Phillies stuck in the mud, figuratively and literally

Phillies stuck in the mud, figuratively and literally

There have been times in recent days when it has looked like the Phillies’ season was stuck in the mud. So the unexpected, and probably avoidable, events of Monday night served as an apt metaphor for what has happened to the team lately.

The Phillies' scheduled game against the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park was postponed because of poor field conditions. The grounds crew worked feverishly for several hours – even using blowtorches in an effort to dry the soggy infield dirt – before the decision to postpone was made about 7:15 p.m.

The two teams will play a traditional doubleheader Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. Monday’s scheduled starter Jake Arrieta will get the ball in one of the games and Nick Pivetta in the other. The Phillies, who entered Monday trailing Atlanta by 4½ games in the NL East, are coming off a 2-4 road trip to Miami and New York and they are 6-14 since August 18.

The decision to postpone was made by the umpires in conjunction with Major League Baseball. Players on both sides agreed with the decision. Nationals outfielder Adam Eaton said the infield dirt was like “pudding” or “cake batter.” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, who was on the field with the umpires and Phillies officials before the decision was made, also agreed with it.

“The conversations on the field were very good,” Rizzo said. “It was all about player safety and the integrity of the field. The field was soft. We didn't want anybody getting hurt on the Phillies or the Nationals. It was deemed too big a risk to put the players in.”

Max Scherzer and Rhys Hoskins, the union reps on both sides, were on the field before the decision was made.

“The dirt, it was spongy, it would literally give out,” Scherzer said. “And that was just us acting like we were going to run. The moment you put any weight on the ball of your foot, the dirt would just give out. There were parts of the infield they said could get better and when we tested those areas we both looked at each other and thought, ‘This is going to get torn up when guys are going 100 percent,' and you can't have any one spot out there because that's how you get injured. We've seen that in the past.”

Late in the 2016 season, Wilson Ramos, then with the Nationals, suffered a serious knee injury on a wet field. He played in just 64 games the next season. Ramos is now with the Phillies.

“Ramos, two years ago, blew out his ACL,” Scherzer said. “There isn't a player in here that can hold themselves accountable if something like that happened."

Hoskins agreed. The risk was too great.

“We didn't feel safe as players,” he said. “I think a big thing was we didn't want people compensating for what the surface was and potentially having an injury that way.”

It is not unusual to have a rainout. It is unusual to have a “mud out.” According to baseball researcher Dave Smith of Retrosheet, this was the first game postponed because of wet grounds since a game at Milwaukee on Sept. 21, 1987.

So what happened?

According to Howard Smith, the Phillies vice president of business affairs, the field was not covered during Friday night’s heavy rainstorm and no drying occurred during a wet weekend.

“The field wasn’t tarped on Friday night because we were supposed to get only a small amount of rain,” Smith said. “If you tarp the field 24 hours a day, the field will turn brown and it will die. It’s an on-and-off situation. We didn’t tarp it Friday night. In retrospect, had I known it was going to be this much rain, we would’ve tarped it. We had it covered the rest of the weekend, but the damage was done and we’re just playing catch up. The rain this morning didn’t help us because we weren’t able to deal with it.”

The Phillies had spent the previous week on the road. Players began arriving at Citizens Bank Park early Monday afternoon. They weren’t there long when word started circulating the game could be in jeopardy. A couple of players were incredulous that the field was in such poor shape.

Two hours after the game was postponed, more than 20 members of the grounds crew continued to work on drying out the infield dirt. They used rakes, drying agent and blowtorches. At some point, the field was to be covered, but here’s the hitch: Tuesday’s forecast is not good. The Phillies have 20 games to play, 20 games to catch the Braves, and the calendar is shrinking.

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Gabe Kapler soaks in the sting of elimination, stores it for motivation next season

Gabe Kapler soaks in the sting of elimination, stores it for motivation next season

ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler knows what the Atlanta Braves were feeling as they streamed euphorically out of the dugout Saturday after clinching the National League East with a 5-3 win over the Phillies. As a player, Kapler was a World Series champion with the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Nonetheless, Kapler lingered on the top step of the dugout and watched the Braves celebrate for several moments after they had eliminated his Phillies from contention (see story).

