For the Phillies, the final month of the season has proved over the last three years to be the most difficult as their playoff hopes have faded each September. This year, they thought, would be different. The schedule was aligned for them to reach October by simply beating some of baseball’s worst clubs over the last weeks of the season.
But nothing comes easy for the Phillies, who fell, 5-4, Sunday to the Rockies to lose three of four at home against baseball’s worst road team. Aaron Nola came up short, the lineup didn’t do enough against a hittable starting pitcher, and Garrett Hampson — who has struggled mightily away from Coors Field — homered twice to crush the Phils.
“It stunk, it stunk, it stunk,” manager Joe Girardi said. “There’s no other way to describe it. It stunk.”
The loss dropped the Phillies to 4½ games behind first-place Atlanta with 19 games remaining. If the Phillies fail to chase down a playoff spot, remember weekends like this when they were overmatched by the Rockies and their .291 winning percentage on the road.
The Phillies have 19 games remaining and their final 10 home games are against the Cubs, Orioles, and Pirates. The schedule is still in their favor, but that meant little this weekend.
“These teams out here aren’t necessarily playing for anything so they’re playing a little looser,” J.T. Realmuto said. “Sometimes, it can actually be a bit harder to play teams like this late in the season because they don’t have any pressure on them. They’re just going out, playing, and having fun. Really, when we look at the game of baseball, that’s when teams perform their best. I feel like us as a whole, we’re putting a little pressure on ourselves and playing tighter than normal because we know we have ground to make up and we’re running out of time.”
Nola’s fifth inning
Nola retired 12 of the first 13 batters he faced and finished the fourth inning with seven strikeouts. Nola was cruising, but he still had to overcome his toughest obstacle all season: the fifth inning.
Those troubles continued as Hampson sent Nola’s 0-2 curveball for a three-run homer in the fifth to give the Rockies a 3-2 lead. Nola has a 10.57 ERA (27 earned runs in 23 innings) in the fifth inning, the highest mark in the National League. It was all the damage Nola would allow, but his outing ended in the next inning with one out in the sixth.
“Just mistakes,” Girardi said of Nola’s fifth-inning troubles. “An 0-2 curveball, right? He’s gotten hurt on some curveballs in those innings. When you have a chance to expand the zone, you have to be able to expand the zone. That’s where he struggled. It seems like he gets beat on a lot of breaking balls where he makes a mistake.”
The Phillies need more this month from Nola, who has completed six innings in just one of his eight starts since August.
“It’s frustrating not going deep into games like I feel like I’m used to,” Nola said. “But I’ll put this one behind me and get ready for my next start.”
The Denver Post made a viral blunder a few years ago when it ran a photo of Citizens Bank Park and labeled it as Coors Field. Maybe Hampson made the same mistake on Sunday.
He entered Sunday hitting .169 with a .469 OPS on the road and .301 with a .857 OPS at home. So of course, he homered twice in South Philly. Hampson’s three-run homer off Nola put the Rockies ahead by a run and his two-run homer off Héctor Neris in the seventh broke a 3-3 tie.
“It was awesome. We kept saying how much these games mean for them,” Hampson said. “Likewise, these games are huge for us, too. We want to play spoiler and play these teams tough, especially on the road. It means a lot. To come in here and take three of four in Philadelphia was pretty awesome.”
Need more than Harper
Bryce Harper homered to lead off the eighth inning to get the Phillies within a run but that felt insurmountable since someone else would have to come through. Harper’s 32nd homer of the season was his sixth in eight games as he’s carried the lineup since Rhys Hoskins was lost for the season. It was also Harper’s 25th solo homer this season, which shows the team’s struggles to get runners on base ahead of their best hitter.
“Harp’s had a great year. He’s had a fantastic year,” Girardi said. “He’s grinding everyday. He’s playing everyday. He’s playing hard everyday. I can’t say enough about what he’s done.”