So much for getting over the hump on hump day. The Phillies had two chances Wednesday to turn around their recent skid. Instead, they got swept in a day-night doubleheader by the Washington Nationals, losing by 6-2 in the first game and 2-0 in the second and wasting solid starts by Zach Eflin and Jake Arrieta.
Recently, we’ve focused a lot in this space on how the depth and overall talent of the Phillies pitching staff is being tested to limits that threaten to undermine the season. And it’s likely now that reliever Pat Neshek will return to the injured list after straining his left hamstring last night in his first game back.
But the Phillies’ once-mighty offense has issues, too. Up and down the lineup, nobody except Scott Kingery and J.T. Realmuto is hitting. Check out these June numbers: Rhys Hoskins (.236, two homers); Bryce Harper (.228, two homers); Jean Segura (.175, one homer); Cesar Hernandez (.161, one homer).
And it doesn’t get any easier tonight. To avoid a series sweep and a 1-5 road trip, the Phillies will have to beat Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg.
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Bench Jean Segura? Sure, but the Phillies need him, too
Before the Phillies traded for Jean Segura last December, they raised a question: Why has an all-star shortstop who has more hits in fewer games than Mike Trout since 2013 played for four teams in the last five years?
Gabe Kapler knew whom to ask. Nez Balelo, Segura’s agent, just so happens to have been one of Kapler’s youth hitting coaches. They have known each other since the late ’80s. And in a conversation before the trade was finalized, Balelo helped Kapler understand what makes Segura tick, leaving the Phillies manager confident that there wouldn’t be any issues.
Maybe it’s time for another chat.
Segura didn’t run hard after hitting a flare into center field to open last night’s game and settled for a single when he should have been on second base. After the game, Kapler characterized the lack of hustle as “unacceptable." Segura concurred.
“I don’t have an excuse,” he said. “That can’t happen.”
But it has happened twice in the last three weeks. Segura didn’t run out an infield fly on June 3 in San Diego on the infamous play in which Andrew McCutchen got caught in a rundown and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Kapler handled this latest situation in the same manner that he handled that one. He talked to Segura, making clear that the lack of hustle wouldn’t be tolerated. But he didn’t remove him from either game. He should have. Benching Segura would’ve been the most powerful way to make a point.
But the Phillies also need Segura to emerge from a three-week slump. He’s a key piece of their offense near the top of the batting order and perhaps even in the leadoff spot. If Kapler had made an overly public display of shaming Segura for his transgressions, he would’ve risked losing him.
“It wasn’t a good effort,” Segura said. “I was hitting, and I kept watching the ball instead of running. I’m frustrated. I’ve never been in a slump like this in three years. As a player, sometimes you get into difficult moments and sometimes you do some bad things on the baseball field that you don’t realize. That can’t happen, especially the type of player that I am. It’s just a tough moment for me.”
There have been two of them now. If Kapler isn’t sure how to keep it from happening again, at the very least he should enlist Balelo’s help.
After yet another poor offensive showing, Gabe Kapler was defiant. “This is not the story of the season yet,” he said. “It’s the story of the last couple of weeks.”
The recent team-wide slump only amplifies how much the Phillies miss leadoff man Andrew McCutchen, Bob Brookover writes.
Trailing by two runs in the eighth inning of the first game, and with a well-rested bullpen after back-to-back rainouts, the Phillies turned to ... Cole Irvin? Kapler explained the move.
Mark your calendar: The Phillies will host the Dodgers on July 18, and it will be the first time an MLB game is broadcast live on YouTube, as Rob Tornoe writes.
Tonight: Nick Pivetta vs. Stephen Strasburg in series finale in D.C., 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Chase Utley retirement ceremony before Phillies host Marlins, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies wrap up three-game series vs. Marlins, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: Mets visit Citizens Bank Park for a four-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
It got overshadowed by Bryce Harper’s overaggressive baserunning, but a play that loomed large in the Phillies’ loss in the first game yesterday was Sean Rodriguez’s decision to swing at a 3-0 pitch with two out and the tying run on third base in the sixth inning. Rodriguez jumped at a fastball and rolled it to third base for the rally-ending out.
“Love it. Love it,” Kapler said. “Where we are in the lineup, it’s just the right play. It was a 3-0 green light, so that is representative of exactly what we want him to do in that situation. I’ll continue to encourage the aggressiveness that Sean showed right there.”
It isn’t often, though, that hitters swing at a 3-0 pitch. Entering games Wednesday, Houston Astros star Alex Bregman and Jose Martinez of the St. Louis Cardinals led the majors this season with four swings in that situation, according to Baseball-Reference.com. Harper is 1-for-3 with a double in 3-0 counts this season. Maikel Franco has swung at two 3-0 pitches, and Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera have swung at one apiece.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: I know that we’re a bit banged up, but that’s baseball. But I thought that the Braves looked better last year and have a lot of younger talent than we do. Are we still in a rebuilding stage? It seems to me that we are, albeit much better than last year. It just seems like the Braves are “the team to beat” in the East and are starting to look like the Braves from the ’90s where they owned baseball. How far behind them overall are we, really?
— Ed B., via e-mail
Answer: Thanks for the question, Ed. By virtue of winning the division last year, I would say that, yes, the Braves are the team to beat. They brought back mostly the same team, added Josh Donaldson, and incorporated some of their terrific young pitchers. They’re proving that they will be difficult to knock off.
But I will add this: Don’t overreact to one series, or even a three-week stretch.
Look, it’s fair to say that the Braves caught the Phillies at a particularly vulnerable time. Not only are the Phillies dealing with a spate of injuries, particularly to their pitching staff, but the Braves are smoking hot. The opposite was true at the beginning of the season when the Braves started two rookie pitchers in a three-game series and got swept by the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies and Braves have not yet played this season when both teams are at full strength. Maybe they never will. Injuries have a way of influencing divisional races. But the teams still have 13 games remaining against each other. That really ought to be enough to determine who’s better this season and into the future.