked and struck out. He also stole a base.

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time, Harper was still a free agent, mulling offers from the Phillies, Giants and Dodgers. He chose the Phillies on the final day of February and camp exploded with excitement. Back in Philadelphia, the team sold 180,000 tickets within 48 hours of Harper's agreement with the team.

This year, things are a lot different for Harper. He has become a dad. And his hair is a lot longer.

"I'm going to keep it going," he said. "Yeah, keep it flowing. Why not? We'll see what happens."

Harper, of course, isn't the only one in camp with a new look. His pal, the Phanatic, unveiled his on Sunday.

"Hey, man, everybody needs a glam-up sometimes, you know?" Harper said. "Why not? I've got long hair right now. I'm always changing."

The general atmosphere around camp is also different than it was a year ago. Though there's a real sense of faith that the Phillies will improve under new manager Joe Girardi, there's none of the euphoric buzz that accompanied Harper's signing. The attendance for Tuesday's game against Toronto in Clearwater was just 4,004. It was a split-squad game for both teams.

Harper is OK with a calmer spring.

"It's definitely different coming into camp," he said. "It's good knowing I'll be here the next 12 years, a lot more calm, not as crazy, not as many cameras. I'll enjoy that and just get ready for the season."

Harper's spring goal:

"Just be healthy," he said. "Take good routes in the outfield, throw the ball well out there, have good at-bats."

Haseley in protocol

Centerfielder Adam Haseley left the game in Clearwater after hitting his face hard on the ground while attempting a diving catch. Haseley suffered a cut on his forehead, caused by his sunglasses. He was seen walking and talking in the clubhouse after the game but was unavailable for comment to reporters because he had been placed in concussion protocol. His condition will be updated on Wednesday.

The games

Arrieta gave up a single, a walk and a three-run homer in the first inning, but he enjoyed a quick second inning. He admitted to some nerves in the first inning but settled in after that. At this point of camp, all that matters with a starting pitcher is health and Arrieta feels good after having his elbow surgically cleaned out late last season.

The Phillies won the Clearwater game, 13-6, with the help of minor-leaguer Jhailyn Ortiz' grand slam. The Phillies signed Ortiz for $4 million as a 16-year-old out of the Dominican Republic in July 2015. He hit just .200 at Single A Clearwater last season but had 19 homers and 65 RBIs in 430 at-bats.

Catcher J.T. Realmuto gunned down a runner trying to steal second base from his knees.

In Bradenton, the Phils beat the Pirates, 6-2. Lefties Ranger Suarez and Damon Jones both pitched two scoreless innings. 

The victories left the Phillies at 4-0-1 in exhibition play.

Zach Eflin starts Wednesday against the Twins in Fort Myers.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Can Roman Quinn change complexion of Phillies' lineup?


Phillies Talk podcast: Can Roman Quinn change complexion of Phillies' lineup?

Joe Girardi is already impressed by Roman Quinn, who could significantly alter the Phillies' lineup if he can win the CF job. Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman discussed on Tuesday's Phillies Talk podcast.

• How Roman Quinn could change the complexion of the lineup.

• Can Andrew McCutchen be an effective leadoff man if the knee forces him to go station to station?

• How much a fast runner can mess with a pitcher's head.

• Phillies pitchers making clear (without saying it) what they thought of Chris Young and Gabe Kapler.

• Whose side are you on with the Phanatic lawsuit?

• Expectations for Scott Kingery in Year 3.

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