Phillies

So much for that momentum — Phillies blow 7-run lead to Marlins, plummet to horrendous loss

So much for that momentum — Phillies blow 7-run lead to Marlins, plummet to horrendous loss

BOX SCORE 

MIAMI — You’d be hard-pressed to find a more ugly, more frustrating, more infuriating performance by the Phillies this season than the one they turned in Friday night.

The Phils blew an early seven-run lead and lost, 19-11, to the lowly Miami Marlins.

It was the type of performance that just can’t happen from a team in a playoff race.

The Marlins came into the game having lost six in a row (they scored just 13 runs in those games) and 16 of their previous 19. They were ranked last in the majors in OPS (.661), second-to-last in runs per game (3.62) and third-to-last in batting average (.240). They proceeded to maul Phillies pitching for 19 hits and 19 runs. And to think, the Phillies were coming off two wins in Boston, where they held one of majors’ best hitting teams to four runs in those games.

Bryce Harper missed the game — he’s on paternity leave after his wife gave birth to a son — but the Phillies’ offense did not suffer. The Phils raced out to a 7-0 lead in the third inning only to see starter Vince Velasquez give it all back in the bottom of the third inning.

The Phils led 9-7 in the fifth and blew that lead, as well. The Marlins scored five times in that inning. Four of the runs were unearned. Even the defense was bad.

The Phils entered the night two games back in the NL wild card race.

Vinny Velo’s night

It was bad.

And the funny thing is, he’d actually made strides recently. Over his last five starts, he’d recorded a 3.21 ERA. He should have been able to protect a 7-0 lead, but he didn’t. He lost it quickly as the Marlins got him for five hits, including a homer, and seven runs in the third inning. Velasquez’ problems started when he hit the first batter of the inning, Lewis Brinson, with an 0-2 pitch.

Extra-base hits hurt

Velasquez was tagged for a game-tying, three-run homer by Isan Diaz in the third.

Reliever Nick Pivetta gave up a go-ahead, two-run double to Neil Walker in the fifth. That came on an 0-2 pitch. Manager Gabe Kapler had lefty Ranger Suarez up in the ‘pen with the lefty-hitting Walker at the plate. Kapler stuck with Pivetta and the right-hander could not put Walker away.

Starlin Castro came off the bench and homered twice for the Marlins, who had four homers in all.

Cold corner

The Phillies were hurt by two defensive miscues at third base. The biggie was Maikel Franco’s error on a potential double-play ball with one out in the fifth. It opened the floodgates for the Marlins to score five runs in that inning and take a 12-9 lead. Four of those runs were unearned.

Brad Miller started the game at third and failed to make a play on a ball hit by John Berti toward the line in the third inning. It wasn’t an easy play but it was probably makeable and it would have been the second out. It ended up being one of the five hits that Velasquez gave up in the inning.

Franco had just come back from a banishment to Triple A. He had an RBI single, but struggled badly at third base. In addition to making the error, he did not look good on two plays that were ruled hits.

Teams you can’t lose to

The Phillies are 6-8 against the Marlins this season.

To put that in perspective, here’s how the other teams in the NL East have fared against the Marlins so far this season:

Atlanta is 15-4.

The Mets are 11-4.

Washington is 10-3.

Players (get to wear ugly uniforms) Weekend

Both teams wore special uniforms — the Marlins wore all white, the Phillies all black — as part of Players Weekend. Players also wore nicknames on the back of their uniforms. 

Up next

Zach Eflin (7-11, 4.57) pitches against Miami right-hander Jordan Yamamoto (4-4, 4.31) on Saturday night.

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What’s more unthinkable, pitching to Freddie Freeman or Phillies being winless in Aaron Nola’s last six starts?

What’s more unthinkable, pitching to Freddie Freeman or Phillies being winless in Aaron Nola’s last six starts?

ATLANTA — Taking two of three from the Atlanta Braves on the road usually leaves a team with a spring in its step as it heads to the airport to get out of town.

But there was a palpable disappointment in the visiting clubhouse at SunTrust Park late Thursday afternoon. Time is running out for these Phillies. Winning series is no longer good enough. They need sweeps and they failed to get one with ace Aaron Nola on the mound Thursday. A damaging 5-4 loss to the Braves left the Phillies four games back in the NL wild-card race with just 11 games remaining.

Bryce Harper said all the right things after the loss. He mentioned how the Phillies scratched and clawed during the three games in Atlanta, mentioned how they need to do that again over the weekend in Cleveland, mentioned how they still have a chance.

But a few lockers down, J.T. Realmuto’s silence was telling. He politely declined to speak to reporters.

Manager Gabe Kapler does not have the luxury of declining interviews. He found himself under the microscope for a fifth-inning decision in which he let Nola pitch to Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman in a tie game with two men on base and first base open. There was one out. A walk would have set up a potential double play.

Prior to the at-bat, Freeman was 0 for 6 with five walks in the series. This situation seemed to call for another walk, intentional or unintentional, but Nola went right at Freeman with a first-pitch fastball and the National League’s co-leader in RBIs drove in his 118th and 119th runs of the season with a hit to right to give the Braves a lead that they never relinquished.

Earlier in the game, Nola gave up a two-run homer to Ronald Acuna Jr. He also allowed a solo homer to rookie Austin Riley in the sixth as the Braves built a 5-3 lead.

The Phils pecked away at the lead with a run in the eighth, but the comeback fell short.

Nola is winless in his last six starts and has been roughed up in three of his last four. He was accountable for his struggles and said he’s simply given up too many runs. He disputed the notion that Freeman’s hit — and the decision to pitch to him — was the turning point in the game.

