The Phillies were seven outs away from a three-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds with their ace on the mound Sunday at Citizens Bank Park. That’s when manager Gabe Kapler turned to his bullpen and the duo of Jose Alvarez and Vince Velasquez squandered a 3-1 lead. The Reds left town with a 4-3 victory.
Taking two out of three is OK, but in this case, it left the Phillies’ lead over the second-place Atlanta Braves at just one game. The Braves took care of business by pulling off a three-game sweep of the Marlins in Miami. The Phillies will open a three-game home series Monday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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It was a difficult decision that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler made in the top of the seventh inning Sunday, but it is also one worth revisiting. With the Phillies in front of the Reds, 3-1, Aaron Nola retired the first two hitters of the inning on nine pitches before giving up an infield single to Curt Casali and a four-pitch walk to pinch hitter Josh VanMeter. The right-hander’s pitch count was at 104.
“It was nearing the end of our comfort level of how it relates to how deep he can go with his pitches,” Kapler said. “He was sitting in the 100s with some outs that we needed to get. I think that’s the first thing that went into it. A little uncharacteristic on the base on balls, and it was the right spot in the lineup for [Jose] Alvarez at that point.”
The 104 pitches were the second most by Nola this season, with his highest pitch total of 106 coming May 18 against Colorado. A year ago, Nola’s highest pitch total was 114, so he surely could have handled another batter or two.
In Alvarez’s defense, he made three good pitches to pinch hitter Nick Senzel, but the rookie reached base on an infield single. Alvarez’s next pitch, however, was a hanging slider that Joey Votto dropped into center field for a game-tying, two-run single.
“I think the whole sequence was fairly well executed,” Kapler said. “Sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way. That’s how I think about that inning.”
Here’s the thing: If Nola was given a chance to finish the inning, he might also have ended up in a battle with Votto. I like Nola against Votto better than Alvarez against Votto for one obvious reason: Votto is hitless in 13 career at-bats against Nola, and now 2-for-4 against Alvarez.
Most importantly, a pitcher of Nola’s caliber deserves a chance to finish an inning like the one he encountered Sunday in the seventh.
Shortstop Jean Segura took a lot of grief last week when he did not run out a pop-up after falling down in the batter’s box. The disastrous result was not the ensuing double play, but the season-ending knee injury to Andrew McCutchen. Two other Phillies — Bryce Harper from second base and Rhys Hoskins from home plate — failed to run on a pop-up Sunday. No one was hurt and the Phillies actually scored two runs on the play, but columnist Marcus Hayes points out that this team needs to get smarter on the basepaths.
It’s no secret the Phillies are working with a depleted bullpen, as Seranthony Dominguez joined six other relievers on the injured list over the weekend with an elbow injury. Matt Breen’s game story details how the Phillies’ short-handed relief status caught up with them in Sunday’s loss to the Reds.
You don’t see a straight steal attempt of home very often, but Bryce Harper took a stab at one in the fifth inning Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds. It was unsuccessful, and Phillies manager Gabe Kapler described Harper’s action as being “a little overaggressive.”
The loss was bad, but the photos from Sunday’s game were still good because they were shot by the great Yong Kim.
The best news of the weekend for the Phillies was that Nick Pivetta backed up his outstanding performance the previous Sunday in Los Angeles with a complete-game victory over the Reds on Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. Our Scott Lauber noted in his game story that Pivetta commuted from his home in Philadelphia during his unwanted stay at triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Meanwhile, anything and everything that could happen to Adam Haseley did in a recent 10-day period. On May 29, he was promoted from double-A Reading to triple-A Lehigh Valley. At midnight on June 4, he got the call to the big leagues and made his major-league debut in San Diego that night. The following day, he got his first big-league hit, a game-winning double against the Padres. Friday, he was scratched from the lineup against the Reds, and Saturday, he landed on the injured list because of a groin strain.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak conceded that his pursuit of free-agent closer Craig Kimbrel was never more than lukewarm, partly because of the team’s own injury-related experiences with veteran relievers Pat Neshek, Tommy Hunter and David Robertson.
The Phillies lost a member of their managerial family Saturday when Frank Lucchesi died at age 92. As Matt Breen reports, he managed the Phillies in 1970 and 1971 and through 76 games of the 1972 season. He was the manager during the Phillies’ last season at Connie Mack Stadium and their first season at Veterans Stadium. Paul “The Pope” Owens replaced him in 1972, and Danny Ozark took over in 1973.
The Phillies went 12-11 in a 23-game, 24-day stretch that included five series against teams that made the playoffs last season. My column points out why it was a defining stretch for the Phillies and why Jay Bruce is a heck of a replacement for injured Andrew McCutchen.
Tonight: Jerad Eickhoff faces Arizona rookie Taylor Clarke, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta vs. another D-backs rookie, Jon Duplantier, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Zach Eflin goes against another Arizona rookie, Merrill Kelly, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Off day
Friday: Nick Pivetta faces Atlanta lefty Max Fried, 7:20 p.m.
The Diamondbacks come to town Monday night, and they might be one of the more underrated and dangerous teams in baseball. The Snakes have won six of their last eight games and are fifth in the National League in home runs and first in extra-base hits. Arizona has 10 players with at least 100 at-bats, and six of them have an OPS of better than .800, including third baseman Eduardo Escobar, who has 14 doubles, five triples, 15 home runs and 49 RBIs. The Dodgers are the only other team in the National League with at least six players who have an OPS of more than .800.
The Diamondbacks are also a team that still believes in stealing bases. They have stolen 34 in 40 attempts, an 85-percent success rate that is the best in baseball. The Phillies have stolen just 17 bases in 26 attempts. Arizona (34-32) also has the ninth-lowest ERA in baseball, 4.05. The Phillies, however, will miss Arizona’s two best starters, Zack Greinke and Robbie Ray, and will face three rookies.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Answer: Thanks for the question, Brian. I think the Phillies need help on the bench, in the bullpen and in the rotation before the trade deadline. If I had to prioritize them, I think I’d start with the rotation. My primary targets would be Marcus Stroman from Toronto and Madison Bumgarner from San Francisco.
Second on my list would be a bench bat. Jay Bruce would have been a nice addition in that regard, but now he has been thrust into a starting role. Given that Odubel Herrera has had success in the past, I don’t think I’d be willing to give up on him now that the Phillies are without Andrew McCutchen for the remainder of the season.
The bullpen is last on the list because I think reinforcements are coming soon. The Phillies especially need David Robertson to come back, especially if he can return to the form he has shown for the last decade.