Wondering about the Phillies' collective mood after losing back-to-back home games to the Baltimore Orioles and eight of their first 13 games overall in a season that is already more than 20% completed?
Consider Rhys Hoskins' reaction to grounding into the second of his three double plays Wednesday night.
Typically mild-mannered, rarely emotional on the field, the first baseman spiked his helmet, a symbol of the Phillies’ frustration in the midst of a 5-4 loss to the Orioles, who dropped 108 games last season, 115 the year before, and thus are what Hoskins described recently as “a team that we think that we should beat at home.”
So much for that.
"I think he's pressing a little bit as far as wanting to produce and wanting to be that guy to really help the team," said catcher Andrew Knapp, one of Hoskins' closest friends on the team. "Obviously we would all like to be winning more games, so I think everyone in that clubhouse is a little frustrated with where we're at."
The last two games have been anything but crisp. For a second consecutive night, the Phillies fumbled early leads, failed to come up with big hits with runners in scoring position, and made a costly defensive miscue.
And they continued to waste dynamic production from Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto in the middle of the order and solid starting pitching from a rotation that entered Wednesday with a cumulative 3.34 ERA, fifth-best in the National League.
Once again, the Phillies’ bullpen gave up the deciding run. Adam Morgan entered in relief of starter Zach Eflin with the Phillies trailing by one run in the seventh inning and allowed a solo home run to Chance Sisco on his second pitch. Of Morgan’s 17 pitches, only three were fastballs, none harder than 92 mph, down from the lefty’s 94.3 mph average from 2017 to 2018.
Morgan insisted he’s healthy after dealing with elbow issues last season. If anything, he attributed the velocity dip to the Phillies’ start-and-stop schedule, which included a seven-day layoff in the aftermath of the Miami Marlins’ coronavirus outbreak in Philadelphia.
In fairness, though, the bullpen — maligned for its worst-in-baseball 9.80 ERA — wasn’t the primary culprit this time. Instead, the finger of blame pointed directly at the Phillies’ 2-for-10 performance with runners in scoring position. It has been a recurring problem, too. For the season, they are 22-for-100 (.220) with runners on second or third base.
Hoskins became the first Phillies player to ground into three double plays since Placido Polanco in 2010 and only the seventh in history. The list also includes Ryan Howard in 2009 and Hall of Famer Richie Ashburn in 1959.
But Hoskins' miserable night was magnified because of his early-season struggles, a continuation of the second half of last season when he was among the worst hitters in the league after the All-Star break. Although he's drawing walks and reaching base, he hasn't hit a home run and isn't driving in runs.
Manager Joe Girardi said he's not yet considering dropping Hoskins out of the No. 2 spot in the order.
"He's just out front," Girardi said. "He's got to back the ball up. That's how you get the ball in the air. So it's a timing issue. I'll continue to encourage him. Of course there's going to be frustration during times in the game. It's how it affects his work the next day that you worry about. As long as he's doing his work and doing everything that he needs to do be prepared, I don't worry about it."
Eflin pitched well despite giving up 1-0 and 3-1 leads. He allowed a solo homer to Anthony Santander that scraped the right-field foul pole in the third inning and a go-ahead solo shot to Rio Ruiz in the fifth. Eflin also gave up two runs in a fourth-inning rally that was exacerbated by a poor decision by left fielder Andrew McCutchen.
It wasn’t as egregious as third baseman Jean Segura calling off Hoskins and dropping a pop-up to the pitcher’s mound in Tuesday night’s 10-inning defeat. But when Dwight Smith Jr.‘s one-out flare fell in front of him, McCutchen threw the ball into third base rather than flipping it into second, a gaffe that enabled Smith to take second. Smith remained in scoring position two batters later and scored easily on Sisco’s two-out single.
"He has to go to second there," Girardi said, "just to keep the double play in order, especially with Zach on the mound."
Eflin gave up four runs in six innings but notched a career-high 10 strikeouts. It should've been enough to win.
Instead, it turned into a helmet-spiking kind of night.
“Sometimes a good snap helps you snap out of things, too,” Girardi said. “Maybe it’ll work.”