When the Phillies' starting pitcher gave up one run on Friday night, the bullpen allowed 10.
When the Phillies' starting pitcher gave up one run on Sunday night, the bullpen blew another late lead but was picked up by Scott Kingery.
It appeared that so, too, was manager Gabe Kapler after an apparent questionable, costly decision to pull a locked-in Zach Eflin after seven innings and 84 pitches.
That decision made a little more sense after hearing from Eflin postgame. The right-hander said his arm felt fine but that he had been dealing with oblique tightness in recent days and it crept back up in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
"I respect the decision Kap made," Eflin said. "Arm felt great at 84 pitches. Going into my next outing, I'm hoping for no limitations."
The Phils avoided a sweep with the 5-2 win on Sunday Night Baseball. Kingery delivered the night's biggest moment, a bases-clearing double with one out in the eighth off Jeurys Familia after Cesar Hernandez was intentionally walked ahead of him. The Phillies, struggling for two months with runners in scoring position, had stranded a man in scoring position with no outs the previous inning. Huge spot.
"This year, having been through it, it helps a lot," Kingery said of the mental approach to those high-leverage spots. "Probably put too much pressure on myself last year."
September began with a win but the Phillies will need to play worlds better than they did this weekend to remain in the wild-card race. They are 70-65 and on an 84-win pace, as they've been nearly every day for a month.
1. Updated playoff picture
The Phillies' win Sunday coupled with the Cubs' loss trimmed the deficit to 2½ games back of the second wild-card spot. The Cubs lost two in a row to the Brewers this weekend.
The Phils are a half-game ahead of the Brewers and 1½ games ahead of the Mets and Diamondbacks.
September schedules could play a large role in deciding this thing. The Cubs play 15 games against teams with losing records in the final month. The Phillies play seven — the first four in Cincinnati and the final three at home against the Marlins.
2. Stroman so-so so far
Eflin outdueled Marcus Stroman, the Mets' trade deadline prize. Stroman pitched well in this game but has not overall in a Mets uniform. He's made six starts with New York and has a 4.55 ERA with a 1.64 WHIP. He's been hittable, and he's surprisingly allowed six home runs already after surrendering just 10 in 21 starts with the Blue Jays. Unexpected considering Stroman was traded to the lesser offensive league and from a hitter's park to a pitcher's park.
The Mets traded two of their top pitching prospects, Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods Richardson, to acquire Stroman from Toronto. They could prove to be two significant pieces.
Stroman found success earlier this season in some ways that looked unsustainable. His strand rate and opponents' batting average with men on base were both much better than the league average. Those numbers don't always regress but tend to over a full season. Stroman's ERA indicators have been about a half-run higher than his actual ERA most of the year.
3. Eflin efficient again
Two starts in a row, Eflin has been through six innings in under 80 pitches. On Sunday night, he encountered trouble in only one inning, the fourth.
Five of Eflin's seven innings were 1-2-3. He allowed a solo home run to Pete Alonso in the first inning — hard to believe but Alonso's only homer and only RBI in 10 games at Citizens Bank Park this season — and put three men on base in the fourth but got a double-play ball.
Eflin has allowed three runs over 13 innings in his last two starts. These are the best back-to-back outings he's had since June 12 and June 19. Eflin is at his best when he's pitching the way he is now, generating early outs on the ground with his sinker.
Eflin would be a more complete pitcher with a more consistent four-seam fastball, but if he has to use that pitch sparingly to get deeper into games, so be it given the current state of the Phillies' rotation.
Kapler pinch-hit for Eflin in the seventh inning of a one-run game. Eflin was at only 84 pitches but Kapler went with offense after Adam Haseley opened the seventh with a double. Jay Bruce grounded out and the Phillies ultimately stranded Haseley at third.
4. More professional ABs from Dickerson
What do you know, another multi-hit game from Corey Dickerson. He doubled to begin the bottom of the first and hit a two-out, RBI single to put the Phillies ahead in the second.
Dickerson has 25 RBI in 24 games as a Phillie, is hitting over .300 and has gone 12 for 34 (.353) with runners in scoring position. He uses all fields, can handle the ball low, high, inside or outside, and so far has even been a pleasant surprise vs. lefties.
Now, the Phillies are off to Cincinnati. Here are the pitching probables:
Monday afternoon at 2:10 — LHP Drew Smyly (2-6, 6.95) vs. Anthony DeSclafani (9-7, 4.05)
Tuesday night at 6:40 — Vince Velasquez (6-7, 4.86) vs. LHP Alex Wood (1-3, 5.80)
Wednesday night at 6:40 — Aaron Nola (12-4, 3.45) vs. TBA
Thursday afternoon at 12:35 — LHP Jason Vargas (6-7, 4.31) vs. TBA.
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