CLEVELAND — From the vantage point of the visitor’s dugout along the first-base line here at Progressive Field, the Phillies have a straight-on look at the left-field wall, which doubles as the out-of-town scoreboard.
Let it be said, then, that their playoff hopes are dwindling before their very eyes.
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It will be only a matter of days now. Friday night all but guaranteed that. With the Phillies needing to win almost all of their remaining games, left-hander Drew Smyly gave up two runs in each of the first two innings and his punchless teammates never recovered, falling 5-2 to the wild card-hopeful Cleveland Indians in the opener of a three-game series.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. As they were going down, the Phillies could plainly see what was going down around the league. The Chicago Cubs lost again at home to St. Louis. But the New York Mets won in Cincinnati, and the Milwaukee Brewers won a laugher at home against Pittsburgh. When the night was over, the Phillies were five games behind Milwaukee with 10 games left.
If the Brewers go 4-4 in their last eight games, the Phillies would have to go 10-0 to tie them. Their “tragic number,” then, if you will, was reduced to five. Any combination of five Phillies losses or Brewers wins will extend the playoff drought to eight seasons, fifth-longest in the majors behind the Chicago White Sox (11 years), San Diego Padres (13 years), Miami Marlins (16 years) and Seattle Mariners (18 years).
“Got to win. Period,” outfielder Jay Bruce said, even as reality has begun to set in for the Phillies. “Can’t worry about anything else. You listen, you read, you concern yourself too much about it, it doesn’t do any good. We have to win and just see what happens. There’s no promises. But we know we can’t get where we want to go if we don’t win.”
Playing without resting catcher J.T. Realmuto and banged-up shortstop Jean Segura, the Phillies didn’t have a hit against Indians starter Shane Bieber until the fourth inning. They finished with seven hits but only two with a runner in scoring position. Their only runs were driven in by Maikel Franco, who was only added to the lineup after batting practice when Segura was scratched with a sore ankle.
The Indians are vying for a playoff spot in the American League, and, unlike the Phillies, they’ve gotten on a roll. They won their fifth consecutive game and are 9-2 in their last 11.
That’s what a playoff push looks like.
The Phillies have been playing .500 ball for two months. They’re one of only three teams -- the woebegone Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals are the others -- that haven’t won more than four games in a row all season.
Smyly sought to give them momentum in an interleague matchup with the Indians. Instead, he dropped them in a 2-0 hole after only 16 pitches.
“I mean, everybody knows where we’re at. It’s a playoff game every night for us,” Smyly said. “I just had much higher expectations for myself. It stinks that, this late in the season, I felt like I didn’t bring it, didn’t have my good stuff.”
From the jump, Smyly struggled with his command. He walked leadoff man Francisco Lindor on five pitches, then fell behind to Oscar Mercado (RBI double), former Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana (single) and Yasiel Puig (RBI single through the left side). Smyly has allowed six first-inning runs in his last five starts.
It didn’t get any better for him in the second inning. The Indians scored two more runs on a one-out walk to .063-hitting No. 9 batter Andrew Velazquez and RBI singles by Lindor and Santana.
“I was having trouble with my command and put the team in the hole,” Smyly said. “Wasn’t very good tonight at all.”
Bieber, meanwhile, set down the first nine Phillies batters before Cesar Hernandez’s leadoff single in the fourth inning. The 24-year-old right-hander is having a breakout season for the Indians. He racked up seven strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings, notched his 15th victory and reduced his earned-run average to 3.23 in 32 starts.
The Indians drafted Bieber in the fourth round in 2016 out of the University of California Santa Barbara. By the time he was selected, the Phillies had picked outfielder Mickey Moniak, pitcher Kevin Gowdy, shortstop Cole Stobbe, and lefty JoJo Romero, none of whom has reached the majors yet.