This was an example of why you never know in the game of baseball.
A reeling team that had lost 11 games in a row going up against a pitcher who sported a microscopic 2.05 ERA and was leading the major leagues in innings and strikeouts.
A team that had plummeted from first place in its division to nine games back in less than two weeks against a team that had put up 28 runs on them the previous two nights.
On paper, the Phillies figured to have the upper hand on the Chicago Cubs on Wednesday night.
On the green grass of Wrigley Field, they did not.
The Cubs snapped their awful losing streak with an 8-3 win over the Phillies.
Phillies ace Zack Wheeler, whose next start could come in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night, took the loss after he was betrayed by his defense in the first inning and let down by the bullpen in the sixth.
Wheeler did not look happy about being lifted from the game by manager Joe Girardi at 97 pitches with two outs in the sixth, two men on base and his club down two runs.
His replacement, Connor Brogdon, allowed a single to Joc Pederson and a double to Patrick Wisdom to bring home three runs.
That was the ball game.
Would Wheeler like to have had the chance to go after Pederson?
“I mean, you know, I felt fine, but it’s ultimately Joe’s decision, so leave it at that,” he said.
Girardi did not dispute that Wheeler looked upset coming out of the game.
“Well, he doesn’t ever want to come out, but that’s our job, to manage him and make sure he stays healthy and make sure that he’s a player for us all year and next year and the year beyond,” Girardi said. “You’ve got to think about those things. We’ve got to get him though this season. He’s on pace for over 220 innings right now.
“In the last inning, his velocity was down a little bit and I just get concerned as much as we’ve worked him. We’ve still got a long way to go. I don’t ever want to take him out, but I also have to manage his workload.”
Wheeler, who leads the majors with 119 2/3 innings, was still throwing 96 mph in the sixth inning, not 98 as he did early in the game, but still plenty firm. The pitcher said he noticed no drop in his stuff.
Would one more batter really have been too much?
“It could or it may not,” Girardi said. “You never know when a guy gets hurt. You can’t predict one pitch. I just thought it was time.”
Ultimately, Girardi’s decision to lift Wheeler did not cost the Phillies the game. It just led to the Cubs pulling away.
The defense let Wheeler down.
Shortstop Didi Gregorius committed a fielding error that led to three unearned runs in the first inning.
The Cubs scored two more runs against Wheeler in the second as they built their lead to 5-0.
How different might this game have been if Gregorius didn’t make the error in the first inning? It caused Wheeler to play catch-up all night.
“It could be a lot different,” Girardi said. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen the next inning, but we gave them the extra out and it turned into three runs.
“The hardest ball they hit in that inning was an out. They really didn’t hit anything hard. But they put the bat on the ball in that inning so you have to give them credit. It was a tough first two innings for Wheels.”
After allowing seven hits in the first two innings – at least four of them were softly hit -- Wheeler toughened up and kept the Phillies in the game. The offense awakened with three runs in the top of the sixth on an RBI double by Bryce Harper and a two-run homer by Andrew McCutchen. Those hits made it a two-run game.
The momentum disappeared in the bottom of the inning when Wheeler allowed a leadoff single and a two-out walk and Girardi went to Brogdon.
“It’s frustrating, for sure,” Wheeler said. “There were a lot of bloop hits. Sometimes that’s just how the ball rolls. Tonight wasn’t very fun.”
The loss dropped the Phillies back to two games under .500 with four to play – one more in Chicago and three in Boston -- before the All-Star break. They trail the first-place Mets by 4 ½ games in the NL East. Zach Eflin gets the ball in the finale of the four-game series Thursday night. A win would mean a series victory for the Phillies and that’s still a very good thing.
As for Wheeler, he goes into the break 6-5 with a 2.25 ERA. The Phils are 10-8 in his 18 starts. With Jacob deGrom bowing out of the All-Star Game, Wheeler could get the start Tuesday night in Denver, but that didn’t brighten his mood any after this loss.
“It was pretty good,” he said of his first half. “Tonight was not how I wanted to finish it. It is what it is.”