Tommy Hunter

The end is near after Phillies beat themselves in most important game of the season

The end is near after Phillies beat themselves in most important game of the season

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ATLANTA — The Phillies’ bid to make the postseason is almost over and they have no one to blame for that but themselves.

They were in control of the National League East, up 1½ games in the division on Aug. 5 then proceeded to lose 25 of their next 40. That put them on life support when they arrived at SunTrust Park on Thursday night to take on the first-place Atlanta Braves in the first of four games.

The Phillies’ pulse is even weaker after an 8-3 loss to the Braves (see first take).

“I think disappointing is the word,” Rhys Hoskins said after the Braves reduced their magic number to four.

Hoskins went on to express hope and confidence. But the Phillies trail the Braves by 6½ games with 10 to play. There are still three games to play in this series. The Braves can close it out by winning two of them.

A consistent weakness

All season long the Phillies have beaten themselves with poor defense and it happened again in the most important game of the season.

A non-play by third baseman Carlos Santana – shifted way to his left – and a questionable decision by Hoskins at first base prevented the Phils from getting out of the first inning with a 1-0 lead. The Braves capitalized on the sloppiness and scored two runs. A wild pitch by Vince Velasquez set up another run in the third. Aaron Altherr wasn’t exactly swift in making a play on a killer double in the seventh, and everything completely fell apart in the eighth as the Braves scored four times, following a hard-hit ball that second baseman Cesar Hernandez could not handle.

The defense let the Phillies down.

“I think that's a fair assessment of the situation,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “There were a number of plays that we could have executed more successfully, for sure.”

Kapler started Altherr in left field for his defense. In the seventh, Dansby Swanson doubled to left against Tommy Hunter and scored the tie-breaking run on a double by Lucas Duda. Could Altherr have held Swanson to a single?

“I think Aaron can be more aggressive getting to that ball,” Kapler said. “It's something I want to talk to him about before I could really assess the situation. I'd like to hear what was on his mind.”

Altherr said he took a cautious route to the ball because he did not want it to get by him.

Hunter blamed no one.

“I made the pitch and he hit it,” the reliever and losing pitcher said.

Bullpen usage in question

Luis Garcia got torched for four runs in the eighth turning a one-run deficit into a five-run deficit.

Why not go to Seranthony Dominguez or Hector Neris to keep the game close in a high-leverage spot?

“We really liked that pocket of the lineup, the bottom of the lineup, for Luis,” Kapler said. “We knew we had to cover potentially more innings and probably most critically, we had planned on using Seranthony and Neris with a tie ballgame or with a lead, given how much they've worked and given how much we may be leaning on them in the next couple of days. That's not to say we weren't doing anything but trying to win tonight's game. Luis, a sinkerball pitcher with right-handed guys at the bottom of the lineup, profiled well. Coming into this year, he was the guy who was going to handle that part of the lineup. Nothing has changed as it relates to our confidence in Luis Garcia. We demonstrated that confidence and it didn't work out.”

And now it’s almost over.

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Braves 8, Phillies 3: Phils come up small in their most important game in years

Braves 8, Phillies 3: Phils come up small in their most important game in years

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ATLANTA — The series that the Phillies have long hoped would save their season got off to a very bad start Thursday night.

The Phils moved a step closer to being eliminated from the National League East race in a demoralizing 8-3 loss to the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park.

The Braves’ magic number for clinching the division is down to four. The two teams play three more times through the weekend and the Braves could be popping champagne corks before then.

The Phillies trail the Braves by 6½ games with 10 to play.

Old friends and enemies

Remember Jesse Biddle, the kid from Germantown Friends School who was selected by the Phillies in the first round of the 2010 draft? He was on the mound for Atlanta for two outs in the top of the seventh and got the win in relief of Kevin Gausman.

Remember Lucas Duda, the lefty-hitting slugger who tormented the Phillies for many years with the New York Mets? He did it again with a tie-breaking RBI double in the bottom of the seventh inning. The hit came against Tommy Hunter. The veteran reliever allowed a leadoff double to Dansby Swanson before Duda stroked his go-ahead hit to right field.

The Braves acquired Duda from Kansas City for cash at the end of August. He has 22 doubles, 22 homers and 54 RBIs in 289 career at-bats against the Phillies.

So sloppy

Phillies starter Vince Velasquez allowed three runs over three innings. All of the runs were the result of some sloppy play by the Phillies.

The Braves scored two runs in the first inning. They would not have scored any if the Phillies could have turned a double play on a hard-hit ball by Freddie Freeman with one out and a man on first. Carlos Santana, who started at third base, was shifted into the shortstop position. Freeman smashed a one-hopper that ate up Santana and went for a hit. If the Phils were not in a shift, Asdrubal Cabrera would have been in the spot occupied by Santana. He’d have had a better shot at fielding the ball and turning a double play.

The second run of the inning scored when first baseman Rhys Hoskins failed to go for a 3-6-3 double play. Hoskins got the double play, but first eliminated the force by tagging first base before going to second. That allowed a run to score.

The Braves scored their third run on a sacrifice fly to center field after a wild pitch by Velasquez allowed a runner to move to third base.

The Phils were down by just a run in the bottom of the eighth. Manager Gabe Kapler entrusted Luis Garcia over Seranthony Dominguez and Hector Neris to keep the game close and he failed. He allowed two hits, two walks and four runs.

Just too many costly miscues in the team’s most important game of the season.

The lineup

Velasquez has a tendency to give up fly balls. That was the reason Kapler chose to go with his best defensive alignment in the outfield. Roman Quinn started in center field, Odubel Herrera in right and Aaron Altherr in left.

Hoskins stared at first base and Santana at third.

Up next

Nick Pivetta gets the ball against Julio Teheran in the second game of the series on Friday night. Pivetta is 1-1 with a 3.43 ERA in four starts against the Braves this season. However, he has a 5.97 ERA in his last six starts. It’s safe to say that this will be the most important start of Pivetta’s career. 

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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

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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.

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