Welcome to The Elimination Edition of Extra Innings, the one you’ve been dreading for a while but knew was coming at some point.
The Phillies’ pursuit of their first wild-card playoff berth in franchise history ended Tuesday afternoon when they lost the first game of a day-night doubleheader to the Washington Nationals, 4-1.
Manager Gabe Kapler assured us all afterward that the Phillies would keep playing hard to the finish.
“There’s no time to hang heads,” Kapler said after the Game 1 loss. “There’s going to be plenty of time to reflect on the season, but between games of a doubleheader is not the right time. For this moment, I know it’s really important to try to win a baseball game for Aaron Nola. He’s been such a rock for us for two consecutive years and I think it’s important we get out there and we fight for him.”
Fight they did and still they lost again, blowing a 4-2 sixth-inning lead in an eventual 6-5 defeat that allowed Washington to secure its first wild-card berth. The Nats’ win came with a major assist from a couple of blown calls by home-plate umpire Stu Scheurwater that eventually led to a Howie Kendrick walk from Nola and a Trea Turner grand slam off reliever Jared Hughes.
“Man did Nola earn a better result,” Kapler said. “He executed his pitches against Kendrick.”
All that’s left for the Phillies is the opportunity to finish above .500 for the first time since 2011, the last year they reached the postseason. To do that, they need to win three of their final five.
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Managing partner John Middleton was in Washington on Tuesday, as was the Phillies’ entire front office. They got to view their team being eliminated from the wild-card race in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader then watched the Nationals celebrate a wild-card berth by completing a sweep with a win in the second game before watching the Chicago Cubs lose in Pittsburgh.
That was a double dose of bad news for Bryce Harper, who left the Nationals after last season and signed with the Phillies.
One of the big questions now is whether Middleton will meet with Harper and other players to seek their opinions about the future of Kapler as manager. If Middleton does seek out Harper, what will the owner’s $330 million man say?
“I think that’s a conversation that if it needs to be had then it will be had,” Harper said. “But at this point, [Kapler] is our manager and I think all of the guys in this clubhouse back him with what he does every single day as a manager. The staff that we do have with [Rob Thomson], Paco [Figueroa] and Dusty [Wathan] and everyone down.
"If that conversation [about Kapler] needs to be had, that’s way over my head. There are guys above me that make those decisions. If we do need to have that conversation, I’ll be all ears.”
Regardless, Harper said that he still believes the Phillies are headed in the right direction and that they will become a perennial playoff team like the Nationals in time.
“I think this whole organization, we value winning,” Harper said. “I think Middleton has shown that in the past. And [Matt] Klentak going and getting guys in the offseason [has shown] that. Getting [Andrew McCutchen] back next year is going to be huge for us. Getting the bullpen back. We didn’t really have our stud guys in our bullpen this year. Doing the things we can as an organization to get better.”
Harper, signed for a dozen more years beyond this one, has a knowledge of what’s coming through the farm system. He mentioned top prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm and suggested that they could help the Phillies as soon as next season as well.
“For the first couple months, you let them enjoy their time in the minors, but then get them up here if they’re ready,” Harper said. “I think we have the pieces to really complete the puzzle and do the things that we need to win as an organization. I think the offseason can be huge for us. If we can ... keep the pieces that we need to win ... we’ll be OK.”
Harper was not in the lineup for the second game of the doubleheader, but he did hit his 34th home run of the season, a pinch-hit shot to right field. He would have preferred, however, to have been celebrating a postseason berth.
“I was standing in the dugout and talking to Rhys [Hoskins] about it, and that’s exactly what I said,” Harper said. “Those are the moments that are cool.”
It was bad enough that the Phillies were eliminated in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, but then an entire dump truck of salt was poured on their wound when the Nationals rallied to punch their ticket to the postseason in the second game. Our Matt Breen, with reaction from Harper, Kapler and Hoskins, covered the Phillies’ frustration and disappointment in depth.
Kapler was not ready to go into detail about his job security immediately after the Phillies were eliminated from playoff contention, but he made it clear that he wants to return and that he believes he is the best man for the job.
Kapler’s job status really is the elephant in the room, and it’s not going anywhere until Middleton lets everybody in on what he’s thinking, which is some of what I covered in my column after the Phillies’ elimination from the playoff picture.
Wednesday: Drew Smyly takes on Anibal Sanchez, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Jason Vargas pitches series finale vs. Nats’ Stephen Strasburg, 4:05 p.m.
Friday: Phillies open final series of the season vs. Miami at Citizens Bank Park, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Final game of the season vs. Marlins, 3:05 p.m.
March 26, 2020: Opening day in Miami, 4:10 p.m.
For today’s stat, we take you overseas to South Korea, where former Phillies first baseman/outfielder Darin Ruf is nearing the conclusion of his third season with the Samsung Lions of the KBO League.
After hitting .240 with 35 home runs and 96 RBIs in 737 at-bats over parts of five seasons with the Phillies, Ruf went to South Korea for the 2017 season after failing to make the Los Angeles Dodgers’ major-league roster. In 398 games with the Lions, he has hit .315 with a .406 on-base percentage and .975 OPS. He has 86 home runs and 346 RBIs.
This has actually been Ruf’s least productive season, but he is still hitting .299 with 22 home runs and 99 RBIs. The best part for Ruf, 33, is that he has made more than $3 million during his three seasons with Samsung.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Instead of signing a backup catcher, maybe the Phillies should give AAA catcher Deivy Grullon a shot. He hit .283 at Lehigh Valley with 21 home runs playing about 2/3 the games. He was a September call up but has rarely if ever seen the field. Why are they completely ignoring this guy?
Answer: As you probably saw, Grullon got to make the first big-league start of his career in the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader against the Nationals. He went hitless in three at-bats and is 0-for-4 so far at the big-league level.
With starting catcher J.T. Realmuto sidelined by right knee swelling, Grullon is likely to get a few more starts before the end of the season, but the bigger question is the one you asked: Will the Phillies trust Grullon to be Realmuto’s backup next season?