Now the Phillies are chasing two teams in the race for the National League’s second wild-card playoff berth. Their 4-3 walk-off loss to the Cincinnati Reds not only left them with a disappointing split of their four-game series, it also pushed them a half-game behind the idle Arizona Diamondbacks in the wild-card race. The Chicago Cubs, by virtue of their 10-5 win at Milwaukee, moved to four games ahead of the Phillies.
The Cubs lead Arizona by 3 1/2 games and the Mets and Brewers by five.
The Phillies have 22 games remaining and they will play 19 in a row against teams with winning records starting with Friday night’s series opener against the New York Mets at Citi Field. The Phillies are one game ahead of the Mets, who won two out of three earlier this week in Washington after also winning two of three against the Phillies last weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
After the three-game series in New York, the Phillies will begin a six-game homestand against Atlanta (four games) and Boston (two games) before embarking on an 11-game road trip to Atlanta, Cleveland and Washington. Then they get to the tough part of the schedule, finishing the season with three games at home against the Miami Marlins.
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Veteran lefty Jason Vargas sailed into the sixth inning Thursday with a 1-0 lead, having allowed just two hits while registering six strikeouts. But then he allowed a double to Alex Blandino and a home run to Jose Iglesias in a matter of two pitches and manager Gabe Kapler decided that was enough even though there is little reason for him to have a lot of confidence in his bullpen.
“[Vargas] wasn’t just good to that point, he was dominant,” Kapler said. “No baserunners. Quick outs. Weak contact. Efficient. He was so good that you have to keep sending him out there. The first two guys who did the damage, they did it like that.”
Kapler snapped his fingers.
“You’re ready for it,” Kapler said. “You know that it could happen. Clearly we got him out of there right after.”
And it became a bullpen game. When rosters expanded Sunday, Kapler happily predicted that he will not have to use another position player in a relief role again this season, which is something he has done 10 times with five different players over his first two seasons as Phillies manager.
What Kapler could not promise was an improved bullpen, and the depth of his relievers was tested again as Thursday’s game dragged into extra innings. Kapler used a total of seven relievers in the 4-3 loss to the Reds, but only two that were in his bullpen at the start of the season. The seven bullpen arms combined to throw 85 pitches in order to get 14 outs. The only really bad pitches were the first one and the last one.
Jared Hughes, who has appeared in 12 of the 17 games the Phillies have played since he joined the team in mid-August, surrendered Eugenio Suarez’s 41st home run of the season on the first pitch he threw in relief of Vargas in the sixth inning.
It’s a bit baffling that Kapler keeps handing the ball to Hughes even though he has 6.51 ERA and has allowed five home runs in 9 2/3 innings since joining the Phillies.
Nick Vincent, who joined the Phillies on Sept. 1 from triple-A Lehigh Valley after being claimed off waivers from San Francisco in early August, threw just two pitches, including the final one of the game, which was sent just out of the reach of Bryce Harper over the right-field wall for a homer by Phillip Ervin.
In addition to Hughes and Vincent, the Phillies have added Mike Morin and Blake Parker to the bullpen since the All-Star break. The four veterans have combined to allow 10 homers and 26 earned runs in 47 innings for a 4.98 ERA.
Scott Lauber’s game story from Thursday’s matinee at Great American Ballpark tracks Bryce Harper’s dejected journey off the field following Phillip Ervin’s walk-off home run. Manager Gabe Kapler explained why he employed a strategy in which he tried to get the go-ahead run with pinch-hit homers from either Jay Bruce or Logan Morrison.
J.T. Realmuto was back behind the plate for the Phillies Thursday and he provided a game-tying home run in the top of the eighth inning off Reds reliever Robert Stephenson. It was his 22nd homer of the season, surpassing the career high he had established last season. Realmuto has logged 100 innings more than any catcher in baseball, but he told Lauber that he has been energized by playing in front of bigger crowds in more meaningful games in his first season in Philadelphia.
Tonight: Zach Eflin faces Steven Matz in series opener at Citi Field, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Drew Smyly vs. Marcus Stroman, 7:10 p.m.
Sunday: Phils face Noah Syndergaard in final game of the season vs. Mets, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Aaron Nola pitches series opener against Atlanta at Citizens Bank Park, 7:05 p.m.
Tuesday: Jason Vargas vs. Braves, 7:05 p.m.
Since Kapler has promised we will not see any more position players pitching this season, we thought this would be a good time to update you on how the Phillies’ position-player bullpen has performed over the last two seasons. The five position players to pitch in relief -- Roman Quinn (three times), Sean Rodriguez (twice), Pedro Florimon (twice), Scott Kingery, Aaron Altherr and Jesmuel Valentin have worked a combined 11 2/3 innings and surrendered 22 hits and 18 earned runs for a 13.88 ERA. They do have more strikeouts (five) than home runs allowed (three). Quinn’s 18.00 ERA is the highest among the Phillies’ position-player relievers and he is the only one with a decision -- a loss in the Phillies’ 14-inning game against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 2 of this season.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.
Question: I just saw 3rd base coach Dusty Wathan advising Cesar Hernadez (during a timeout). Cesar was on 2nd base. Does Dusty speak Spanish? If not, how do they communicate instruction? I thought Cesar needed a translator in the locker room. Just curious.
-- Tim S., via email