It was Chase Utley Retirement Night and what a ceremony it was. There were loud ovations and old friends back in town on a picturesque night at Citizens Bank Park to celebrate the man. Chase even made one fan’s lifelong dream come true. Unfortunately for the Phillies, not even a packed house and Utley’s presence could wash away the stench emanating from this team right now. The Phillies wasted Aaron Nola’s best effort of the season while once again failing to hit in a disheartening 2-1 loss to the lowly Miami Marlins. They have now lost 9 of their last 11 games and continue to fade just as summer officially gets underway.
Lots of eyebrows were raised before the game when Kapler rolled out a lineup that featured Nola hitting eighth ahead of Roman Quinn. Obviously, the Phillies only produced one run tonight–the fourth time in their last five games that they have scored two runs or less–so it’s easy to say Kapler’s decision didn’t work. I want to take a closer look at that decision because I think it serves as a microcosm of how Kapler is unfairly perceived right now.
Let’s start in the second inning when Scott Kingery kickstarted a two-out rally by lacing a double off of the left field fence. The Marlins responded by issuing an intentional walk to Cesar Hernandez in order to get to Nola, who again, was hitting eighth. It didn’t take long for that Gabe Kapler decision to backfire. The embattled Phillies manager explained prior to the game that he wanted to put Quinn’s speed in front of Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins with the hope that mix would jump-start a sluggish offense. Instead, that move cost the Phillies a prime scoring opportunity early. Nola, who entered the game with a .038 batting average, did rip a 2-1 fastball with a 93 mph exit velo to right field, but Cesar Puello had it played perfectly. It has just been that kind of month for Kapler and that kind of season for Nola.
Kapler was redeemed an inning later, sort of, when Quinn doubled to lead off the third. Harper followed with a hard base-hit to center that put runners on the corners with nobody out. After Hoskins flew out to shallow center, failing to score Quinn, Jay Bruce struck out, but the Phillies executed a double steal with Harper swiping second and Quinn taking home to tie the game. With runs at a premium for this lineup right now, this is one way to do it:
Need for Speed
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) June 22, 2019
A good base running play! Progress.
In the fourth inning, it appeared Nola would again end the inning, this time with a runner on first, but Marlins starter Sandy Alcantara lost command and walked Nola on a 3-2 fastball before plunking Quinn to load the bases. That brought Harper to the plate in a big spot, but he flew out on the first pitch to end the inning.
That brings us to the ninth when Quinn, Harper, and Hoskins would get one last crack at it. Quinn struck out, and Harper flew out to the deepest part of the park before Hoskins singled with two outs to bring up Jay Bruce, who weakly flew out to end the game.
Yup. Let’s stop right here.
This is exactly where people place too much blame on Kapler. “I don’t like hitting the pitcher eighth. It’s bullshit. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel.” Stuff like this gets said all of the time, and when you look up at the scoreboard and see one run, it’s easy to kill the manager–but for what? Kapler gets his $330 million guy to the plate in both the third and the fourth innings with at least one runner in scoring position. What the manager has to do is put his lineup in position to produce runs and twice early in this game the Phillies had favorable opportunities to do it. They just didn’t get it done.
Is it on Kapler that Hoskins and Bruce struck out in the third with a runner on third and less than two outs, or that Harper couldn’t deliver in the fourth when he had a pitch to hit? Is it on him that by the time Sean Rodriguez struck out to end a threat in the eighth, the Phillies were 2 for 12 with RISP on the night, making them an abysmal 6 for their last 40 dating back to last Sunday afternoon? No. No. And no. Simply put, the Phillies’ best players:
- Had opportunities to do damage early
- Didn’t do it
- Need to start carrying this team out of a hellacious slump, helping mask the obvious deficiencies on the fringes of a thinning roster
After the game, I asked Kapler about his team’s recent performance with runners in scoring position and what he’s seeing in those at-bats. Kapler downplayed the team-wide struggles, pointing to Harper’s fourth inning flyout with a 106.3 mph exit velocity that was knocked down by the wind. I don’t think using one or two ABs brushes aside the overall problem, but in fairness, Harper did have three of the game’s four hardest hit balls tonight at 107.8 mph, 106.3 mph, and 106.2 mph. All he had to show on those three swings was one hit–a single–and two flyouts. His ninth inning smash in front of the 409 sign in the left-center gap traveled 403 ft, and such balls at that velocity and trajectory have an expected batting average of .950. Like I said, it’s just been that kind of month.
