Michael Conforto

Phillies have lots of work to reach Braves' level in 2019 and beyond

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Phillies have lots of work to reach Braves' level in 2019 and beyond

There are few things Phillies fans enjoy more than making fun of the Mets.

But if you hadn't noticed, the Mets have gained 10½ games in the standings on the Phillies over the last eight weeks.

Since Aug. 6, the Phillies are 13-25 and the Mets are 25-16.

The offensive numbers of the Braves, Phillies and Mets are telling.

The Braves have hit .259/.325/.424 with 711 runs scored.

The Phillies have hit .238/.316/.399 with 641 runs.

The Mets have hit .236/.312/.393 with 644 runs.

Offensively, the gap between the Phils and Braves this season has been substantial. The gap between the Phils and Mets, sadly, has been negligible.

It's a worrisome sign because the Phillies have so much more offensive talent than the Mets. Yoenis Cespedes has played 38 games this season. Jay Bruce has played 82. Michael Conforto started hitting only recently.

And yet the Phils, with a full season of Rhys Hoskins and the addition of Carlos Santana, haven't been able to muster much more offense.

The Mets have an interesting near future. With Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and this new, ace-like version of Zack Wheeler, they have the best 1-2-3 of any National League rotation. A trade for an everyday position player would make a lot of sense. They have many, many questions offensively, mainly because they rarely spend money these days.

The Phillies, meanwhile, must figure out a way before next season to close the gap on the Braves. There is simply no player in the Phils' organization with the skill level of Freddie Freeman or Ronald Acuña Jr. The quickest and most obvious way to close that gap would be by adding Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.

The Phillies entered the week with a 97 percent chance of missing the playoffs, according to Fangraphs. Yet still, these remaining seven games with the Braves have meaning. The Phillies have gone 5-7 against the Braves this season, losing three of the four series. Going 5-2 in these games against Atlanta could have a positive psychological benefit for the Phils, the way their 36-36 finish last season did.

This offense just needs some sort of infusion. The Phillies want to see pitches, see pitches, see pitches, make pitchers work, etc. They entered Monday night with 22 more walks than the Mets and 120 more strikeouts. The Phils just don't have enough players to properly enact that offensive philosophy, aside from Hoskins and Santana.

Harper fits the description. Machado is a more aggressive, freer swinger but is obviously a difference-making star.

In all likelihood, the Phils will finish five to seven games behind the Braves in the NL East this season. There are few players in baseball capable of increasing a team's win total by five to seven, but Harper and Machado are two of them.

Either way, the Phillies are observant enough to realize they can't go into 2019 with this offensive personnel.

More on the Phillies

Mets 9, Phillies 4: That’s 7 losses in the last 9 games

Mets 9, Phillies 4: That’s 7 losses in the last 9 games

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets continue to make life miserable on the Phillies. The Mets beat the Phils for the 11th time in 17 meetings this season on Monday night. The final score from quiet Citizens Bank Park was 9-4.

The Phillies entered the game trailing first-place Atlanta by 6½ games in the NL East and were unable to make up any ground. The Phils have 13 games left, including seven with Atlanta. The two teams begin a four-game series Thursday night in Atlanta, but this race is all but over.

Not enough offense

It’s a familiar refrain, but the Phillies didn’t produce enough offense. Sure, they scored four runs against Mets starter Zack Wheeler, but they all came in one inning – the fifth – after they had been no-hit for the first four innings. The Phils had just five hits in the game and three of them came in the fifth inning. J.P. Crawford had the big blow, a three-run triple. The Phils then tied the game on a sacrifice fly and left a runner at second base when Rhys Hoskins was called out for interfering with a pickoff attempt by the catcher. Ouch.

Arrieta struggles

Jake Arrieta was not sharp. He allowed 10 base runners and four runs in five innings. Tommy Hunter gave up the go-ahead run on a two-out double in the seventh and Michael Conforto completely snuffed out the Phils with a three-run homer in the ninth en route to a six-RBI night.

Just when the Phillies needed Arrieta most, he has failed to deliver. His ERA over his last seven starts is a plump 6.03.

Stat check

Carlos Santana drew his 100th and 101st walks of the season. He became the first Phillie since Pat Burrell in 2008 to reach 100 walks.

Going to need a bigger bus

The Phillies are expected to activate lefty reliever Aaron Loup from the disabled list on Tuesday. That means every player on the 40-man roster will be active. Can’t remember the last time that happened with a Phillies team – if ever. Loup will give the team 16 active relievers. Someone might have to build an addition onto the bullpen.

