You hear that noise? It was in the distance for a while, but it’s getting ever so close. Watch out Phillies, here come the ... Mets? How’d that happen? The Mets have won nine of their last 10 games and could tie the Phillies tonight if the Phillies’ listless offense can’t find a way to beat the Giants and Madison Bumgarner. Yes, the Phillies have Aaron Nola on the mound, but they still have to score runs.
The Mets were nine games below .500 at the start of July and trailed the Phillies by 6.5 games. But so much has changed. They play the Nationals this weekend in a series filled with high-profile pitching matchups. The Nationals, according to FanGraphs, have a 80.4-percent chance of making the playoffs. The Mets have a 40.8-percent chance. And the Phillies? They have a 15-percent chance. So, you’re telling me there’s a chance.
“As competitors we never count anybody else out in the division because we know how talented everybody in this division is,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “... When our club is playing our best baseball, we’re going to be unbeatable.”
You’re signed up to get this newsletter in your inbox every weekday during the Phillies season. If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @matt_breen. Thank you for reading.
— Matt Breen (email@example.com)
Wednesday night’s loss was not defined by the Phillies’ failure to hit with runners in scoring position, but their fall from first place to wild-card hanger-on has been. The Phillies had just three chances on Wednesday night with runners in scoring position and they went hitless in each of them.
The Phillies’ lineup has failed to produce the way the team expected it to after they added four All Stars this offseason to join the likes of Rhys Hoskins. They rank below league average in nearly every offensive category. And a big part of their shortcomings are tied to their struggles to hit with runners in scoring position.
The Phillies are batting .254 this season with runners in scoring position, which is the 10th-worst in baseball. Only the hapless Tigers and Marlins have a worst slugging percentage with runners in scoring position than the .390 mark the Phillies own.
“I think we’re all pretty frustrated. Certainly we’re a much better offensive club than we’re showing,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “I think when we do play the type of baseball that we’re capable of playing, we’re going to score more runs than we are right now.”
It has been hard to find a reason why the team struggles with situational hitting. The Phillies created a lineup that should be able to pounce in these situations. Instead, they are spending this week trying to remind their lineup that the pressure is on the pitcher when runners are in scoring position. The anxiety should be on the mound, the coaches are telling the players, not in the batter’s box. They are telling their hitters to get started early, begin loading your swing during the pitcher’s delivery and you’ll be ready and relaxed when the pitch arrives.
It could be easier said than done. Their struggles did not sprout up last week. The Phillies lost control of first place on June 12 and since then, they have the fewest home runs (6) in baseball with runners in scoring position and the most strikeouts with runners in scoring position in the National League. They are batting .239 since June 12 with runners in scoring position, 74 points lower than the NL-leading Pirates.
“I think we’re a team here. We win as a team, we lose as a team, we fight as a team, we scratch and claw for every advantage as a team, and when we’re not getting it done as a group, we all put additional pressure on ourselves,” Kapler said. “Obviously if the offense isn’t performing to their capability, I think our pitching staff is going to put a little extra pressure on themselves to make the perfect pitch. And if our pitching staff isn’t throwing up zeroes, then our offense is going to put a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves to score runs. That’s never the best environment and we have to find ways to get stronger as a unit so that we can remove some of the pressure from each other as teammates.”
Even more troubling has been the team’s struggles with the bases loaded. They are batting .213 with the bases loaded since June 12 with a .319 slugging percentage that is the worst in the National League. They are hitless in their last 10 tries with the bases loaded and 3 for their last 33.
The heart of the Phillies’ lineup -- Hoskins, Harper, and Realmuto -- have had their chances over this stretch. Since June 12, they are a combined 3 for 21 with the bases loaded and batting just .234 with runners in scoring position since the Phillies fell out of first place.
The Phillies could be playing for their season over the next four games. They are trying to stay above water in the wild-card race and their playing one of the team’s that is chasing them. Some success with runners on can help keep them afloat.
Maikel Franco returned Wednesday afternoon to triple A as he was demoted to the minor leagues on Sunday morning. Franco left the minors in 2015 as a hot-shot prospect, but returned this week as a former major-leaguer with an uncertain future. “I’m not going to say that I’m going to feel happy, but at the end of the day, I understand the situation, I understand what happened.”
Bryce Harper’s favorite player -- J.T. Realmuto -- could be the key to the Phillies’ offense coming alive down the stretch of the season. The Phillies will need to hit to make the playoffs and Realmuto, whose offense has been a bit less than expected, could be the trigger. Harper, who thought he was going to be a major-league catcher, also says why he admires Realmuto so much.
The Phillies, yet again, could have a new leadoff hitter in Corey Dickerson, Scott Lauber writes. He homered to start Tuesday night’s game and was back at the top on Wednesday. The Phillies have struggled to find a leadoff hitter ever since Andrew McCutchen suffered a season-ending injury.
Tonight: Aaron Nola opens four-game series vs. Giants and Madison Bumgarner, 9:45 p.m.
Tomorrow: Drew Smyly faces righthander Tyler Beede, 10:15 p.m.
Saturday: Vince Velasquez starts in the afternoon against righthander Jeff Samardzija, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Jake Arrieta starts the series finale on ESPN against lefthanded rookie Conner Menez, 7:05 p.m.
Monday: The Phillies are off before opening a six-game homestand.
Are you planning to stay up Thursday night to watch the Phillies? Or maybe you’re going to switch the channel during the fourth quarter of the Eagles preseason opener? Well, remember the Phillies are on YouTube tonight.
It’s the second-time this season that the Phillies are on YouTube and it’s much easier to watch than last year’s mess on Facebook. Just go to YouTube.com/MLB or search for “MLB” on the YouTube app on your device or Smart TV. The broadcast begins at 9 p.m. with a pre-game show. The first pitch is at 9:45 p.m. and bedtime could be not too long after, if the last two nights are any indication.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Seriously, do the Phillies even have a chance this season? I know “all you have to do is get in the playoffs” but with what this team has shown so far this season I feel that even if they make the playoffs they’ll be one and done because they seem so flawed, inconsistent and unable to sustain a winning streak. Please tell me I’m wrong! -- Ed B. via email