Phillies win wild one thanks to Trevor Plouffe's bomb and the majors' best bullpen in July

Phillies win wild one thanks to Trevor Plouffe's bomb and the majors' best bullpen in July


The Phillies’ front office lost out on another bullpen trade target when the New York Yankees landed Baltimore closer Zach Britton on Tuesday night. The Phils had coveted the left-hander and tried to swing a deal for him. They also liked Brad Hand, another left-hander who went from San Diego to Cleveland.

It’s no secret that general manager Matt Klentak would like to add a bullpen weapon for the stretch drive.

But if you listen to the men in the clubhouse, no addition is really needed.

“Our bullpen is nasty,” Austin Davis said early Wednesday morning. “I mean, everyone from top to bottom is gross. I don’t know what the narrative is out there, but our bullpen is disgusting.”

Nasty. Gross. Disgusting.

These are superlatives in today’s pitching world. And the Phillies’ bullpen earned every one of them with the job it did Tuesday night/Wednesday morning. It racked up 11 innings of one-run ball — and the last 10 in a row were scoreless — in leading what might have been the win of the season, a wild, 7-4 victory in 16 innings over the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park (see first take).

The stingy performance left the bullpen with a 2.54 ERA for the month of July.

That is the best in baseball.

Opposing batters are hitting just .201 against the Phillies’ bullpen in July. That’s the second-lowest mark in the majors.

“It's interesting,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We rewind six weeks or so and it was a big question mark. We were struggling. We had some really heartbreaking losses and a lot of that was pinned on our bullpen. There was some validity to that. At the same time, our bullpen has performed admirably since that time period. It's kind of been the next-man-up thing. It's been sensational. We've had a lot of different people step up.”

The Phillies trailed 3-0 early in the game, tied it on a booming, two-run homer by Jorge Alfaro in the seventh and won it on newcomer Trevor Plouffe’s three-run home run against the Dodgers’ ninth pitcher of the game, infielder Kike Hernandez, with one out in the bottom of the 16th.

The victory, which took five hours and 55 minutes to complete, left the clubhouse rocking at 1:30 a.m., and Brother Gabe gushing about his club, which leads the NL East by a game over Atlanta.

“The most notable performance was just the group, right?” Kapler said. “It was not one person individually. It was the bullpen. It was the big hits. It was the fight. It was the tenacity. It was the grind. It was the drive. It was the character.”

The Dodgers used Hernandez even though they had a starter, Rich Hill, warming in the bullpen. After the game, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he was saving Hill for a potential save situation. That never materialized.

Hernandez walked two batters before Plouffe came to the plate thinking of one thing: Win the game. Facing a soft-tossing infielder is not easy for a hitter who is wired to see hard stuff. Plouffe took a less-is-more approach and drove the ball over the wall in right-center for the win.

“It's tough,” said Plouffe, a former regular with the Minnesota Twins who was signed as a minor-league free agent earlier this season and had been playing at Triple A before coming up earlier this month to help on the bench. “You really have to tell yourself to slow down. They're throwing below the hitting speed usually, so I just tried to have a good at-bat. I was up there at that point trying not to strike out or hit into a double play.

“All I want to do is contribute to victories here. I love being on a winning team. I haven't been on many in my career. But they're amazing. They're fun. That's it. I just want to contribute. Tonight it was my chance to come off the bench and do it. I'm happy.”

Plouffe put much of the credit for the win where it belonged.

“Our bullpen won the game for us,” he said.

Starter Aaron Nola was hurt by poor defense and left the game after five innings. Adam Morgan allowed a homer in the sixth, but the bullpen pitched scoreless ball the next 10 innings. Victor Arano, Luis Garcia and Davis, an unheralded rookie who has racked up 24 strikeouts in 17 1/3 innings, all pitched two scoreless innings apiece. Vince Velasquez was pressed into duty and got the win thanks to a big strikeout with runners on second and third and two outs in the top of the 16th.

Davis struck out three in his two innings of work. He also got to dig into the batter’s box against Dodgers All-Star closer Kenley Jansen. Davis struck out in the at-bat, but it did not dampen his enthusiasm for the events of the evening.

And morning.

“When you win games like that, it makes it fun,” he said. “And we’re going to be ready to come tomorrow and, you know, beat them again.”

Wednesday’s series finale is set for 12:35 p.m. Sleep fast.

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Gabe Kapler remains committed to his bullpen principles even after infuriating loss to Cubs

Gabe Kapler remains committed to his bullpen principles even after infuriating loss to Cubs

CHICAGO — The Phillies tried to fight nuclear war with a bayonet on Tuesday night. They got away with it for a while, but in the end suffered one of their most painful and frustrating losses of the season.

If you added the word infuriating to the list, you probably wouldn't be wrong.

With his four best relievers unavailable because of recent workload, manager Gabe Kapler asked the trio of Edgar Garcia, Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio to get the final nine outs with a one-run lead on the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field.

Garcia and Alvarez got through the seventh and eighth innings before Nicasio imploded against the Cubs’ rugged lineup in the bottom of the ninth. The Cubs pushed across two runs in the frame and walked off with a 3-2 victory to snap the Phillies’ four-game winning streak (see observations).

It was a brutal loss not just because it came so suddenly, but because it seemed as if the Phils were fighting with one hand tied behind their back.

Relievers Pat Neshek, Adam Morgan, Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris — all of whom can and have gotten big outs at the end of games —were all unavailable on the same night. That bit of bullpen management left Kapler in the crosshairs of scrutiny, but he did not budge from his belief that giving those four arms a night off was the right thing to do.

