Imagine this scenario for a moment, if you would:
The Phillies show up to Williamsport last night to play an irrelevant Mets team that entered the game as a 53-69 fourth-place afterthought. They also enter, of course, with the ability to take over sole possession of their division after the Rockies completed a four-game road sweep of the Braves earlier in the day. They send to the mound Nick Pivetta, a red-hot pitcher who has allowed only three earned runs over 18 innings in three August starts, to oppose a 35-year-old journeyman with a 2-8 record and 8.10 ERA…and they actually take care of business. They just pound Jason Vargas into submission while Nick Pivetta shoves against one of the game’s least productive offenses. They reclaim first-place on a national stage with 38 games remaining and everybody is feeling good this morning. No sweat.
That, of course, was what was supposed to happen, but instead the Phillies scored two runs or less for the 37th time this season, and were once again quieted by a below-average pitcher and beaten down by one of baseball’s bottom-feeders. Rhys Hoskins taking some popcorn to the face was the best thing that happened all night:
You’re never too old for baseball snacks. pic.twitter.com/hEEtEYeaC3
— MLB (@MLB) August 20, 2018
The Mets embarrassed the Phillies for the second time in four days with a thorough 8-2 beatdown. In total, the Mets took three of five games in the series, outscoring the Phillies by a 43-20 margin. It was just the latest example of a troubling trend in which the Phillies have been routinely exposed by a supposedly lesser opponent. Over the last three weeks, the Phillies have gone a combined 4-8 against the Reds, Padres, and Mets. If they ultimately miss the postseason, their inability to capitalize on advantageous stretches of their schedule will be a big reason why.
Vargas easily mowed through the Phillies’ lineup for five innings before allowing a two-run homer to Carlos Santana in the sixth. The Phillies’ only other offensive highlight of the night was a would-be three-run homer off the bat of Rhys Hoskins that landed inches foul. That was it. Meanwhile, Nick Pivetta struggled over three-plus innings of work. Despite entering the night with the National League’s fourth-best K% this season, he generated only four whiffs on 36 swings as he allowed eight hits and six earned runs to what had been prior to this weekend a feeble Mets lineup. Predictably, fans took the loss in stride:
Only Canadians are nice enough to applaud that shit effort
— Beast Hoskins (@BeastHoskins) August 20, 2018
No. That’s not my burner account.
So why does this team play down to inferior competition? That’s the burning question, right? Here’s a thought: Maybe the Mets aren’t actually an inferior team. It’s not like the Phillies are some powerhouse that only stumbles against the weak. A team with a disjointed offense and poor defense that relies on its starting pitching is going to be up and down, regardless of its opponent. Look at how the two teams stack up in several major offensive categories:
PHILLIES: .236 BA, .316 OBP%, .394 SLG%, .309 wOBA, .710 OPS, 4.31 runs per game
METS: .236 BA, .314 OBP%, .389 SLG%, .306 wOBA, .704 OPS, 4.24 runs per game
There’s little wonder why it’s hard for fans to get excited over this team’s playoff prospects at the moment, but keep in mind that when the Phillies generate even a competent offensive effort, they remain difficult to beat. They are 63-24 this season when scoring at least three runs.
Also, FanGraphs’ updated playoff odds are worth considering:
Hard to believe, I know, but while the Phillies absolutely do not have the look of a team deserving of a division title, their competition was worse over the weekend. The Nationals struggled with the Marlins and were pantsed yesterday in a 12-1 blowout. Meanwhile, the Braves have lost 1.5 games in the standings to the Phillies since Thursday after blowing two ninth inning leads to the surging Rockies in Colorado’s sweep. The reality remains that the NL East is going to be won by a tremendously flawed team. Which one it will be, I mean, who knows at this point? Flip a coin.