Phillies

Pitching and defense help Phillies bounce back to beat Diamondbacks, increase lead in NL East

Pitching and defense help Phillies bounce back to beat Diamondbacks, increase lead in NL East

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PHOENIX — Despite being in the thick of the National League East race all season and leading the division every day since July 6, the Phillies have had a major flaw in their game: They are not a good defensive team. They made another error Tuesday night and had a catchable ball fall on the warning track for a double. Both miscues came in the eighth inning.

But credit where credit is due: Defense was a big reason the Phillies won Tuesday night’s game, 5-2, over the Arizona Diamondbacks (see first take).

The Phils turned four double plays in the infield and none of them were easy. Two of the double plays came with the game on the line in the late innings, one in a one-run game to end the seventh inning, the other a momentum-buster to end the eighth inning after the Diamondbacks had rallied for two runs and brought the tying run to the plate. 

“I thought (Asdrubal) Cabrera and (Cesar) Hernandez did a good job up the middle tonight, played some good defense, turned some nice double plays,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

First baseman Carlos Santana and reliever Luis Garcia also had a hand in one of those double plays, the one that ended the seventh and preserved a one-run lead.

The Phillies capitalized on poor defense by the Diamondbacks and rallied for four runs to take a 5-0 lead in the top of the eighth inning. Arizona rallied against newcomer Aaron Loup in the bottom of the inning and Kapler was forced to go to Victor Arano for the final two outs in that inning even though the right-hander had thrown 33 pitches the night before. 

Arano survived a misplayed fly ball by Odubel Herrera that became a run and an error by third baseman Maikel Franco that became another run and got out of the inning by getting dangerous Eduardo Escobar to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.

“It might go unnoticed, but Arano weathered a pretty incredible storm out there with the ball that dropped in center field and the misplay by Mikey,” Kapler said. “He was able to keep his wits about him, stay composed, stay under control and continue to deliver sharp pitches. He’s been excellent for us all year.”

Even with the two runs charged to Loup, the Phillies still have the best bullpen in the majors since July 1. Its ERA over that span is 2.70.

The starting rotation has been good all season and particularly good lately. Over the last eight games, the starting staff has allowed just nine earned runs in 55 1/3 innings for a 1.46 ERA. The Phils are 6-2 over those eight games. Both of the losses were by one run, in 13 and 14 innings, respectively.

Nick Pivetta became the latest starter to shine with six shutout innings. He walked one and struck out six in the Phillies’ NL-high 59th quality start.

Pivetta struggled throughout most of June and July, but the front office chose not to trade for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline. Pivetta has responded with two strong starts since then. He has given up just two runs in 12 innings, while registering 13 strikeouts and walking just one in those two starts.

“The organization has continued to show a great degree of confidence in Nick Pivetta and this is Nick kind of rewarding the organization for its patience,” Kapler said.

Pivetta appreciates the organization sticking with him.

“Gabe is an amazing manager,” the right-hander said. “He’s a great communicator. He sticks up for everybody in this clubhouse all the time because he believes in us. I think that’s important when you have a manager that’s fighting for us. I think that gives us a lot of confidence. We’re sticking with him just as much as he’s sticking with us.”

The Phillies beat a good one in Zack Greinke as they improved to 64-49. They lead the NL East by 1½ games over Atlanta. Greinke gave up just a run in seven innings, a homer by Nick Williams. The victory came a day after the Phils wasted eight shutout innings from Jake Arrieta and lost, 3-2, in 14 innings.

“We know how to take a punch,” Kapler said. “We took a punch last night and it was a hard one, but we bounced back today and it’s sort of the character of our club now. We get knocked down but we pop right back up.”

Vince Velasquez gets the ball in the series finale Wednesday afternoon.

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Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

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Coming out of spring training, the consensus opinion on the Phillies was that they’d pick up on the improvement they showed in the second half of last year’s 66-96 season and maybe push .500.

The thinking was that would be a nice step in the right direction for a team that had pushed its rebuild into field-goal range.

Then the season got going and the Phillies started winning, and contending, and by the first week of July they were in first place in the NL East.

They entered August in first place and that was meaningful because, in a sport where the long haul matters, four months is a significant chunk of time.

Becoming a contender a year before most envisioned changed the way these Phillies are viewed. Had they been plugging along hoping to finish the season at .500 and fuel a little optimism for the future, then Tuesday night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox might have been seen as a good thing, an oh-look-at-how-we-hung-with-the-big-boys moral victory (see first take).

But as a contender and a team with legitimate postseason hopes, the 2-1 loss stung and it stung even worse when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed the final score from Atlanta, where the Braves beat the Marlins, 10-6.

In two days, the Phillies have lost two games in the standings to the Braves and now trail them by two games in the NL East.

The Phillies are 2-5 in their last seven games and they have scored just 16 runs over that span. They have another one on tap against Boston on Wednesday night.

The Red Sox are the majors’ best team, on pace to win 115 games, and the Phillies have played them tough in three games over the last two weeks. Boston has won a pair of 2-1 games and the Phils have won a 3-1 contest. But the Phils are past the point where playing a good team tough makes them feel good. 

