Odúbel Herrera drifted back, all the way back, and when he could go no further, he timed his jump at the center-field fence and brought down the ball. He robbed a home run, preserved a one-run lead, and for a moment in the sixth inning Wednesday night, it seemed the Phillies might actually win a game with their defense.
Then, they reverted to being the worst defensive team in baseball.
Two innings after Herrera foiled Isan Díaz’s bid to tie the game, the Phillies were unable to turn a double play, a 98-mph fastball went off catcher Andrew Knapp’s mitt, and the Marlins rallied for three runs to emerge with a 4-2 victory in Miami, the Phillies’ eighth loss in 11 games.
“We can turn that double play. And we didn’t,” manager Joe Girardi said. “And it’s frustrating.”
It has become a familiar refrain. Stop us if you’ve heard it. The Phillies didn’t make enough plays in the field and didn’t score enough runs to cover their mistakes. It has happened again and again, leaving them with a 24-26 record through 50 games.
The offense wasn’t exactly humming even at full strength. But sans Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Didi Gregorius -- a middle-of-the-order trio that accounts for roughly 33% of the team’s offense, according to runs created, but is sidelined by nagging injuries -- the Phillies went 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position, left eight men on base, and didn’t provide a cushion for starter Aaron Nola or the bullpen.
It was imperative, then, that the Phillies catch the ball. But based on nearly every available metric, not to mention the old-fashioned eye test, they have the worst defense in the majors. Entering Wednesday night, they had the fewest defensive runs saved (minus-32).
Reliever Sam Coonrod inherited a 2-1 lead in the eighth inning and gave up a leadoff single to Corey Dickerson. He got Adam Duvall to roll a grounder that should have been a double play, but third baseman Brad Miller made a low throw to second base and the Phillies settled for one out.
After Jorge Alfaro grounded out, Coonrod walked Díaz, then uncorked a high two-strike fastball that Knapp couldn’t handle, enabling the tying and go-ahead runs to move into scoring position.
“It’s a guy throwing 99 miles an hour,” Girardi said after Knapp was charged with a passed ball.
Jon Berti then worked an eight-pitch at-bat, fouling off four two-strike pitches, and delivered a two-run single to right field.
“We know coming in the Marlins are scrappy,” said Nola, who pitched through trouble to allow one run in six innings. “They’ve played us really good these past two years, especially at their home field.”
That’s an understatement. The Phillies have lost seven of their last 10 games in Miami. They’ll have to contend with tough right-hander Pablo Lopez in a Thursday matinee to emerge from the four-game series with a split.
If ever the Phillies’ depleted offense was going to bust out in this series, it figured to come against Marlins right-hander Nick Neidert, a rotation fill-in who was making his first start in 36 days. The Phillies had Neidert on the ropes, too, in the third inning, but let him off the hook with poor situational hitting.
With the bases loaded and one out, Miller worked an eight-pitch walk on a slider that appeared to clip the upper outside corner of the strike zone to force in a run. But Rhys Hoskins hit a grounder to first base that resulted in Nola getting cut down at the plate before Herrera struck out on three pitches to extinguish a potentially big inning.
The Marlins tied it in a 30-pitch third inning for Nola. His biggest mistake was a two-out walk of Magneuris Sierra to keep the inning alive for Jesús Aguilar. Nola made a good two-strike pitch, a changeup in on the hands, that Aguilar muscled into center field for an RBI single.
An error by Berti in the fifth inning contributed to the Phillies’ go-ahead rally. But he redeemed himself when the Phillies’ defense did its thing later in the game.
“We’ve struggled defensively the last couple years, and we continue to work at it,” Girardi said. “We’re optimistic that it’s going to get better. Some of these plays are not hard, but some of them are difficult plays. We’ve just got to continue to work at it.”