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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Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

Didi Gregorius impacts Phillies in more ways than meet the eye

The Phillies will host the New York Yankees in a doubleheader today. Zack Wheeler, the Phils' big offseason free-agent acquisition, will start the first game and Aaron Nola will get the ball in the second game.

Dating back to August, the Phillies are winless in Nola's last eight starts. The trend needs to stop today.

Wheeler, so far, has been everything the Phillies could have asked for when they signed him for five years and $118 million. But, of course, he's only made one start — seven innings, one run in the 1-3 Phillies' only win of the season. Many more efforts like that will be needed from Wheeler over the life of his contract.

But this isn't about Nola, who needs to pitch well over these next two months if the Phillies are going to make the 16-team postseason field in this shortened, 60-game season.

And it isn't about Wheeler, the so far, so good right-hander who also needs to continue his good work if the Phils are to have a chance.

This is about the Phils' other free-agent acquisition this winter.

This is about Didi Gregorius.

Now, obviously the sample size is ridiculously small because, well, you know all about the Miami Marlins and how they forced the Phillies into an unwelcome hiatus after just one weekend of play — but through the first four games, hasn't Gregorius been fun to watch?

He's made all the plays, smoothly, some even with a flare, at shortstop.

He's hit in every game.

He's shown pop with two homers. (And the way he turns on anything middle-in, he'll hit a lot more at Citizens Bank Park.)

And, he's played with a smile under the mask he wears to protect himself and others in this time of COVID-19. Gregorius is committed to wearing the mask because he has an underlying health condition.

Having watched Gregorius up close since the start of spring training back in February, we have been captured by his smile, his energy, his effervescence and love of playing the game. These can be infectious qualities of the most beneficial kind on any team and they have shown on the diamond in Gregorius' next-door neighbor, Jean Segura. 

Over the winter, there were questions about how Segura would deal with coming off of shortstop to accommodate Gregorius. Would he feel slighted, pushed aside? Would he pout? These were legitimate concerns because Segura has always been a little high maintenance.

Well, Segura moved over to third base with nary a protest. He put his head down, started working, and has taken to the new position. Having been a shortstop, Segura has the ability to succeed anywhere in the infield if he puts his mind to it. He's the one who has made the transition. But we believe that Gregorius' encouragement and positivity has played a role in Segura's acceptance of the challenge. Gregorius has bonded with Segura, convinced him of his importance and even gotten him to smile a little bit more. All of this might end up making Segura a better player. It has already helped the team solve the matter of how to get Scott Kingery to his best position, second base.

Over the winter, when the Phillies signed Gregorius, we asked a scout about him. We heard all the expected stuff about Gregorius' play on the field, the pop, the throwing arm that was getting better after surgery. But we also heard something that surprised us.

"He was the leader of that Yankees team," the scout said. "Great makeup."

So far in Philadelphia, we're seeing that. We're seeing that with the connection he has made with teammates, particularly his next-door neighbor, Segura.

But these Phils will need more than leadership and strong teammate behavior from Gregorius if they are going to make the postseason. Intangibles can only take you so far.

So what will the Phils need from Gregorius on the field? That's easy. Sound defense, left-side pop, big hits with men on base, get on base, hit for average. Basically, what every other team needs from its top players if it is going to be successful. Gregorius is just two seasons removed from a career-best .829 OPS with the Yankees. An elbow injury derailed that season. He's healthy now. Maybe a season like that — over a shorter track — is in the cards.

If it is, it won't just help the Phillies, it'll help Gregorius, as well. He signed a one-year, $14 million deal with the Phillies in the offseason and he'll be right back out there on the market this winter.

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Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

Injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic NL East picture

A little less than two weeks into the season, injuries and schedule changes have already created a chaotic picture in the NL East.

Two teams have played 11 games. One team has played seven. One has played four and another has played three.

The only NL East teams who haven't missed any early-season games are the Braves (7-4) and Mets (4-7). The Braves are 2½ games ahead of the Phillies and one game ahead in the loss column. 

The Phillies are in a better early-season position than the Mets just because the Mets have already accrued seven losses. The only two teams in the majors with more are the Pirates and Royals.

Though, which team would you rather be: The team that already has seven losses or the team that has five additional games to make up? It's an advantage for the Mets and Braves that they have less hectic remaining schedules than the rest of the division. The Phillies have 56 games left to play in just 54 days. The Mets and Braves have 49 games left in those same 54 days. 

The Phillies' first series with the Braves is this weekend at home after they finish with the Yankees. Early as it is, that series carries major significance. The Phillies will play 40% of their games against the Braves in this one weekend wraparound series from Friday through Monday. Going 1-3 or 0-4 against the Braves would put the Phillies in a deep hole from which their jam-packed schedule might not allow them to dig out. 

As the Phillies and Marlins have sat, the other three teams in the division have dealt with injuries. The Braves on Monday night lost Mike Soroka, their No. 1 starter. Just hours before his 23rd birthday, Soroka tore his right Achilles and is done for 2020. He is one of their most important players. Soroka was an All-Star last season who finished second in NL Rookie of the Year voting to Pete Alonso and sixth in NL Cy Young voting. In 37 career starts, he's 15-6 with a 2.86 ERA. With Soroka out, the Braves have Max Fried, Sean Newcomb, Touki Toussaint, Kyle Wright and a to-be-determined fifth starter. Not exactly a starting staff you look at and expect to ride to a division crown.

The Mets scratched three infielders on Monday — Jeff McNeil with back tightness, Robinson Cano with a groin strain and Amed Rosario with a quad strain. Yoenis Cespedes opted out of the 2020 MLB season over the weekend.

The Nationals are still without Stephen Strasburg, who has yet to make his season debut. Strasburg was scratched from his first start because of a nerve impingement in his right wrist. He's back to throwing off a mound but is still unlikely to pitch for the Nats until at least the weekend. At minimum, Strasburg will end up missing two turns through the rotation, which in a 60-game season represents one-sixth of the starts.

Reliever Will Harris, whom the Nats signed away from the Astros after beating them in the 2019 World Series, is on the IL with a groin strain. Two other Nats, Howie Kendrick and Eric Thames, are dealing with back injuries.

Is it a coincidence to see these sorts of injuries early in the everyday grind of Major League Baseball after so much time off and an unconventional ramp-up period? No, probably not.

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