The Braves thumped Aaron Nola for four runs in the first two innings, the Phillies did not have a base runner until the fifth inning, and the calendar moved a day closer to October.
Before Monday night’s 7-2 loss to the Braves, Gabe Kapler said “nothing is impossible.” But a wild-card berth is starting to feel like it is. The Phillies lost ground Monday and are now three games back of the Cubs for the National League’s second wild-card. The Brewers and Diamondbacks are both ahead of the Phils, and the Mets are just a game behind. There are 19 games left, and the Phillies have the toughest schedule of all four teams. Time is running out.
“We just have to go out there tomorrow, turn the page from today, and try to go get Fried,” Bryce Harper said of Max Fried, who will start for Atlanta on Tuesday night.
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If the Phillies were to come back Monday night, they first would have needed Nick Pivetta to keep them in the game.
They were down three runs against the Braves when Kapler called on Pivetta for the seventh inning. The Phillies were down after the Braves scored four runs in the first two innings, but they weren’t yet out. Soon, they would be.
Pivetta allowed a three-run homer to Josh Donaldson, who crushed a first-pitch slider to right field. Pivetta had started the inning by giving up a leadoff walk and a one-out single. Trouble seemed near.
The Phillies, in the wild-card race, have to rely on relievers such as Pivetta to pitch late innings against potent lineups such as the Braves'. They have eight relievers on the injured list. And that’s one of the reasons it is so unlikely that they will get to October.
“The leadoff walk was rough,” Kapler said. “The miss with the slider to Donaldson, he’s just too good of a hitter. If you make a mistake to Josh Donaldson, he generally punishes it. We saw it at their place, and we saw it again tonight.”
The Phillies bumped Pivetta from the rotation in April, sent him to triple A, returned him to the rotation, and then transitioned him to the bullpen. They hoped this season would be a breakout year. Instead, it’s been a six-month roller coaster.
His first two appearances out of the bullpen offered enough promise for general manager Matt Klentak to say, “Damn, he looked good.” Two months later, Pivetta was back in triple A after his struggles continued. It’s been a frustrating season for Pivetta, and the Phillies needed him Monday for three outs in a must-win game.
“I think Nick has struggled,” Kapler said. “At times, it’s been difficult to get through innings and I think he’s had to make adjustments. He’s made them. He hasn’t been able to sustain those adjustments long enough to be effective right now. We definitely continue to see the flashes and we see them in relief outings, which is why we were very much still in that game and it was an opportunity to use a guy that had looked better his last time out. It’s been rocky for Nick.”
The Phillies face a wide talent gap when compared to the Braves, Bob Brookover writes. “Two years ago as the Phillies and Atlanta Braves played for the final time in late August, it was fair to wonder which of the two rebuilding teams could bounce back into playoff contention faster.” Now we know.
The Braves roughed up Aaron Nola on Monday night and cruised past the Phillies, 7-2, to open a four-game series. Before the game, Kapler said the team’s recent seven-game road trip (in which it went 4-3 against the Reds and Mets) was “maybe the road trip that stands out to me most since I’ve been here in Philadelphia about how much fight this club has left." “Let it be said that Kapler has wild-card fever. Or maybe just a fever,” Scott Lauber writes.
The Phillies could use pitching help for the wild-card race, but don’t count on Spencer Howard being promoted. The prospect’s minor-league season is finished, and he’ll next report to the Arizona Fall League instead of the majors.
Also, don’t bet on Seranthony Dominguez returning in time to help the Phillies. The reliever is limited to simply playing catch as he works his way back from an injury. There are just 19 games left in the season, which does not seem enough time for Dominguez to ramp up and return.
Tonight: Jason Vargas faces Braves left-hander Max Fried, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin starts against left-hander Dallas Keuchel, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Drew Smyly faces Braves right-hander Julio Teheran, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: Phillies are off.
Saturday: Phillies open a two-game home series against Boston, 7:05 p.m.
Cesar Hernandez hit his 10th homer of the season on Monday night, becoming the ninth Phillies player to reach double digits this season. That ties the franchise record set in 2004, when nine Phillies — Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, David Bell, Mike Lieberthal, Placido Polanco, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Jason Michaels — hit 10 homers. This year, the nine are Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Scott Kingery, Maikel Franco, Jean Segura, Jay Bruce, Andrew McCutchen, and Hernandez.
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Question: Do you see Jay Bruce getting playing time, or just coming off bench pinch hitting? — Paul B. via email.