They need some hits.

They need some wins.

“We know that we can go toe to toe with this team,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We showed that we could at Fenway Park. We did it tonight. We came out on the losing end because they played a better baseball game. But we're very confident that tomorrow we're going to be playing the better baseball game. We're looking forward to that.”

The Phillies’ offense ranks second to last in the majors with a .234 batting average and below average in many other important offensive categories. It ran into a good pitcher on top of his game Tuesday night and the results were not good. Boston’s Rick Porcello, a Cy Young winner in 2016, dazzled with seven innings of one-run ball. He walked none and had six 1-2-3 innings. Porcello gave up just two hits – that’s all the Phillies had – and struck out 10. The Phils struck out 13 times as a team – they’ve reached double digits in Ks 60 times this season – and walked just once.

That’ll lose you some ballgames.

“Porcello deserves a lot of credit,” Kapler said. “He was really awesome. Great job by him.”

The Phillies got a strong game from their starter, as well. Nick Pivetta delivered six innings of one-run ball, walked one and struck out six. He exited early for a pinch-hitter as Kapler tried to nudge the offense only to see Roman Quinn go down on a first-pitch fly ball in the bottom of the sixth.

All the scoring came via the long ball. Sandy Leon took Pivetta deep in the third and Rhys Hoskins got Porcello leading off the fifth. Hoskins, who was dropped from second to cleanup, was 1 for 28 before hitting his 23rd homer. The Phillies need his bat to come alive.

With no margin for error, the Phillies’ bullpen – neither bullpen, for that matter – could afford a mistake. Tommy Hunter made one with one out in the eighth and pinch-hitter Brock Holt clubbed it off the facing of the upper deck in right to break a 1-1 tie and propel the Sox to their 86th win.

Holt ambushed the first pitch.

“Yeah, it was a cutter,” Hunter said. “He got it. He hit it. I'll probably throw 16 of them again tomorrow. He got it. Tip your cap.”

The cutter is Hunter’s best pitch and Holt was looking for it.

“Yeah, coming off the bench, he's going to swing at the first pitch,” Hunter said. “I left it a little too far on the plate. I probably should have buried it in off the plate.”

The atmosphere in all three of the Phillies-Red Sox games over the last two weeks has been intense, almost playoff-like.

“It’s two pretty good teams going toe to toe,” Hunter said. “That’s the way you like it though. Throw blows and see who comes out on top.”

Vince Velasquez will try to help the Phillies come out on top Wednesday night.

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Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox

Late homer spoils Nick Pivetta's strong outing against MLB-best Red Sox

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The Phillies continue to play the Boston Red Sox tough. But that didn’t produce a win Tuesday night.

The Red Sox, who have the majors’ best record at 86-35, beat the Phillies, 2-1, at Citizens Bank Park. The Sox have beaten the Phillies two out of three games the last two weeks.

Boston’s wins have both been by scores of 2-1.

The Phils won one of the games by a 3-1 score.

The Phillies entered the game in second place in the NL East, a game behind Atlanta. It was the first time since July 4 that the Phils did not enter a game in first place.

The Phillies had just two hits in the game and they struck out 13 times. They have scored just 16 runs in the last seven games. They are 2-5 over that span.

It was a 1-1 game until pinch-hitter Brock Holt came off the bench and launched a first-pitch homer against Tommy Hunter with one out in the top of the eighth inning.

Boston starter Rick Porcello pitched brilliantly with seven innings of one-run ball, no walks and 10 strikeouts.

Porcello was staked to a 1-0 lead on a home run by Sandy Leon in the top of the third inning. Porcello did not allow a hit through the first four innings. Rhys Hoskins broke through with the Phillies’ first hit when he launched his 23rd homer to lead off the bottom of the fifth inning. The blast tied the game at 1-1.

After batting second most of the season, Hoskins hit cleanup as manager Gabe Kapler shuffled his lineup in the wake of the Phillies scoring just 15 runs while going 2-4 on their recent trip to Arizona and San Diego. Kapler dropped Carlos Santana from fourth to fifth and used Nick Williams in the No. 2 hole.

Hoskins struggled mightily on the trip with just one hit in 21 at-bats. That was part of a bigger 1-for-27 funk.

Phillies starter Nick Pivetta scattered three hits and a walk over six innings of one-run ball. He struck out six. The only run he allowed came on Leon’s solo home run in the third. The Red Sox continued to threaten in that inning as Porcello doubled with one out and Mookie Betts walked. Pivetta then battled Andrew Benintendi to a full-count showdown and got an important double play on a breaking ball. The double play was one of two the Phils turned behind Pivetta.

Pivetta threw just 84 pitches and was in control. However, he was lifted for pinch-hitter Roman Quinn to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. Before the game, Kapler indicated that he would be aggressive with his bench and bullpen in pivotal situations in the game. That’s why the Phils added a ninth reliever before the game (see story).

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