You could point fingers, but only conjoined triplets have enough of them to target all the guilty parties. You could stop watching, but it’s truly not over until it’s over when the number of teams that make the playoffs is higher than the number of teams that do not.
So if you love baseball and you love the Phillies, you keep tuning in even though the product churns your stomach like a midnight Big Mac.
In a normal season, you could have counted the Phillies out by now and you’d have been more than happy to do so after they lost the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, 5-1, against Washington at Nationals Park.
But even after that ugly afternoon loss pushed them below .500, they were still considered the eighth seed because they owned tiebreakers over the teams behind them.
If that was enough to make you stick around for Game 2 in the early evening, you unfortunately received a blunt-force reminder that the Phillies have the worst bullpen in baseball.
After they rallied from a 6-3 deficit to force extra innings and then took the lead in the top of the eighth, Brandon Workman’s personal Philadelphia nightmare continued as he surrendered a two-run home run to rookie Yadiel Hernandez in the bottom of the inning that gave the Nationals an 8-7 win and a sweep of the doubleheader.
The 27-29 Phillies are no longer in control of their own playoff destiny with four games remaining.
“It definitely feels like a bad dream,” catcher J.T. Realmuto said after returning from a hip injury and playing both ends of the doubleheader. “The bottom line is we have to play better and we have to play better in a hurry. We’re still in it. We’re not eliminated yet. We still have a chance to make the playoffs. We just have to play better baseball.”
It was Workman’s fourth loss and third blown save in 14 appearances since he joined the Phillies. It left his ERA at 5.95 and the team’s major-league worst bullpen ERA at 7.21.
“This obviously was not what I was looking for when I came over here or what the team was looking for,” Workman said. “This wasn’t what the plan was. My confidence is fine. I still expect to get the job done every time out. I’m not doing that, obviously. I’m doing it at a career worst at this point."
The opener was the game the Phillies had to win. When they arrived in the nation’s capital to play the last-place Nationals, they were the leader of a pedestrian pack, the top seed among the teams vying for the two wild-card spots.
They also felt good about their situation because they had Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola to start the series in Washington and, if need be, to finish the season in Tampa Bay. The idea of starting those two in the first two games of a playoff series is also appealing to the Phillies, but manager Joe Girardi did not want to look that far into the future early Tuesday afternoon.
“I think that’s too far down the road to think about,” Girardi said. “We have to find a way to win our first game today. Just play a good game – crisp – and obviously it’s always positive when you get the starter in Game 1 to give you length or a complete game.”
Nola gave his manager the complete game, albeit a six-inning one, but it was far from his best work. The Phillies' ace was betrayed by his defense, starting with a first-inning error by rookie left fielder Mickey Moniak that led to an unearned run. But Nola knew he was not blameless in the first-game loss.
He allowed four runs on four hits in the decisive third inning and even though one of those runs was also unearned, he made some costly mistakes of his own.
“I felt decent,” Nola said. “I felt like I had most of my stuff. I left a couple balls over the plate – a couple of fastballs and a couple of breaking balls – but other than that it was a couple of infield hits and a bloop hit. Things just aren’t going our way.”
The disastrous third inning in the opening game started with consecutive doubles by Andrew Stevenson and Trea Turner and included an error by Bryce Harper that led to the unearned run. Harper, playing with a sore back, went hitless in five at-bats during the doubleheader, dropping his season average to .247.
Nationals Game 1 starter Austin Voth could have fit right into the Phillies' bullpen with the 7.17 ERA he posted through his first nine starts this season, but on this day he looked like Jacob deGrom. The Phillies managed a single run – a Jean Segura home run – on three hits against Voth, who picked up his first win of the season and the first complete game of his career.
The Phillies at least showed some fight in the second game.
Down 6-3 after four innings, they rallied to tie it behind a two-out, two-run double from Didi Gregorius and a game-tying, infield single from Realmuto. That set up a nicely placed bunt by Roman Quinn that led to a throwing error and the go-ahead run for the Phillies in the top of the eighth.
But then Workman entered and another game ended badly for him and the Phillies.