Weighing in on Segura
Another ugly night for Jean Segura, who somewhat surprisingly received only a smattering of boos early in the evening. I guess most of the 44,000+ in attendance tonight weren’t voting in that WIP Morning Show poll that revealed the majority of fans were going to give ’em hell tonight. We will get to Segura’s lack of hustle in a minute, but first let’s talk about what he’s doing at the plate right now. Segura ended play on May 31 hitting .301 with an .809 OPS, but he’s 13 for 71 (.183) in June. As for his lack of hustle the other night, yeah, it was bullshit. He absolutely should’ve been on second base at the start of Wednesday night’s game against Washington, and it’s pretty baffling that in light of the recent focus placed on his hustle lately that he wasn’t. Bench him, don’t bench him, whatever. That debate makes for good talk radio fodder and fire-ass columns, but it doesn’t encapsulate the Phillies’ actual issues, which are that they’re just not very good right now. Mind you, we’re getting close to removing the “right now” qualifier from that statement. They just might not be very good.
It’s hard to argue that Nola didn’t have a good night. His line: 8 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 10 K
He threw 82 of his 107 pitches for strikes in what was his 10th career double-digit strikeout game, and he did what he was supposed to do for much of the night against a Marlins offense that entered the game 29th in runs scored and dead last in OPS. This being 2019 Aaron Nola and all, that performance, somehow, wasn’t enough.
Nola’s first mistake came in the second inning when Bryan Holaday homered to open the scoring. It was the 14th homer surrendered by Nola this season in only 88 innings pitched. Comparatively, he gave up only 17 homers in 212.1 IP last season.
In the sixth, Nola hit Brian Anderson to start the inning and Starlin Castro followed by perfectly executing a hit and run with a ground ball through the vacated second base hole. Cesar Puello then hit a slow roller to third, and it momentarily appeared Kingery had a play on Anderson at the plate, but he juggled the transfer and the error gave the Marlins a 2-1 lead. This, of course, would be the winning run. Because why not?
— FOX Sports Florida & Sun (@FOXSportsFL) June 22, 2019
I know that Kingery, who happens to be, like, one of two guys in this lineup who doesn’t make fans want to gouge their eyes out when he comes to the plate right now, has been moved back and forth between center and third, but that’s a play that has to be made.
Nola escaped further damage after striking out JT Riddle and Castro was doubled up at second on a fly ball to left field after forgetting how many outs there were. Nola would retire seven of the last eight batters he faced to get through eight innings for the first time this season.
Get excited, Phils fans!
Vince Velasquez will get the ball on Saturday afternoon, and it will be Enyel De Los Santos on Sunday in the series finale. Velasquez was ineffective last Sunday in his return to the rotation. He put the Phillies in an early 3-0 hole and couldn’t make it out of the third. In seven starts this season, Velasquez has completed six innings only once. For those wondering, this probably won’t be his last start either. It sure seems like Kapler is looking for Velasquez to hammer down the rotation’s final spot, telling reporters prior to tonight’s game that he “has an opportunity to take control” of it, while also noting Velasquez has the most upside. This won’t be an “opener” deal either. Kapler believes Velasquez is stretched out enough to go through the Marlins lineup a couple of times.
From this perspective, that’s probably true, although that’s not so much a ringing endorsement as much as it is an indictment of the Phillies’ rotation options.