On Sunday, general manager Matt Klentak said he was not fond of the rule that allows rosters to expand beyond 25 in September. He doesn’t like the idea of playing under one set of rules for five months and then another for the final month of the season, when games can grow in importance. Of course, all teams add players in September and as long as that is permitted the Phillies will play along as they seek any competitive advantage.

For the record, Gabe Kapler likes having the extra players.

“It's an invigorating challenge, a stimulating challenge, one that I really enjoy,” he said of juggling an expanded roster. “If you can convince your players to take a real team-first approach and that everyone is going to contribute every single night or has a chance to contribute every single night regardless of what inning it is and what part of the game they play, I actually think it could be a really exciting brand of baseball. The more chess pieces you have, the more interesting the game becomes. Maybe that’s not the case for the fan. I’m thinking about it from the perspective of the manager. And from my perspective, I like more chess pieces.”

Thirty-nine chess pieces couldn’t bring the Phils a win Monday night.

More on the Phillies

Phillies miss out on so much after Hector Neris' meltdown in 9th inning

Phillies miss out on so much after Hector Neris' meltdown in 9th inning

BOX SCORE

The Phillies were two outs away from taking over first place in the National League East, two outs away from being eight games over .500 for the first time since 2011, the last year they made the playoffs.

They were two outs away from nailing down a nice win for Jake Arrieta on a night when he had no margin for error, two outs away from putting their collective foot down and telling the New York Mets to find a new punching bag.

So close ...

Hector Neris gave up a pair of one-out home runs in the top of the ninth inning and the Phillies suffered a galling 3-1 loss to the Mets at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night (see first take). The Phillies, thanks to Arrieta’s 7 1/3 shutout innings and Odubel Herrera’s home run in the first inning, had taken a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning. Neris got the first out before all hell broke loose. He allowed a single to Wilmer Flores then back-to-back home runs to Michael Conforto and Devin Mesoraco.

Goodbye, four-game winning streak.

Goodbye, ascension into first place. 

Hello, boos.

Neris heard lots of them after the home runs and again as he left the mound.

It has been an up-and-down week for Neris. He blew a save Sunday in Washington, came home and picked up two saves in a rousing four-game sweep of the Giants, then suffered an excruciating meltdown in this one. Without his two blown saves, the Phillies are looking at a seven-game winning streak.

Manager Gabe Kapler has never officially named Neris his closer even though he is the guy who has been called upon in ninth innings with the lead. 

Will Kapler stay away from Neris in the ninth inning for a while?

“If he's the best option at any given scenario, we will go to him,” Kapler said. “That has always been the case; that will always be the case. If he is the best option to get the hitters out that are coming up, we will go to him.

“Hector is as a very good baseball player going through a tough time. His track record suggests he will perform, I believe he will perform.”

The Phillies have several pitchers with closer’s stuff, including Luis Garcia, Yacksel Rios and Seranthony Dominguez. It will be fascinating to see what Kapler does in the next save situation.

Conforto hit a 1-2 fastball for the go-ahead homer. Two pitches earlier, he hit a splitter that went foul, just missing a homer. Neris did not throw another splitter and that is his best pitch. Mesoraco hit a slider.

Neris might have lost some confidence in the pitch. He did not stick around after the game to speak with reporters.

“It's a really special pitch,” Kapler said of Neris’ splitter. “I don't think anybody is lacking any confidence in it. But he's also got a really good fastball and his fastball has been effective in the past and that one wasn't.”

Catcher Jorge Alfaro said he and Neris were on the same page in throwing Conforto a second straight fastball at 1-2.

Though Neris got the boos, there were other failures. The offense was 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position, left nine men on base and grounded into two double plays.

The Mets came in having lost eight of nine. But Citizens Bank Park and the Phillies bring out the best in the Mets. They are 41-19 against the Phils since the start of 2015 and 41-17 at CBP since 2012.

Arrieta has given up just one run in 13 1/3 innings his last two starts and the Phils ended up losing both of those games on blown saves by Neris.

"It's tough for me because it's tough for Hector,” Arrieta said. “You hate to see a teammate in a situation like that. He works his butt off. It's tough for him, so it's tough for me.”

How is a tough loss like this best handled?

"We just drink a beer, talk about it and move forward,” Arrieta said.

After this one, two beers might be in order.