SAN FRANCISCO — John Middleton must have wanted to throw a brick through his television screen watching this one.
Think about it. The Phillies owner spent over $400 million and gave up a top pitching prospect to add talent over the winter. The idea was for the Phillies to make a big surge in the standings and go out and get that one finishing piece at the trade deadline. You know, someone like Madison Bumgarner.
But by the time the deadline came around, the underperforming Phillies had so many holes that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to cripple the farm system to add one pitcher when they really needed three of them. And besides, Bumgarner stayed put as the San Francisco Giants made a July charge into playoff contention.
So there they were Thursday night, the underachieving Phillies squaring off against Bumgarner in the first game of an important four-game series. The Phillies needed a win to stop a blood letting that started with consecutive losses in Arizona the previous two nights. What they got was another in a series of embarrassing defeats. The Phils were held to one hit — one stinking hit — and had just three base runners in a hang-your-head, 5-0 loss to the Giants (see observations).
The loss was the Phillies’ third in a row and sixth in the last nine games. They had entered the day tied for the second NL wild-card spot, but are now off the pace by a half-game. At 59-56, they have the same record as the New York Mets, who once appeared to be dead and buried in the standings but have rallied into contention with 13 wins in the last 14 games. The Phils, 26-33 since ending the month of May up by three games in the NL East, are going in the opposite direction and could be alone in fourth place in the division by the end of play Friday night.
How do you stop this spiral?
“By believing in our players, but keeping the mood light but focused, by never panicking and by trusting that the talent is in this room — and we believe it is,” manager Gabe Kapler said after his team’s latest defeat. “These guys know how good they are and we know that their true talent is going to rise to the top.”
The only thing that rose Thursday night was Mr. Middleton's ire.
The Giants came into the game having just been swept in three games by the Washington Nationals. Bumgarner needed to be a stopper and he was. He featured mostly fastballs and cutters. The fastball topped out at just 92 mph but that and good location on the pitch was enough to hold the Phils to one hit over seven innings. He walked one and struck out three. Cesar Heranandez had the Phillies’ only hit, a pinch-hit single with one out in the sixth inning.
“Bumgarner had a fastball, it wasn’t a high velocity fastball, but it certainly was heavy and he was able to put the ball where he wanted to put it in keeping our hitters off balance,” Kapler said. “On the flip side, we didn’t make him work hard enough. It’s as simple as that. We have to make good pitchers work hard and fight for every inch and we weren’t able to run his pitch count up at all and he stayed efficient and attacked the strike zone and we weren’t able to make the adjustment.”
Bumgarner got 21 called strikes.
“He was locating,” Kapler said. “Our guys were prepared to attack the fastball and the cutter and Bumgarner was putting it where he wanted to put it.
“At the same time, we have to find ways to scratch and claw to reach base and we weren’t able to do that. It’s not acceptable.”
The Phils have had huge problems hitting with runners in scoring position the last two weeks. They’ve scored one run the last two games and that came on a ninth-inning solo homer by Bryce Harper when the club was already down 6-0 to Arizona on Wednesday night.
The offense has been inconsistent all season, but its recent struggles are reason to wonder if hitting coach John Mallee is connecting with the hitters and if his message is getting through.
Kapler was asked if it was.
“Yes,” he said, offering nothing else on the topic.
Offense wasn’t the only thing that went wrong for the Phillies. The usually dependable Aaron Nola had a difficult start. He gave up three runs in the third inning and there was no coming back from that, not with this offense.
“He had a hard time commanding the fastball in the third inning, a hard time putting hitters away,” Kapler said. “It wasn’t his best outing.”
He wasn’t the Lone Ranger in that regard.
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