Dave Dombrowski stood in front of a small handful of reporters Saturday and declared, unequivocally and with a straight face, that the Phillies will be buyers at the trade deadline in six days.
A few hours later, his players made him look delusional.
Vince Velasquez gave up almost as many runs (six) as he got outs (seven), a recurring theme lately for him. The offense didn’t deliver any hits with a runner in scoring position. And after another bashing of the bullpen in a 15-3 pummeling by the Atlanta Braves, manager Joe Girardi turned to infielder Ronald Torreyes to lob 60-mph pitches ... for two innings!
Yet somehow, speaking of delusional, Velasquez expressed surprise at being lifted in the third inning.
“Only 53 pitches. I have a lot of arm left, man,” he said after his ERA in his last 10 starts rose to 7.74. “I know I have more room to kind of make those improvements and go deep as far as I possibly can. It kind of threw me off guard being taken out early, but Joe made the decision.”
The Phillies dipped below the .500 mark again, at 48-49, and back into a second-place tie with the Braves. Remarkably, both teams are only 4 1/2 games behind the division-leading New York Mets, who were also losing.
And because the NL East victor isn’t allowed to decline to attend the postseason, Dombrowski can go on thinking there’s a move or two to be made before Friday’s 4 p.m. deadline that could turn the Phillies into the least-bad team in the litter.
Good luck, though, deciding which area of the roster needs the most help.
Dombrowski doesn’t have grand expectations for the Phillies’ back-end starters. (“Our fours and fives can get by with five innings,” he said.) But Velasquez hasn’t made it beyond the fourth inning in five of his last 10 starts. It’s not sustainable, especially because No. 5 starter Matt Moore has gotten a total of three outs after the fifth inning all season.
Velasquez gave up a two-run homer to Freddie Freeman in the first inning, a solo shot to Abraham Almonte in the second, and three runs in the third on an RBI double by Dansby Swanson and a two-run single by Almonte.
“His command has not been good,” Girardi said. “His fastball location was not good tonight. His breaking ball location was not good tonight, especially to the left-handers. It’s hard to pitch if you don’t locate the baseball.”
It was 6-0 with one out in the third inning, Girardi took the ball, boos rained down from the announced crowd of 24,479, and the rest of the game was elementary.
“Tough day from my end,” Velasquez said. “It’s kind of embarrassing to be honest with you.”
In seven games before the All-Star break, the Phillies scored 60 runs on 72 hits, their best stretch of sustained offense.
But the bats didn’t return from the four-day respite.
It isn’t only that the Phillies have scored only 28 runs on 56 hits in the last eight games. It’s that they are 10-for-77 (.130) with runners in scoring position and have left 68 men on base, including 0-for-10 with 11 stranded Saturday night.
It was 11-1 with one out in the eighth inning when Girardi brought in Torreyes from the bullpen. Torreyes gave up four runs on six hits, including a three-run homer by Joc Pederson.
Torreyes became the first Phillies position player to get more than four outs in a game since Roman Quinn (six) in a 14-inning loss to the White Sox on Aug. 2, 2019 and the first to do it in a nine-inning game since Quinn (five outs) on Aug. 16, 2018 against the Mets.
The Phillies’ almost nightly defensive miscue came in the sixth inning when reliever Cristopher Sánchez fielded a sacrifice bunt and made an errant fling to first base. Shortstop Didi Gregorius booted a grounder in the eighth for his 10th error in 47 starts.
Entering the game, the Phillies were tied with the Reds for the fewest defensive runs saved (minus-29) in the National League, a weakness that isn’t easily addressed until the offseason.
“We’re just not a real good defensive team,” Dombrowski said. “We need to make the routine plays defensively and we need to hit, and when we don’t hit, the defensive shortcomings are going to show up. I don’t think there’s much we’re going to be able to do about that at this time of the year. I really don’t.”
Swing and a ... miss?
How’s it been going for Freeman? When the Braves star whiffed on a first-pitch sinker from Sánchez in the fifth inning, it marked his first swing and miss since July 11, a span of 138 pitches in 35 plate appearances.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was only the fourth-best contact streak this season. The White Sox’s Nick Madrigal (190 pitches), Padres’ Jake Cronenworth (158), and Angels’ David Fletcher (143) had longer stretches without swinging and missing.