Tuesday night collapse leaves Phillies fans asking the same question they asked all offseason

Tuesday night collapse leaves Phillies fans asking the same question they asked all offseason

What started out as another promising night at the yard for the Phillies eventually morphed into a game that left many wondering, again, if they have enough pitching.

Aaron Nola took a four-run lead into the seventh inning against the Nationals and had pitched well, allowing lone runs in the first and sixth, when Washington began to claw its way back. 

The Phillies' infield defense had been especially impressive early, with Rhys Hoskins and Maikel Franco making diving plays and Jean Segura standing out twice on a bare-hand of a slow dribbler and a ball he ranged for up the middle to retire speedster Adam Eaton. But to start the seventh, Franco threw a ball into the dirt that Hoskins was unable to scoop, Yan Gomes followed with a homer, Howie Kendrick homered two batters later and Nola was pulled.

The error was costly, but it's still strange to see what's going on with Nola. Through three starts, he has a 6.46 ERA, has allowed five home runs and issued eight walks in 15⅓ innings. He has given up six and five runs in his last two starts after going 38 straight games surrendering four runs or fewer.

"I classify it as uncharacteristic and think we'll lean on two years of history that suggests this is probably not Nola," manager Gabe Kapler said after the 10-6 loss (see observations). "Certainly have to dig into why the balls are flying out of the ballpark, that's an important part of our process and we'll do that.

"(Entering the seventh) he was working a low pitch count, he was working efficiently, he was looking like Aaron Nola. He's earned a tremendous amount of my trust over the last calendar year. He earned the right to go out and continue to pitch well in that game. The error cost us, certainly."

The Phillies' bullpen, when everyone is available, can be pretty good. But Tuesday night, they didn't have everyone available. The Phillies wanted to stay away from Pat Neshek and David Robertson after using them both three times in the last four days. Both had appeared six times in the Phillies' first nine games. It is a long season and no team with postseason aspirations should burn out its top relievers this early. Kapler is far from the only manager who would exercise caution and try to get through a game with his other six relievers.

He turned to Seranthony Dominguez to finish the seventh after Nola gave up the second home run. Dominguez, for the second straight night, looked good, getting two outs on four pitches.

Kapler considered bringing Dominguez back out for the eighth inning but went with Hector Neris instead because the Phillies preferred Neris' splitter against the heart of the Nats' order. It took Neris 30 pitches, 26 of which were splitters, but he did get through that eighth inning unscathed.

The other issue with bringing Dominguez out for a second inning was his ineffectiveness in those situations last season. When the Phillies trotted Dominguez out for a second inning last year, he often was not the same pitcher he was an inning prior.

The Phillies' plan was to try to use Neris for more than one inning but that obviously changed when he needed 30 pitches to complete the eighth. That left Kapler to choose between Edubray Ramos, Juan Nicasio and situational lefty Jose Alvarez to face the bottom of the Nats' order in the ninth. He went with Ramos, who came within one strike of saving the game and sending the fans home happy. If Ramos executes one more pitch to Victor Robles, none of these questions surface, at least not as loudly as they did Tuesday night when Phillies fans at the park and on the internet made pleas again for the team to sign Craig Kimbrel.

"Would we have liked to have a full bullpen? Absolutely," Kapler said.

"It was a grind to get through, just like it's a grind for them to get through our lineup."

That was the aspect of Tuesday's game that may go overlooked. The Phillies, once again, chased a very good pitcher early. Stephen Strasburg lasted all of four innings, needing 63 pitches to get through the third and fourth. He was taken deep by Bryce Harper and Maikel Franco and allowed a two-run triple to Jean Segura.

The Phillies couldn't hang on, so the story wasn't the offense but the pitching. Can Nola revert to ace form? Do the Phillies have enough relief pitching? Have they fortified their roster enough to protect the leads the offense provides?

These are questions that can't be answered on April 10 but will be answered as the grind of a 162-game season wears on. Good teams blow leads. Great teams hang on to them with a bit more frequency. The Phillies protected one-run leads on Sunday and Monday. Tuesday night, they fell one pitch short.

They can still earn a series win over the Nationals Wednesday night when Nick Pivetta opposes Jeremy Hellickson.

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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