Somebody finally caught the Chicago Cubs in the five-team race for the National League’s second wild-card berth, but it was not the Phillies. One night after losing reigning National League MVP Christian Yelich to a fractured kneecap, the Milwaukee Brewers (77-68) pulled even with the Cubs by completing a three-game sweep of the Marlins in Miami to extend their winning streak to six games.
The Phillies, meanwhile, are two games behind the Cubs and Brewers after being shut down by Dallas Keuchel in a 3-1 loss to the Atlanta Braves. The New York Mets are also two games back after winning for a third straight night against the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have slipped to 2 1/2 games behind the leaders.
The road-rotten Cubs were blanked, 4-0, by the Padres in San Diego and slipped to 30-44 this season away from Wrigley Field. Among winning teams, the Cubs have the worst road record in baseball.
As for the Phillies, they dropped to 7-8 against the Braves this season. Since sweeping their season-opening series against Atlanta, the Phillies are 4-8 against the Braves and have been outscored, 93-52.
One last thing: As we mentioned at the top, the Brewers took advantage of the Marlins to move into a tie with the Cubs, and they improved to 4-2 this season against Miami. The eight teams other than the Phillies with a winning record in the National League have gone a combined 65-21 against the Marlins this season. The Phillies, with three games remaining against Miami to close out the season, are 7-9.
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The day before Dallas Keuchel’s 16th start this season, Atlanta pitching coach Rick Kranitz gushed about what the lefty’s in-season addition meant to the Braves.
“You get a starting pitcher of that caliber who has been a World Series champion who has been through the wars and is left-handed, you just had to love everything about him looking at it from the outside,” Kranitz said. “To me, it was a perfect fit for us.”
Keuchel, of course, could have been a perfect fit for a lot of teams, but the Phillies were one of many clubs that took a pass, believing that the 31-year-old’s career was trending downward after he surrendered a major-league-leading 211 hits with the Houston Astros last season and struck out just 6.7 batters per nine innings, his lowest total since 2014.
Still, the positives should have outweighed the negatives for the Phillies. Start with the fact that Keuchel is left-handed and the Phillies have badly needed a lefty in their rotation ever since Cole Hamels’ departure at the 2015 trade deadline. A switch to the National League is also always nice for a pitcher because it’s so much easier to navigate a lineup without a designated hitter. Finally, Keuchel’s playoff experience and success would have been welcome in a Phillies clubhouse filled with young starters.
“I believe in giving young pitchers opportunity to get their feet wet and a chance to understand what it’s all about, but also you need that veteran presence to stabilize your staff, and once Keuchel came in, it made a huge difference for us,” Kranitz said.
“It legitimized our rotation with a guy who had been to the World Series, a guy who has been through struggles in the past and a guy who when you see him pitch, he remains exactly the same guy whether he gives up five runs or no runs. You have to have that veteran presence to teach the young kids, especially by example.”
Keuchel has gone 9-6 with a 3.35 ERA for the Braves, and he has turned it up a notch since mid-August, posting a 0.97 ERA in his last six starts, all of which have ended in Atlanta victories.
Baseball and the Phillies will get a mulligan on Keuchel’s free-agent snub this offseason because the bearded lefty will be a free agent again.
Keuchel did not join the Phillies when they had a chance to sign the free agent into June of this season, but he did beat them Wednesday night with an impressive six-inning, three-hit performance that included eight strikeouts. After the Braves’ victory pushed their lead over the Phillies back to 15 games, Keuchel had one more pitch to make against the Phillies: “I think a lot of those guys over there in the front office are second-guessing themselves. I mean, I would, too.”
After making three straight starts and having success against left-handed pitching over the weekend in New York, third baseman Maikel Franco was back on the bench Tuesday and Wednesday against Atlanta lefties Max Fried and Keuchel. Our Matt Breen writes about Franco’s likely final days in a Phillies uniform.
On the 18-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Rob Tornoe remembered the poignant opening from the late Harry Kalas when the Phillies season resumed a week later with a win over the Atlanta Braves at Veterans Stadium.
Tonight: Drew Smyly faces Julio Teheran in series finale against Braves, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: A rare scheduled Friday off day.
Saturday: Aaron Nola opens home series against Boston, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Vince Velasquez faces Red Sox, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: Phils’ final off day of the season.
The Phillies are 7-2 in left-hander Drew Smyly’s nine starts this season, and he will take the mound Thursday night in the series finale against the Braves.
Smyly had a 7.20 ERA and allowed nine home runs in 25 innings during five August starts, but in his four July and September starts, he has allowed just two earned runs on 16 hits in 25 1/3 innings for an 0.71 ERA.
The only hitter Smyly has faced more than 10 times in Atlanta’s lineup is Josh Donaldson, and Smyly will have to be careful pitching to the slugger. Donaldson is 9-for-19 with three doubles and three home runs against him.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: Why on earth do the Phillies keep putting (Sean Rodriguez) in the lineup when they have other options? Is it because he’s Klentak’s friend?
— Tom L., via email
Answer: Thanks for the question, Tom, although it does read a little like a comment, too. Anyway, I don’t think anybody gets to the field in the big leagues because he is somebody’s friend.
Manager Gabe Kapler’s stated reason for playing Rodriguez instead of Maikel Franco at third base at times is that he believes Rodriguez has a better chance against left-handed pitching. For the record, Rodriguez is a career .246 hitter with a .345 on-base percentage and .757 OPS against lefties. Franco is a .231 career hitter with a .300 on-base percentage and .712 OPS against lefties.