Ozzie Albies

Phillies throw away chance to move into 1st place in NL East

Phillies throw away chance to move into 1st place in NL East

BOX SCORE

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.

Phillies miss target of 1st place with home loss to Braves

Phillies miss target of 1st place with home loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

The Phillies missed out on a chance to move into first place in the National League East on Tuesday night and they have no one to blame but themselves.

The team’s recent spate of poor defense continued in a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Two of the Braves' runs were unearned.

The Phils made two errors in the fifth inning, allowing the Braves to push across the go-ahead run.

A passed ball on catcher Jorge Alfaro set up the Braves' third run.

The Phillies, and Alfaro in particular, made several defensive gems in Monday night’s 3-0 win over the Braves. But, overall, defense has been an issue lately. The Phils have made nine errors in the last five games, four of them by first baseman Carlos Santana.

Santana made his third throwing error in the last four games when he airmailed catcher Alfaro in the fifth inning. The wild throw allowed Ozzie Albies to score from third base with the tie-breaking run. Earlier in the fifth inning, rightfielder Nick Williams made a throwing error that gave the Braves runners on second and third.

Defense wasn’t the only issue for the Phillies. Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez walked the leadoff batter in an inning three times and one of them became the go-ahead run in the fifth.

Velasquez’s three-game winning streak came to an end as he allowed nine base runners in 4 1/3 innings. Albies jumped a first-pitch breaking ball for a solo homer in the third inning to give the Braves an early lead. The Phillies tied the game in the top of the fifth on a two-out, RBI single by Cesar Hernandez. Pinch-hitter Aaron Altherr had kept that inning alive by fighting back from an 0-2 count against Brandon McCarthy to draw a two-out walk.

Velasquez, who threw 89 pitches, had his moments of dominance. He struck out nine, including the side in the fourth inning after the Braves loaded the bases with no outs.

Velasquez is 0-4 against the Braves this season.

McCarthy, meanwhile, is 4-0 against the Phillies this season. The veteran right-hander gave up just one run in 5 2/3 innings. He has held the Phillies to just five runs in 21 2/3 innings this season.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 27-19. They trail the division-leading Braves by 1½ games. Atlanta is 29-18.

Notes
• Hernandez has reached base safely in 26 straight games.

• Albies, the Braves’ dynamic 21-year-old second baseman, scored all three of his team’s runs. He has 14 homers.

• Rhys Hoskins went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to fall to .237. He is 10 for 67 (.149) with 27 strikeouts in May.

• The series concludes on Wednesday night with Jake Arrieta going against Atlanta lefty Luiz Gohara.

Vince Velasquez struggles again as Phillies drop series

Vince Velasquez struggles again as Phillies drop series

BOX SCORE

A homestand that began with a rousing four-game sweep ended with a whimper as the Phillies were pounded by the Atlanta Braves, 10-1, at Citizens Bank Park on a forgettable and chilly Sunday afternoon.

The Phillies have lost two in a row for the first time since April 3-4 against the Mets. 

The Braves mugged starter Vince Velasquez for six runs in the first three innings and never looked back. The Phils and Braves have played three three-game series against each other in the early part of this season and the Braves have won two of three in each. 

The Phillies finished their 10-game homestand at 6-4. They opened the homestand with a four-game sweep of Pittsburgh then won just two games the rest of the way in a pair of three-game series against Arizona and Atlanta.

The Phillies are 16-11.

Starting pitching has been a strength for the Phillies in the early part of this season, but it showed some cracks in this homestand as Ben Lively, Nick Pivetta and Velasquez all struggled in their most recent starts.

Velasquez allowed a leadoff homer to Ozzie Albies Sunday afternoon and then was tagged for five runs in the third, three on a homer by Johan Camargo on a first-pitch changeup.

Velasquez has given up four home runs and a total of 11 runs in 8 2/3 innings over his last two starts. His ERA in six starts is up to 5.70.

Since the start of the 2016 season, 105 pitchers have made 45 or more starts in the majors. Velasquez ranks last among that group with 233 innings pitched.

Brandon McCarthy pitched 5 1/3 innings of one-run ball for his third win of the season in as many starts against the Phillies.

The Phillies’ offense produced just five hits and racked up 13 strikeouts. The team has reached double-digits in strikeouts 18 times in 27 games.

Notes:

• Odubel Herrera walked in the first inning to extend his on-base streak to 29 straight games, dating to last season.

• Carlos Santana went 0 for 3 with a walk. He is hitting .160 (15 for 94). Despite not hitting, Santana has walked 14 times in last 15 games for a .354 OBP in that span.

• The Phillies placed shortstop J.P. Crawford on the disabled list and recalled Jesmuel Valentin fro Triple A. Scott Kingery will get the bulk of the time at shortstop (see story).

• The Phils begin a six-game road trip to Miami and Washington Monday night. Jake Arrieta (3-0, 1.82) pitches Monday night against Miami’s Dan Straily (season debut). Following Sunday's game, the Phillies optioned Jake Thompson to Triple A. Zach Eflin will come up from Lehigh Valley to pitch on Tuesday.