The Phillies had spent the previous four days away from baseball. After a month of scuffling, the All-Star break provided a respite. Some spent it in Philadelphia, while others — like Bryce Harper, who vacationed in Tennessee — went elsewhere. Manager Gabe Kapler walked around the city, ate at his favorite restaurants, and caught up on sleep.
“And then doing a whole lot of nothing,” Kapler said before his team opened the second half with a 4-0 loss to the Nationals. “Trying not to make plans and have places to be and have things to do.”
The Phillies spent the break in possession of one of the National League’s two wild-card spots. But they did not end the first half with the look of a playoff team. And on Friday night, when Kapler finally had plans and a place to be, they did not resemble one when they resumed play at Citizens Bank Park.
Nick Pivetta lasted just five innings. The offense was shut out for the fourth time in the last six weeks. They had just two hits after the fifth inning and failed to rally against a bullpen that had the National League’s highest ERA in the first half.
They have lost 16 of their last 20 games against teams not named the Mets. The series against Washington, Kapler said, is “an especially important series for us to set the tone for the second half of the season and we’re prepared to do exactly that. Set the tone.”
Instead, they laid an egg against a team that is the hottest team in baseball since June 1 and seems primed to pull away from the Phillies.
Four days without baseball were not enough to fix the flaws that sent the Phillies from first place to third.
“Certainly not the way we wanted to start the second half,” Kapler said. “We also recognize that it’s one game.”
The Nationals tagged Pivetta for two runs in the second and could have added more than the one they scored in the third if it were not for Scott Kingery’s diving catch in center. Pivetta threw 87 pitches and was nearly lifted an inning earlier for a pinch-hitter, but his spot did not come up in the order. He gave up just three runs, but that was three too many for a lineup that has not produced the way the team dreamed it would.
The right-hander did not allow a homer for the first time in five starts and the Phillies did not allow a homer in a loss for just the eighth time this season. It was the first time since June 13 that the Nats did not homer. The Phillies allowed the most homers in the National League before the All-Star break. All was not lost on Friday night.
The Phillies had seven hits off Stephen Strasburg, but none was of consequence and just one — a second-inning double by Maikel Franco with Andrew Knapp and Pivetta coming up behind him — was for extra bases. Harper singled in the first and Rhys Hoskins walked to bring Jay Bruce to the plate with two outs. He fouled out to third. Scott Kingery and Harper singled in the fifth to bring up Hoskins as the tying run with two outs. He lined out.
“We have to play good baseball,” Harper said. “We have to keep going, keep grinding, keep playing Phillie ball. We have two good teams coming in here. We have two more days against the Nats and then the Dodgers are coming in. We have to play good ball, win these games, and see from there.”
The Phillies are less than three weeks away from the trade deadline and team president Andy MacPhail said before the game that the performance of the team will determine how active the front office is before July 31. Nights like Friday are not going to push management to be aggressive.
The next six games — two against the Nationals and four against the Dodgers — could be enough to make the trade deadline a moot point. A bad stretch and the Phillies could fall far enough from the race that reinforcements are no longer worth considering.
“It’s our job to play good baseball and push their hand a little bit if we can do that,” Harper said. “We have a great group in here, so if we can be in a place to add some pieces, I think we will.”