If this Phillies team proves to be for real, there will be other chances to move into first place in the National League East. For now, the Phils need to improve some things, most notably their defense.
The Phils have made nine errors in the last five games. They made two of them in the fifth inning Tuesday night and they proved lethal in a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves that denied the Phils entry into first place in the division (see first take).
“We had some plays that we could have made, there’s no doubt about it,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It’s something that we’re going to stay focused on and work really hard to improve.”
Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez had good enough stuff to strike out nine Braves — including the side with the bases loaded in the fourth — over 4 1/3 innings, but his pitch count was high and he paid the price for a leadoff walk (one of three he issued in the game) in the fifth inning when the Braves parlayed errors by rightfielder Nick Williams and first baseman Carlos Santana into the tie-breaking run.
Santana had a chance to cut down Ozzie Albies at the plate, but his throw sailed over catcher Jorge Alfaro’s head. Later in the game, Alfaro was charged with a passed ball that set up the Braves’ third run. Two of the Braves’ runs were unearned.
Less than two weeks ago, Kapler praised Santana for playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. Lately, however, Santana's defense has slipped badly. He has made errors in four straight games. Three of them have been throwing errors. All have cost the Phillies runs.
“The last four games, I’m throwing bad,” Santana said. “But that happens. I have to keep working hard. I’m not putting pressure on myself. The results are not good but I feel strong mentally. Tomorrow is a new day.”
While Santana has struggled defensively, Rhys Hoskins has struggled offensively. He went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .237. He is 10 for 67 (.149) with 27 strikeouts in May.
“It’s just one of those stretches,” Hoskins said. He cited some mechanical flaws that have hurt his timing. “It’s baseball. It’s frustrating, but I think it’s one of those things where if I stick with the process and preparation and drills that make me comfortable in the box, I think it eventually flips the other way.”
The Phils entered the game a half game behind the first-place Braves. Before the game, Kapler said moving into first place for the first time since 2011 “would mean a lot” as a confidence and momentum booster. The loss meant the Phils cannot overtake the Braves in Wednesday’s series finale. But the Phils can still win the series and that would be a positive. In fact, that should always be the goal and the Phils have not been able to do that in three previous series against Atlanta this season.
Jake Arrieta gets the ball Wednesday night.
The Phils will try not to throw it away.