For the record, Morgan had pitched three straight days and Neris three of four. Dominguez worked three of the previous five days and threw 32 pitches on Monday night. Neshek had worked two of the previous four days, but had been up in the bullpen four straight.

“We were strict in giving those guys a blow,” Kapler said. “They've all been working really hard, both in the ‘pen getting up, and also getting into games consistently. We definitely believed Nicasio could get the job done. We saw Alvarez get the job done, we saw Garcia get the job done, and we believed Nicasio could, as well. We were asking a lot of him to go through that part of the lineup. It's a really potent portion of the Cubs' lineup.”

Nicasio opened the ninth by walking the dangerous Kris Bryant. He then gave up a double to Anthony Rizzo. After that, it seemed like it was just a matter of time before the Cubs would push across the two runs they needed to win. The first came on a bases-loaded dribbler between the mound and the first-base line, the second on a clean hit by pinch-hitter Javier Baez.

Nicasio, who had been very good lately — he hadn’t allowed an earned run in 10 straight appearances — declined to speak with reporters after the game.

First baseman Rhys Hoskins was asked if it was frustrating to lose a ballgame without your best bullpen weapons available for deployment.

“I don’t know if ‘frustrating’ is the word,” he said. “I think over the course of a long season, sometimes that’s not the hand you’re dealt. We’ve had to use some guys in big situations pretty frequently lately and we’ve gotten wins because of it. I think this was a situation that everybody knew what we had going in.”

Hoskins paused and added: “I think as an offense we hoped to do a little more but (Cubs’ starter Jose) Quintana was good tonight.”

Quintana indeed limited the Phils to two hits over six shutout innings, but the Phils got three hits against the Cubs’ bullpen in the seventh and took a 2-1 lead on a two-out hit by Andrew McCutchen.

Zach Eflin reached 104 pitches in six innings and Kapler had to to rely on a compromised bullpen to try to close it out.

“It's difficult to hold the Cubs down like (Garcia and Alvarez) did,” Kapler said. “Certainly, we felt like we were in a good position to win that game. We knew we were going to go through the teeth of their lineup and that's a tall task for anyone.”

Kapler showed no regret over not having his top relievers available. He remains committed to going for wins when they are in front of him, even if that means not being in the best position to win a night or two later.

“I think I've been pretty consistent with the approach of aggressively going after wins when we can lock them down,” he said. “I think you always want to balance winning tonight's baseball game with winning a series and winning the long game.”

The Phillies, who remain in first place in the NL East, are 1-1 in this four-game series against the NL Central-leading Cubs. The two teams will be right back at it Wednesday night and the Phillies should have a fresh bullpen, though you probably already deduced that.

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Cubs 3, Phillies 2: Phillies' winning streak ends on Javier Baez's walk-off single

Cubs 3, Phillies 2: Phillies' winning streak ends on Javier Baez's walk-off single


CHICAGO — The Phillies suffered a painful 3-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Tuesday night.

The Cubs won it with two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning against reliever Juan Nicasio, who was called on to close on a night when four of the team’s top relievers were apparently unavailable because of recent workload.

The Cubs scored the game-tying run on a bases-loaded infield hit by Albert Almora Jr.

They won it on a hit by pinch-hitter Javier Baez.

The Phillies’ bullpen was clearly not at full strength as Pat Neshek, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris were all unavailable because of recent workload.

Edgar Garcia and Jose Alvarez got the Phils through the seventh and eighth innings with the lead, but Nicasio could not hold it.

The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Phillies.

The keys

• Starter Zach Eflin did a lot of bending, but he did not break. In the end, it did not matter.

• Kris Bryant scored from second base on a ground ball to shortstop in the first inning, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead. Bryant was running on the play. It ended up being a huge run for the Cubs.

• Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco had hits in the seventh to set up Andrew McCutchen for a two-run single that gave the Phils a 2-1 lead.

• The Phillies won a challenge in the bottom of the fourth inning and it kept a run off the board. Bryant stroked a ground-rule double to left with two outs. It initially appeared as if Kyle Schwarber had scored from first on the play, but he was told to return to third after the replay review showed him just past second base as the ball left the field of play. It was a pivotal moment in a close game.

• Nicasio faced an uphill battle after walking the leadoff man in the ninth. He then allowed a double. The Cubs scored the tying run with the bases loaded on a nubber out in front of the plate by Almora. Nicasio's toss home to J.T. Realmuto for an attempted force out was not in time. The next batter, Baez, finished the game with a liner to right field.

Eflin’s night

Eflin worked with catcher Realmuto. His previous four starts had come with Andrew Knapp behind the plate.

The right-hander, who entered the game walking just 1.45 batters pre nine innings (third-best in the majors), was uncharacteristically wild, especially early. He walked a season-high four and three of them came in the first inning.

Eflin was able to survive that early wildness and 32 pitches in the first inning on his way to giving the Phils six innings of one-run ball.

Push for playing time

With Odubel Herrera in an 0-for-15 funk and a lefty on the mound for the Cubs, manager Gabe Kapler used Scott Kingery in center field for the second time in three games. He handled three balls in center and doubled in the ninth. Kingery will continue to get looks in centerfield and has a chance to make a serious dent in Herrera’s playing time if he produces.

Health check

Outfielder Dylan Cozens, who had been playing at Triple A Lehigh Valley, is sidelined indefinitely after requiring surgery to repair a heel injury that bothered him as far back as spring training.

Up next

Rookie Cole Irvin, winner of his first two big-league starts, returns to the mound Wednesday night. He will oppose another left-hander with the same first name. Yes, Cole Hamels will pitch against the Phils for the first time in his career. He is 4-0 with a 3.33 ERA.

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