SAN FRANCISCO -- Nobody said it, at least not aloud. But given how much trouble the Phillies have winning away from home and the quality of this week’s opponents, a 3-3 record on the West Coast would have been deemed a successful trip.
File this away, then, as another missed opportunity in a season that is thus far littered with them.
Never mind that the Phillies on Sunday were facing a 25-year-old lefty (Giants starter Sammy Long) who was pitching in double A as recently as May 22. Or that they had Zach Eflin on the mound one day after a 13-hit, 16-run offensive outburst. Or that the division-leading New York Mets lost again earlier in the day.
Because despite the favorable matchups, Long gave up four hits in six innings, Eflin equaled an undesirable career-high by allowing four home runs, and the Phillies got throttled 11-2 by the Sons of Gabe Kapler and went home with a 2-4 mark in Los Angeles and San Francisco that -- stop us if you have heard this before -- shoved them back below .500 once again at 34-35.
“To get that last game would’ve been huge,” Eflin said. “I didn’t really set the tone too well. They really weren’t missing too many pitches.”
Indeed, Eflin came into the game having been taken deep nine times in 79 innings over 13 starts. But the Giants lead the National League with 107 homers because they punish pitchers for their mistakes. And Eflin didn’t get away with leaving a few too many pitches over the plate.
The Giants tagged Eflin for back-to-back homers by Mike Yastrzemski and Wilmer Flores in the first inning, a two-run shot by Brandon Crawford in the third, and a solo by Flores in the fifth. He hadn’t given up four homers in a game since May 28, 2017, against the Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park.
“Too many mistakes in the middle of the plate,” manager Joe Girardi said. “Whether he was going in to left-handers or necessarily going away from right-handers, the ball found the middle of the plate.”
Eflin’s dud was par for the course here against Kapler’s Giants, who have the best record in baseball (46-26). Vince Velasquez gave up four runs (three earned) on four hits in only four innings Friday night; Aaron Nola yielded six runs on six hits in 2 1/3 innings Saturday for the shortest start of his career; Eflin gave up seven runs (six earned) on nine hits in five innings.
Let’s do the math: Phillies starters had an 11.91 ERA in the three-game series. Not their finest weekend.
The Phillies shuffled the rotation to start Eflin on regular rest in the series finale against the Giants. The move was designed to line up Nola, Eflin, and Zack Wheeler for a pivotal four-game series against the Mets that begins with a doubleheader Friday in New York.
An additional benefit, though, was that the Phillies may have stood a better chance to take the series from the Giants with Eflin on the mound instead of rookie Spencer Howard.
What’s that they say about best-laid plans?
Eflin put the Phillies in a 3-0 hole in the first inning. J.T. Realmuto’s two-run homer in the top of the third cut the margin to one run. But Crawford, who missed a second homer by a few inches in the eighth inning against reliever David Hale, hit an Eflin sinker out to center field to stretch the margin back to 5-2.
“I might be a little off mechanically,” Eflin said. “I’m not really staying on my pitches too well. But it’s funny because the last four outings have been the best I’ve felt all year. It’s a crazy game. Sometimes you feel great and you don’t pitch well; sometimes you feel horrible and you pitch great.”
Of the Giants’ seven homers in the series, five came in two-strike counts, including Yastrzemski (1-2 fastball) and Flores (2-2 slider) against Eflin. Overall, the Phillies have allowed 35 homers with two strikes. Entering play Sunday, only the Orioles (37) and Blue Jays (36) had given up more.
“We talk about it all the time,” Girardi said. “We’ve given up way too many two-strike hits overall with just mistakes, and it’s something that, if we’re going to get to the next level, we have to be better at that.”
Any reason for the two-strike trouble?
“Bad execution,” Girardi said, “is really what it comes down to.”
Said Eflin: “There’s discussions on how we can put guys away and stuff. I’ve got to do a better job of getting the ball out of the zone with two strikes. I think a lot of it has to do with me not wanting to walk a single guy every single time I go out, so that could hurt me at times. But I’m learning every day.”
Howard offers no relief
Howard allowed two runs in the seventh inning on back-to-back singles, a wild pitch, and three walks.
The Phillies don’t need a fifth starter until Friday in New York. It will be interesting to see if they go back to Howard or perhaps turn to lefty Bailey Falter, who looked impressive in relief Friday night in striking out five batters in three innings.
“We have not [decided],” Girardi said. “We’re going to continue to look at things and what we need [out of the bullpen] over these next few days before we decide.”
Big week ahead
After a day off, the Phillies open a two-game series Tuesday night at home against the Washington Nationals, then head to New York for four games with the Mets.
“Make-or-break is pretty strong,” Girardi said. “But I think it’s a really important week.”