“It didn’t really cross my mind, honestly,” the right-hander said of pitching around Freeman and going after Adam Duvall. “I feel like I’ve had pretty good success against Freddie. Fastball kind of caught a little too much of the plate.”

Nola is a competitive beast on the mound and those types of pitchers usually don’t like to walk batters. So, did Kapler consider taking the decision out of Nola’s hands and ordering an intentional walk of Freeman?

“Given how early it was in the game and given the fact that he's 9 for 41 off Aaron and Aaron has had a lot of success against Freeman in the past, you trust your horse there,” Kapler said. “You trust your ace. And I trust him immensely to make a big pitch in that situation.

“I think Aaron wants to go after every hitter. It's something we talk about pretty frequently. He feels like he can beat any hitter. We feel like he can beat any hitter. He had a history of beating Freddie Freeman. At that point in the game, it felt like the right thing for Aaron and the club to let him go after Freddie.”

Nola has struggled in three of four starts this month. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a loss against Boston last weekend but has been tagged for 20 hits and 14 runs over 15 innings in his other three starts this month. Two of those starts have been against the Braves.

“I haven’t been the best this month, obviously,” Nola said. “I’ve given up a good bit of runs and home runs. I haven’t really shut the other team down in a few games. Had a couple bad games where I’ve given up four or five runs. It’s hard to win those games for sure when you’re giving up those kind of runs.”

Harper did not realize that the Phils were winless in Nola’s last six starts.

“I’m kind of shocked, actually,” he said. “I had no idea. Definitely, that’s tough. He goes out there and puts his heart out there every single day for us. He’s our guy.”

The unfortunate irony in all this is that the Phils arranged their rotation so that Nola can start every fifth day in a playoff chase. As Harper said, he’s their guy, and they wanted him on the mound as much as possible. The strategy has not paid off, however.

“Yeah, I'd really like to be able to score some more runs for Aaron,” Kapler said. “Maybe get him an early lead and put a little confidence in him. I can understand. It's certainly disappointing.”

Nola said he’s not fatigued.

“I feel fine,” he said. “My body is healthy.”

He lines up to pitch one of the games in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Washington.

What will the Phillies’ playoff chances look like then?

Will they even still be in the race?

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Freddie Freeman and the Braves make Phillies and Nola pay in costly loss

Freddie Freeman and the Braves make Phillies and Nola pay in costly loss

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA – The Phillies failed to complete a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon. Aaron Nola was roughed up for the third time in his last four outings and the Phillies suffered a 5-4 loss.

The Phillies are winless in Nola’s last six starts, a stretch coinciding with the team’s decision to pitch him every fifth day regardless of the schedule.

Freddie Freeman had a game-changing two-run single against Nola after the Phils passed on walking him to set up a potential double play in the fifth inning. An inning later, Nola gave up a homer to rookie Austin Riley as the Braves built a 5-3 lead. The Phils pushed home a run in the eighth to make it a one run game, but Freeman, the Braves’ first baseman, made a play on Haseley’s line drive to stop the damage as the Phils left two men on base. 

The loss was a blow to the Phillies’ already faint postseason hopes. They immediately fell 3 ½ games back in the wild-card race with a chance to be four back by the end of the day.

There are just 11 games left.

The Phillies are 78-73. They need four wins to have their first winning season since 2011.

Atlanta’s magic number for winning the NL East is one.

Nola’s day

He was not sharp. He gave up nine hits, including two homers, in just five innings of work. He walked two and struck out four.

Nola has struggled in three of four starts this month. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a loss against Boston last weekend, but has been tagged for 20 hits and 14 runs over 15 innings in his other three starts this month. Two of those starts have been against the Braves.

If the Phillies stay on turn in their rotation, Nola would start one of the two games in Tuesday’s doubleheader at Washington.

Defensive issues

On Wednesday, general manager Matt Klentak praised the team’s defensive improvement this season. Then the club went out and made three errors, two by second baseman Cesar Hernandez.

Hernandez did not make an error in this one but he did have a costly misplay that led to a Braves’ run in the fifth inning. Hernandez could not immediately get the handle on a ground ball by Ozzie Albies and that prevented him from getting the lead runner at second and possibly starting a double play. He had to settle for the out at first base.

The misplay put runners at second and third with one out in a tie game and Freeman quickly untied it with a two-run single.

Hernandez has one more year of salary arbitration before free agency. He is making $7.75 million this season and could be in line to make about $10 million in 2020. Scott Kingery is projected to be the full-time second baseman at some point. Will the Phillies deal Hernandez this winter to open the spot for Kingery? It’s complicated. Hernandez could be difficult to move at that salary, especially when teams know he could become a free agent if the Phillies don’t offer him a contract.

This is one of the many questions the Phils must deal with in the offseason.

Freeman makes ‘em pay

After Hernandez’ misplay in the fifth, Nola had to face Freeman with one out and runners on second and third in a tie game. The situation seemed ripe for walking Freeman to set up a double play with Adam Duvall coming to the plate. The Phils had, in fact, walked Freeman five times previously in the series. But Nola pitched to Freeman and the Braves slugger, previously 0 for 6 in the series, lined a two-run single to right field to score two runs as the Braves took a 4-2 lead that they never relinquished. 

Up next 

The Phillies move on to Cleveland for a three-game interleague series. The Indians are right in the thick of the American League wild-card race and need the series as badly as the Phillies do.

Pitching matchups: 

Friday night – LHP Drew Smyly (4-6, 6.22) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (14-7, 3.26) 

Saturday night – LHP Jason Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. RHP Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.64) 

Sunday night – RHP Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89) vs. RHP Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34)

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