Inundated by injuries and struggling to stay afloat in the National League wild-card race, the Phillies sent their best pitchers — Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola — to the mound on back-to-back nights at Citizens Bank Park.
But the worst bullpen in baseball (history?) lost both games.
“It stinks,” manager Joe Girardi said last night.
Like week-old Limburger cheese.
And now, after falling below .500 for the first time since Aug. 30, the Phillies must play a doubleheader today against the Toronto Blue Jays without J.T. Realmuto (hip), Rhys Hoskins (elbow) and, in all likelihood, Jean Segura (bruised triceps after being hit by a pitch last night) in the lineup.
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Let’s be clear: Girardi is an accomplished manager who lasted 10 years at the helm of the New York Yankees, went to the playoffs six times, and won the World Series. He wanted to manage again, and the Phillies jumped at the chance to hire him. Nothing wrong with that.
But maybe now, at last, we can agree that Gabe Kapler wasn’t the biggest problem.
The Phillies' latest loss, 10-6 against the New York Mets last night, followed a familiar script. Girardi handed a three-run lead to the bullpen, and the bullpen coughed it up. The Mets tied it against Blake Parker in the sixth inning and took the lead against Brandon Workman in the ninth.
It wasn’t Girardi’s fault. These are the relievers he was given.
With the loss, though, the Phillies dropped into the No. 8 seed in the eight-team National League playoff field, only a half-game ahead of the St. Louis Cardinals and one game better than the Milwaukee Brewers.
Oh, and they’re one game behind the San Francisco Giants, who happen to be managed by — drumroll, please — Kapler, who was fired by the Phillies after back-to-back playoff-less seasons.
Ironic, isn’t it?
Phillies managing partner John Middleton dumped Kapler and hired Girardi because he was sure that a change in the manager’s office would net a better record. Over a 162-game season, he might have been right. Heck, with 11 games left in this 60-game sprint, the Phillies might still overtake the Giants, who didn’t plan on contending this year.
There are mitigating factors, too. A few weeks ago, Girardi had the Phillies winning 10 of 11 games and looking like the hottest team in the league. Then they lost outfielders Jay Bruce and Roman Quinn, Realmuto and Hoskins, starting pitchers Spencer Howard and Jake Arrieta, and five out of seven games in Miami.
But the point is that the Phillies in their first September under Girardi are more or less where they were the last two Septembers under Kapler: fighting to stay in the playoff picture, but seemingly fading fast.
The Giants, meanwhile, are in the hunt. After starting 8-16, they are 17-8 despite a 4.76 team ERA that ranks 10th in the league and a lineup that is a hodgepodge of veterans (Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford), journeymen (Wilmer Flores, Donovan Solano, former Phillie Darin Ruf), a rookie catcher (Joey Bart), and two late-blooming outfielders (Mike Yastrzemski, Alex Dickerson).
Kapler seems to be making it all work. His data-based approach, obsession with finding value at the margins, 13-person coaching staff, and general personality undoubtedly play better in the Bay Area than in hardscrabble Philly.
“He’s been amazing at it this year picking the right times [for a pep talk],” Dickerson recently told reporters. "He did it with me when I was kind of at my lowest point, hitting .190 through a decent amount of at-bats, and he came up and said he still had confidence in me. He picks the right time when you need to hear it most. I think guys really respond to it.”
Maybe the Phillies eventually would’ve responded, too. Maybe not. Either way, it clearly wasn’t as simple as merely changing the manager.
Bryce Harper hit two moonshots early in last night’s game, and as Matt Breen writes, it was tempting to think of the Phillies as a dangerous October underdog. And then the bullpen did its thing.
If Arrieta pitches again for the Phillies this season (maybe ever?), it won’t be until the playoffs. More on Arrieta and other injured Phillies players right here.
It has been a couple of emotional days for Mickey Moniak and his family.
Today: Phillies host the Blue Jays for a doubleheader, 4:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez makes a start vs. Toronto, 6:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies’ home finale at Citizens Bank Park, 3:05 p.m.
Monday: Final week of the season begins in Washington, 6:05 p.m.
Tuesday: Phillies play a doubleheader at Nationals Park, 3:05 p.m.
When reliever Garrett Cleavinger entered in the ninth inning last night, he became the 45th player used by the Phillies this season and the ninth to make his major-league debut, joining Ramon Rosso, Connor Brogdon, JoJo Romero, Spencer Howard, Alec Bohm, Mauricio Llovera, Rafael Marchan, and Moniak, who played left field in his first career start.
The fact that one-fifth of the players at Girardi’s disposal hadn’t played in the majors before this season is a stunning indictment of the depth within the organization.
But last night also represented a gratifying moment for the Phillies' scouting and player-development staffs. With Nola (2014), Moniak (2016), Adam Haseley (2017) and Bohm (2018), the Phillies had four of their former first-round picks in a lineup for the first time since Sept. 26, 2006, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Mike Lieberthal (1990), Pat Burrell (1998), Brett Myers (1999), and Chase Utley (2000) played that night in Washington.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Answer: Thanks, @dannmaal, for the question and for being such a loyal reader of Extra Innings.
I’ve actually been giving this some thought lately. Not only do the Padres have the second-best record in the NL, but they were on a 21-7 roll entering play Thursday night. They also have twin MVP candidates Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. So, yes, there’s a cogent argument that the Phillies would be better off with the No. 7 seed and a first-round series against the Cubs or the Braves.