If Zach Eflin made a better full-count pitch with two runners on base in the sixth inning of a tie game, or if he held one-run leads in both the second and third innings, or if the Phillies took more advantage of early opportunities against good-looking Marlins lefty Trevor Rogers, maybe then the outcome would have been different Monday night in Miami.
As usual, though, the beginning of the end in another winnable game was a routine defensive play that didn’t get made.
Two batters before Corey Dickerson hit Eflin’s slider for a two-run triple, one inning before the Marlins broke open a 9-6 victory with four runs against reliever Brandon Kintzler, fill-in shortstop Ronald Torreyes backhanded a grounder at his side rather than fielding it in front of him. His throw arrived late to first base, enabling Adam Duvall to reach with one out.
“I think he probably thought he had a better chance of getting behind it and throwing it that way, and he just didn’t make the play,” manager Joe Girardi said. “It’s kind of uncharacteristic for Toe. But he didn’t make the play.”
Chalk up another error for the worst defensive team in baseball. Cue the decisive rally, too. Jon Berti followed with a single before Dickerson pounced on Eflin’s mistake to open a 4-2 lead that Kintzler allowed to grow too large for the Bryce Harper-less Phillies to overcome even with a four-run spark in the ninth.
Did Torreyes’ error change the tenor of the sixth inning, if not the game?
“Yeah, I would say it did,” Girardi said. “I think Ef probably gets through that inning unscathed. Maybe he gives up one. But it definitely changed the complexion of the inning.”
It happens a lot to the Phillies. Torreyes’ error was the Phillies’ 14th in the last 10 games. They entered the week at minus-28 in defensive runs saved, according to Sports Info Solutions, the worst mark in baseball.
In losing for the seventh time in nine games, the Phillies also continued their run of futility in Miami. They have lost four games in a row there dating to last season and 10 of their last 14. Since the beginning of the 2018 season, they are 9-17 at the Marlins’ ballpark.
“They’re a good, scrappy team,” said Eflin, who allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits in six innings. “They handle mistakes pretty well -- mistakes, as in, pitches that we leave over the plate. They’re a good ballclub.”
Eflin wasn’t as sharp as usual, either. He fumbled a 1-0 lead in the second inning and a 2-1 edge in the third. After walking five batters in 57 1/3 innings, he issued two against the Marlins, including a leadoff walk to Brian Anderson on a close pitch in the second inning that Eflin and Girardi believed was a strike.
Regardless, Anderson came around to score on a flare double by Dickerson that eluded third baseman Alec Bohm and Torreyes and a 244-foot sacrifice fly to left fielder Andrew McCutchen, who was unable to throw out Anderson at the plate.
“I think he has more in there,” Girardi said of McCutchen’s arm. “I’m not sure why it didn’t come out as hot. I’m not sure if he got behind it as well as he could’ve.”
The Phillies also put seven runners on base in the first three innings and came away with only two runs against Rogers, the 23-year-old rookie who dominated them for 7 2/3 innings five nights earlier at Citizens Bank Park. When the Marlins went to the bullpen in the sixth inning, it figured to be an advantage.
But with slumping Harper out of the lineup for a second consecutive game -- “Just giving him another day,” Girardi said before the game -- they mustered two hits against the first three relievers before finally erupting in the ninth against Shawn Morimando on Brad Miller’s 100th career home run and RBI doubles by McCutchen and Jean Segura.
So, yes, there was plenty of blame to go around as the Phillies (23-25) missed a chance to push their record back to the .500 mark.
“We need to take care of business,” Eflin said. “We need to get back on the winning train and get some motivation in the locker room and just stay with that.”
In a bunched-up National League East, the Phillies slipped into fourth place, a half-game behind the Marlins and Atlanta Braves. And although a week before Memorial Day is a bit premature to make too much of the standings, Girardi doesn’t mind the urgency.
“It’s not early,” he said. “It’s not late, but it’s not early. We’re in the middle of the season and we need to play better.”