Spiraling Phillies look hapless, helpless and in need of a good kick in the pants

Spiraling Phillies look hapless, helpless and in need of a good kick in the pants

The Phillies are taking it on the chin from all ends of the National League East. They lost two of three against the first-place Atlanta Braves. They were swept by the third-place Washington Nationals. And now they’re staring down the barrel of a sweep at the hands of the lowly Miami Marlins.

One can only wonder what will happen when the New York Mets come to town on Monday.

Things are going badly for the Phillies. They fell to 1-7 against NL East opponents over the last nine days when they blew a late lead and suffered a 5-3 loss to the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday.

It was just a terrible day for the Phils. The bullpen couldn’t protect a two-run lead in the seventh inning. A 35-year-old guy who’d spent the last 10 years in the minors before being called up Friday had the big hit for the Marlins. Gabe Kapler went off on the umpires, kicked some dirt and picked up his first ejection as a manager.

Oh, yeah, and another Phillie — Cesar Hernandez — did not run hard in a close game in the eighth inning. That set up a double play that didn’t help chances of a late comeback. The afternoon ended, mercifully, with Hernandez popping up with the bases loaded an inning later.

Three weeks ago, the Phillies were 10 games over .500 and 3 ½ games up in the NL East. Now they are just two games over .500 and barreling toward third place in the division. They have lost a season-high six straight games, 8 of 9, 10 of 12 and 15 of 21.

Any way you do the math, it stinks. This team looks hapless, helpless and in need of a kick in the pants from the skipper, the general manager, the owner — maybe even all of the above.

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you it doesn’t stink. Of course it does,” Rhys Hoskins said after Saturday’s debacle.

“We’re not playing good baseball — period,” Kapler said. “There’s not a single part of our game that is where it needs to be. It’s unacceptable. And we’re going to make it better.”

The Phillies were a first-place club early last August and suffered a historic collapse down the stretch. With new talent up and down the roster, things were supposed to be better in Kapler’s second season. This nosedive has put Kapler and some of his coaches in the crosshairs of those who want blood. At the moment, it does not appear as if changes will be made. There is still a lot of season left and the addition of a pitcher or two — which upper management is working on — could help turn things around, provided this offense wakes up. But the longer this skid goes on, the louder the calls for blood will become.

“Look, I think we’re as prepared as we can be,” Hoskins said. “I think at some point it falls on us. Obviously, the coaching staff is usually the first to get fingers pointed at, but again, we’re as prepared as we can be. I wish I had more. We haven’t gotten many timely hits, that stands out. When that happens game after game after game it just stings a little more.”

The Phillies are 7 for 44 with runners in scoring position over this six-game losing skid. They had just five hits in the first eight innings on Saturday.

“It's not where you want to be as a club,” Bryce Harper said of the team’s offense. Hitting coach John Mallee “does a great job of getting us prepared every single day. We just have to go out there and get it done. Have we done that? We haven't, especially with guys on base. Me personally, as well. We have to get better.”

Vince Velasquez gave the Phils five good innings Saturday. He’d been used out of the bullpen for most of the last month and that prevented him from going longer. Harper and Hoskins hit back-to-back homers in the third inning and there was a good vibe in the ballpark as the Phils built a 3-1 lead.

Kapler got ejected in the fourth after Scott Kingery was hit by a pitch but not awarded first base because the umpires said he swung. The lead got away with Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos on the mound in the seventh. Journeyman catcher Wilkin Castillo, in the minors the last 10 seasons, had the big hit against Ramos.

Things stayed ugly in the eighth when Hernandez only got to first on what should have been a double down the left field line. Hernandez did not speak with reporters after the game but told Hoskins he did not see the ball off the bat and thought it would be foul. It was a big play in a close game because it put in place a force at second and Harper promptly hit into a double play.

It was the second time this week a player did not run hard. Jean Segura created a stir when he loafed on a hit in Washington on Wednesday.

Kapler seemed pretty ticked off about Hernandez’ not being on second base and said he would be speaking with the player about it. Will there be further repercussions? Stay tuned.

“Those things are definitely things that need to be addressed,” Kapler said. “They have to be addressed swiftly. They have to be addressed with authority and they will be.”

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Ray of light

The Phillies are again showing interest in Robbie Ray, according to Jon Morosi. We have mentioned Ray frequently here as a Phillies trade target dating back to last summer.

Ray would help any contender. He’s a 27-year-old lefty with an extremely high strikeout rate. He experiences bouts of wildness and does lead the National League with 56 walks, but he has also settled in to a mid-3.00s ERA the last three seasons.

The left-handedness and legit swing-and-miss stuff make Ray the type of pitcher the Phillies do not have.

Ray turns 28 on Oct. 1. Based on his age and remaining contract — 2020 is his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent — he would be a great fit for the Phillies, even if they do continue to fall out of the playoff race. Ray would help them now and next season and would be a prime extension candidate if he pitches well.

The competition for his services via trade will be intense. The Astros (more on them below) are also in on Ray, and plenty of other clubs have expressed interest in the past. The Phillies would have to trade a player or two they don’t want to trade to acquire him.

Speedsters available

The Royals have made lightning-fast outfielders Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore available. Neither is much of a fit for the Phillies, who already have Roman Quinn in that role.

Hamilton and Gore could both help a contender in need of a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner. They are both impactful defenders and baserunners who can't hit.

As for Whit Merrifield, it seems unlikely Kansas City would move him despite being 30 games under .500. Merrifield is such a good, multi-dimensional player that the Royals deserve a huge score for him. At 30 years old, he is enjoying by far his best season, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Merrifield's .861 OPS is 55 points higher than his previous career-high.

Merrifield's dynamic offense and positional versatility make him a fit anywhere. The Cubs would make a ton of sense. 

Astros after a starter?

The Astros have gotten huge production from their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. But the back of the rotation remains a question mark. Collin McHugh is pitching in a mop-up role, Brad Peacock is dealing with a sore shoulder, Framber Valdez has been lit up three starts in a row, and Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of July.

The Astros are still maybe the deepest team in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win would represent disappointment in 2019. Madison Bumgarner would make a whole lot of sense for Houston, which is still rich in prospects after all of their graduations to the majors.

Trade season begins

A pair of solid but unspectacular starting pitchers were moved this past weekend to kick off trade deadline activity.

Remember, these next two weeks figure to be even more frenzied than usual in July because there is now a hard trade deadline of July 31. No more August trades, except those involving a swap of minor-leaguers.

The Orioles sent Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox for a pair of 17-year-old position player prospects who had been playing for Boston's Dominican Summer League team. 

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cashner went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. Baltimore went 11-6 in his starts and 17-59 in all other games.

The Red Sox needed another starting pitcher with the Nate Eovaldi experiment going sideways. Eovaldi has missed much of the season and will shift to the bullpen upon his return later this month. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

The Royals, meanwhile, traded Homer Bailey to the A's for a fringy Double A infielder. Bailey has been just OK this season, with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. 

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Should they buy? Should they sell? These four tough games against the Dodgers could provide some more clarity. Another ugly series loss could be the determining factor.

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