Carlos Martinez’s throw sailed Tuesday night into center field after the St. Louis right-hander misfired on a pickoff throw to second base.
J.T. Realmuto was on second in the fourth inning of a 5-2 loss only because of an error by the right fielder. Now he was moving to third -- and eventually scoring the Phillies’ second run -- thanks to an error by the pitcher.
Eleven days earlier, the Phillies jumped on Martinez thanks to an array of defensive lapses. The Cardinals dropped a fly ball in center earlier this month in South Philly and gave up a pair of infield hits that should have been outs before Martinez plunked the opposing pitcher with the bases loaded in a meltdown inning.
But there was no collapse Tuesday night in St. Louis as Realmuto’s run would be the only one the Cardinals gave away. The Phillies had just two hits against Martinez, who retired 13 of the final 14 batters he faced after right fielder Justin Williams misplayed Realmuto’s fly ball.
Martinez earned his first win since Sept. 1, 2019 by dominating the Phillies, who have scored just two runs in three straight games. The Phillies entered Tuesday above the league average in slugging percentage and on-base percentage, but their lineup still feels underwhelming.
They have averaged just 3.78 runs in their first 23 games and have the National League’s fifth-fewest plate appearances with runners in scoring position. It’s hard to score runs if you’re not threatening. The Phillies had just four chances Tuesday with runners in scoring position and came up empty in each of them.
The final five batters in the lineup -- Didi Gregorius, Alec Bohm, Odúbel Herrera, Nick Maton, and the pitcher’s spot -- combined to go 0-for-15. The lone batter in that group to reach base was Matt Joyce, who walked as a pinch hitter in the eighth and was promptly retired on a double play.
There’s only so much Rhys Hoskins, Bryce Harper, and Realmuto can do when the back of the lineup is struggling as much as it is right now.
“You come to work every day and you watch our guys work and the work is good. It’s just not translating,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Like Alec Bohm hit two balls really well today and has nothing to show for it. He’s frustrated, and understandably so. We just need a little change of luck. We need a couple bloopers, a couple slow rollers, and maybe it will get everyone going.”
The loss dropped the Phillies a game below .500 and Wednesday night’s game will be their fourth this season that they play with a losing record. The Phillies have not won consecutive games since starting the season with four straight wins.
“It’s been for a myriad of reasons,” Girardi said. “We’ve had chances. We haven’t come through a lot of times in the clutch. Our bullpen got disrupted by missing a couple guys. At times it’s been our defense. But I believe the talent is in there. We just have to play better.”
They tried boosting their lineup Tuesday night by playing Brad Miller over Andrew McCutchen in left field, but the move came with defensive repercussions. In the first inning, Miller misplayed a line drive by Nolan Arenado that gifted St. Louis its first run.
The hit -- which was not ruled an error -- skipped past Miller, who tried a sliding grab. It could have been the third out of the inning, but it instead was an RBI double.
“I think it’s a catchable ball,” Girardi said. “It’s a topspin linedrive. It’s a tough catch, but I think Brad is going to tell you that he’s capable of making that catch. I felt like we gave them one and they gave us one back with the play in right field on J.T.’s ball and then the pickoff.”
Girardi said McCutchen will return to the lineup on Wednesday and that it’s too early to say he’s platooning the right-handed McCutchen with the left-handed Miller. McCutchen entered Tuesday hitting .154 with a .531 OPS and the Phillies hoped Miller -- who went 1-for-4 in each of the first two games of the series -- could jolt their lineup.
It was just one run, but one run is costly when the lineup isn’t producing.
“We play 162 games. I’m not worried about them at all,” said Zach Eflin, who came one out shy of completing seven innings. “We’re grinding out ABs. We’re seeing pitches. The tides are going to turn. It’s going to happen. We’re going to hit. We’re going to pitch. We’re going to do it all at the same time.”
Eflin, a night after Zack Wheeler pitched into the ninth inning, was removed with two outs in the seventh. It was a strong outing, much better than the box score indicates as two of Eflin’s five earned runs scored on a double allowed by Sam Coonrod on the first pitch he threw in relief of Eflin.
Eflin had retired Paul Goldschmidt three times on Tuesday, but Girardi opted for Coonrod after Eflin’s 104th pitch was hit into center field on a shift-beating grounder by Dylan Carlson. It was the second two-strike hit allowed in the inning by Eflin as Tommy Edman started the rally with a two-strike, two-out single.
“I definitely wanted a shot at Goldschmidt, but I understood the situation we were at in the game,” Eflin said. “Bringing in Coonrod was the right call. But you can go back to the 0-2 to Edman and the shift-beater. Those two are extremely avoidable, starting with the Edman at-bat. It’s baseball. We’re going to move on and keep going.”
The Phillies’ first three starters have been as good as they hoped this season, but they turn Wednesday to the back of their rotation as Vince Velasquez fills in again for Matt Moore. The Phillies have played just 14% of their games, yet they already have concerns about two of their three outfielders and two of their five starting pitchers. Their defense, just like it was last season, continues to be deficient.
But for a moment Tuesday, it looked like the Phillies -- just like they did 11 days earlier -- would be the team benefiting from another’s miscues. Instead, Martinez’s throw into center would be his lone mistake of the night.
“He was ahead in the count the whole night. That’s the difference,” Girardi said. “We got him in long counts the last time and they gave us a few extra opportunities. He hit some people. He didn’t do any of that tonight.”