“I think it's important to feel the blow of that,” Kapler said. “Because up until a couple of days ago, I felt like we had a chance to be the ones having that moment at our ballpark. And I never came off that position because I always thought it to be possible, and I always believed in the players in that room. I think there's some value in just allowing the sting of that to sink in and acknowledge it and use it as motivation for next season.”

The Braves are NL East champs for the first time since 2013. They went 68-93 in 2016 and 72-90 last year, finishing 25 games out of first place. The Braves considered replacing manager Brian Snitker after last season. They stuck with him and now he is a strong candidate for NL manager of the year.

Kapler’s name was being mentioned as a manager of the year candidate when the Phillies were 15 games over .500 and leading the division by 1½ games on Aug. 5. The Phillies are 15-28 since then. There are eight games remaining in the season and the Phils need to win half of them to have their first winning season since 2011. They went 66-96 last season. 

Beyond saying that Aaron Nola would make his scheduled start Sunday, Kapler was not ready to say how he would approach the final eight games of the season.

“This is a really important moment to reflect back to the beginning of the season and even the offseason,” he said. “Yes, we feel disappointment. But if we had said that we were going to be playing a meaningful game on Sept. 22, I think a lot of people would've said that that's not a reasonable thought. On the flip side, this is ultimately a sting. This hurts. But I'm really proud of the guys in that room for putting us in this position and for fighting to be in Atlanta with kind of the season on the line today.”

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Jake Arrieta, Rhys Hoskins take responsibility in wake of Phillies’ elimination

Jake Arrieta, Rhys Hoskins take responsibility in wake of Phillies’ elimination


ATLANTA — There were no excuses from two of the biggest names in the Phillies clubhouse.

Jake Arrieta didn’t get the job done Saturday and he said as much.

Rhys Hoskins didn’t get the job done down the stretch and he said as much.

The Phillies have breathed their last in the National League East race. Their long, painful collapse became official in a 5-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves on Saturday (see first take). The Braves are NL East champions for the first time since 2013. They trailed the Phillies by 1 ½ game on Aug. 5 then went 27-20 to eliminate the Phillies. The Phils are 15-28 since being 15 games over .500 on Aug. 5.

The slow fade culminated with Arrieta lasting just two innings Saturday. He issued a four-pitch walk to three of the first four batters he faced and gave up four hits and four runs in the shortest start of his career. There was no politicking to try to stay in the game.

“If I did, my case wouldn’t have been very good,” Arrieta said. “I didn’t do my job today. You’ve got to tip your cap. They won the division. They really did.

“This wasn’t something that started today, obviously. Individually, the last month or so I haven’t been very good and we didn’t really take care of our business to get the job done. They did. That’s why we have the result we have.

“Defense, pitching and we didn’t swing the bats well. That’s all phases of the game that we weren’t as good and I think that’s pretty obvious.”

In March, the Phillies signed Arrieta to a three-year, $75 million contract — his $30 million salary this season is the largest ever for a Philadelphia athlete — because they believed his talent and veteran experience would be valuable in snapping a long postseason drought.

The 32-year-old right-hander failed to deliver down the stretch. He has a 6.64 ERA over his last eight starts. In 12 starts after the all-star break, his ERA is 5.09.

“This game is humbling,” Arrieta said. “You don’t always have it figured out and when you feel like you do you get kicked in the teeth. I’m not blaming it on anything other than just not being very good.”

With eight games to go, Hoskins is hitting .247 with 32 homers and 93 RBIs in his first full big-league season. At 25, he is a core building block for the future. But like Arrieta, he expected more from himself down the stretch. He is hitting just .204 with a .729 OPS over his last 44 games. He was hitless in 12 at-bats in the series before an RBI single in the eighth inning Saturday.

“It's disappointing,” Hoskins said in the postgame clubhouse. “You probably see that on a lot of our faces.

“I take a lot of responsibility for it. I wasn't me. That's frustrating and disappointing. But all you can do is learn from it.

“The inconsistency is frustrating. That's what makes good players great. I think it comes as a learned skill. All I can do is take what has happened, albeit disappointing, and learn from it and move forward with it.”

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