The Phillies were off Monday for the fourth time in 11 days, but they made news by removing Scott Kingery from the 40-man roster and sending him to triple-A Lehigh Valley after the 27-year-old utility player cleared waivers.

Kingery will still be paid $4.25 million this season as part of the six-year, $24 million deal he signed in March 2018 before he had played a single inning in the big leagues. He is also guaranteed $6.25 million in 2022 and $8.25 million in 2023 before the Phillies can shed his contract with a $1 million buyout.

No team was willing to take on the money the Phillies owe Kingery, whom the team considered a can’t-miss prospect when it signed him. Now, he will try to work his way back to the big leagues, a climb that must feel monumental to him. Here’s to hoping he can do it.

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— Bob Brookover (extrainnings@inquirer.com)

» READ MORE: The Phillies need 19-year-old Mick Abel to become an ace. He reminds one scout of ‘young Roy Halladay.’

The Phillies have a chance to pass the Braves

If we had told you on opening day that the Phillies would arrive at June 8 just a half-game behind the Atlanta Braves in the standings and in position to start Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Zack Wheeler against the team that has won the NL East the last three years, you probably would have been on board, right?

Well, that’s the exact situation the Phillies find themselves in right now, but it doesn’t look nearly as good as it might have sounded 69 days ago for several reasons.

Start with the fact that the Braves have struggled every bit as much as the Phillies, primarily because of how poorly they have pitched. Their team ERA of 4.44 is 21st in baseball and the worst in the NL East. Their bullpen has been particularly unreliable, posting a 4.78 ERA that ranks 26th overall and last in the NL East.

They also have not been quite as good offensively, averaging 4.9 runs this season compared to 5.6 a season ago. Reigning National League MVP Freddie Freeman will bring a .229 average and .807 OPS into Tuesday night’s game, and he has just one home run and three RBIs in his last 15 games.

Like the Phillies, the Braves (28-29) have to feel fortunate that they are still within striking distance of the first-place New York Mets, who have overcome a ton of injuries to win eight of their last 11 games and built a 3 1/2-game lead in the standings.

The pitching matchups the next three days look favorable for the Phillies, but the reality is that they have not been nearly as successful as they had hoped with their top three starters on the mound. The Phillies’ combined record with Nola, Wheeler, and Eflin on the mound is 16-19.

Nola (4-4, 3.84 ERA) was scheduled to pitch the series opener Tuesday night against Drew Smyly (2-3, 5.98). The Phillies had lost four straight Nola starts before finally beating the Cincinnati Reds with a 17-run outburst in his last outing. Nola has a 5.40 ERA in his last five starts, a stretch that started when he surrendered five runs in a four-inning stint against the Braves on May 9 in Atlanta.

Getting Nola back in form has to be near the top of the Phillies’ to-do list.

Eflin (2-5, 4.10) will pitch the second game of the series against rookie left-hander Tucker Davidson, a 2016 19th-round pick who has turned into a top prospect for the Braves. In two starts, he has allowed just three earned runs on six hits in 11 2/3 innings.

The Phillies won three of Eflin’s first four starts, and he had a 2.77 ERA in those games. Since then, however, the team has lost six of his last seven starts and he has a 4.93 ERA in those games. His performances, for the most part, have been better than those numbers indicate, but he has been seriously troubled by the early innings.

Eflin has a 6.14 ERA in the first two innings this season and a 3.13 ERA after the second inning. He has allowed 26 hits, including six home runs, in the first two innings over his first 11 starts. He has allowed just 47 hits, including three home runs, in 46 innings after the second inning.

Perhaps most disappointing of all is the fact that the Phillies are just 6-6 in Wheeler’s 12 starts despite his 2.51 ERA. The Phillies have lost Wheeler’s last two starts, and he will face Atlanta ace Ian Anderson (4-3, 3.64) Thursday. The Braves have also lost Anderson’s last two starts, but mostly because he has struggled, allowing eight runs on eight hits in 8 1/3 innings against the Mets and Dodgers.

Given that they have their top three pitchers going against the Braves, the Phillies at the very least need to win this series and take over second place in the division.

The rundown

Matt Breen caught up with Phillies prospect Luke Williams Monday after his successful stint with Team USA in the Olympic qualifying tournament. Williams went 8-for-18 to help the United States secure a spot in next month’s Olympic Games, and he’ll make the trip to Tokyo unless he gets called to the big leagues before then. Williams could soon fill the role as super utility player that the team had once envisioned for Kingery.

It’s worth mentioning one more time what a great job Mike Boekholder and the Phillies’ grounds crew did in repairing the fallen netting during Sunday’s game at Citizens Bank Park.

Important dates

Tonight: Nola faces Smyly in series opener, 7:05 p.m.

Tomorrow: Eflin against Davidson, 7:05 p.m.

Thursday: Wheeler against Anderson in a 1:05 p.m. matinee.

Friday: Off day.

Saturday: The Yankees come to town for the start of a two-game series, 4:05 p.m.

Stat of the day

In 58 games before the All-Star break in 2019, Kingery batted .292 with an .899 OPS and had 16 doubles, 11 home runs and 27 RBIs. He appeared to be an ascending big-league player who might get even better once he was given a steady position. But in 119 games since then, Kingery has batted .172 with a .251 on-base percentage and a .599 OPS, striking out 133 times in 425 plate appearances. That’s why he is no longer on the Phillies’ 40-man roster.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: Enjoy reading every day, always a lot of interesting info. My son-in-law asked me a question and I did not know the answer. When a baseball player repeatedly is up with the big team and then back to the minors, how does this affect his salary? I know that basketball has 2-way contracts but wasn’t sure about baseball. — Bill T., via email

Answer: Thanks for the kind words and the question, Bill. Like the NBA, Major League Baseball has two-way contracts, but they are called split contracts. So, for example, when a player signs a minor-league deal with a team, he must make at least the major-league minimum of $570,500 during his time in the major leagues. That total is prorated at the number of days the player spends in the big leagues.

Veteran players with major-league experience can negotiate their salary at the minor-league level, too, but younger players do not make much money at all in the minor leagues as this story by the Associated Press explains.