Observations as Phillies Again Fail to Come Through in Big Spots

PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC HARTLINE-USA TODAY SPORTS

Usually, I like to run through the key moment of a game somewhere close to the top of these stories, but I don’t have it after this one. It’s the same thing. It’s the same exact thing.

So, let’s try this – for the second straight night, the Phillies failed to capitalize on late opportunities. For the second straight night, the Phillies lost to a supposedly (and I stress supposedly) inferior team. Another disappointing effort with runners in scoring position (2-for-10) most certainly did not help matters.

That’s it. That’s the essence of this one.

The Phillies are 5-8. With 22% of their schedule now played, you have to wonder if this team isn’t underperforming and is instead just giving you a preview of what’s to come.

Almost unanimously, the players and manager will tell you that a more consistent rhythm will lead to better play and more wins. They should feel that way. Hell, right now, they have to feel that way. But that rhythm they are so heavily banking on has to come with more urgency, more focus, and a better ability to bear down in a game’s biggest moments.

Let’s get into some observations from what was yet another tough loss.

Shouldn’t That Have Gone Better?

It was a weird night for Zach Eflin. He recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts over six innings of work.
Eflin heavily relied on his sinker throughout his six innings of work, utilizing it on 51 of his 91 total pitches. It averaged 93.5 mph, up a tick from 93 mph in his start against the Yankees last Thursday.

Despite consistently flashing swing-and-miss stuff (19 whiffs on 55 swings), he exited the game with a 4-3 deficit, and that’s all that really matters – even if some of the damage was beyond his control.

After the game, Eflin talked about the results failing to reflect his performance.

I know. Listen, when a team is 5-8 and fails, yet again, to take advantage of an opponent it should handle, nobody wants to hear about bad luck or things not breaking quite the right way…but Eflin did run into some bad breaks that were beyond his control.

After the game, Girardi succinctly summarized a strange night for his starting pitcher.

“He didn’t make a ton of mistakes, but the ones kind of that he made, they took advantage of, and then they put a couple tough at-bats on him, but again I thought he was pretty good.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of those bad breaks.

A Game of Inches

One of the bad breaks went against the physics of hitting.

Leading 1-0 in the third inning, Eflin dealt a 1-2 slider to Baltimore’s Anthony Santander, who promptly launched the ball 333 feet at a 43 degree angle with an exit velo of just 84.5 mph.

So, what does that mean? It means Santander’s fourth homer of the season was highly improbable as it carried an expected .120 batting average. Exacerbating the frustration of the fluke, it stayed fair my mere inches.

The other bad break came an inning later, courtesy of some questionable defense.

Andrew McCutchen’s Rough Fourth Inning

With Renato Nunez on second in the fourth, Dwight Smith dumped a ball in front of Andrew McCutchen who was slow getting to the spot. The ball briefly danced by McCutchen who then went to third with the throw despite having no chance to cut down Nunez.

McCutchen didn’t even look in the direction of second base, allowing Smith to easily take it. That mistake would prove costly.  A few batters later, Chance Sisco would dump a two-out, two-run single in front of McCutchen to tie things up.

The 33-year-old McCutchen, who underwent ACL knee surgery last June, is off to a slow start this season.

He had two hits on Wednesday night and does look more comfortable at the plate recently, but something seems just a bit, I don’t know, off.

I’m hesitant to say that he’s “lost a step” because I don’t know that to be true, but I am willing to concede that he doesn’t look fully comfortable in the outfield right now.

Last night, it seemed like the physical frustration of getting to the baseball a step slow led to a mental lapse, and it cost the Phillies an important run early on that would, obviously, later come back to haunt them.

“Yeah, he threw to third,” Girardi said. “There has to be communication and he has to go to second to try to keep the double play in order, especially with Zach on the mound”

Your Nightly Bullpen Lowlights

When you talk about the Phillies, you talk about the bullpen. And when you talk about the bullpen, you talk about how bad it is has been.

That said, let me do you a favor and just give you the updated ERA so you can use it to bemoan the effort it has given you thus far. It is a 9.63 ERA.

You’re welcome.

Anyway, Adam Morgan took over for Eflin in the seventh inning. He threw just two pitches before allowing a home run.

That run, as it turns out, would be the difference in this one.

Morgan, like the rest of the Phillies bullpen, is struggling right now. In five appearances, he has pitched to a 10.13 ERA. 

Only three of his 17 pitches (18%) were fastballs. He topped out at just 91.6 mph.

Blake Parker, who joined the club Tuesday, stranded two runners in scoring position and then pitched a scoreless eighth. It required 23 pitches and what felt like 39 minutes to do it, but he did it. The Phillies will take that.

Ramon Rosso finished the evening by getting off to a shaky start in the ninth. He threw five consecutive pitches out of the zone before committing a balk, but he rebounded to retire the next three batters he faced and did not allow a run.

That’s a three-inning effort with only one run allowed. That’s progress (?), or something.

Rhys Hoskins Clears The Table

If there’s one thing that Rhys Hoskins has been able to do this season, it is set the table. Last night, he cleared it – just not the way the Phillies want him to do it.

Hoskins, who also walked once, which I’m sure excites the masses, grounded into not one, not two, but three 5-4-3 double plays. The first and seventh inning double plays each wasted a leadoff baserunner, while his fourth-inning twin-killing stranded a runner on third.

He also struck out to lead off the ninth.

It was a miserable night for a guy who is now hitting .190 with a .642 OPS, and, notably, his problematic numbers date back to last season. Forget his .180 average after the All-Star break in 2019, Hoskins has now gone 111 plate appearances over 25 games without a home run. His last one came on September 17, 2019 against the Braves:

Girardi said after the game that he doesn’t plan to make a move with Hoskins.

“He’s just out in front. He’s gotta back the ball up, that’s how you get the ball in the air, so it’s a timing issue,” he said. “And I’ll say, he’s been on base, right? I mean, he’s been on base for Harp and J.T. a lot, probably as much as anyone we have, except for Harp, so there’s no plans on moving him right now.”

Girardi may be a patient man, but I just don’t know how much longer he can stick with his first baseman in the top-third of his lineup.

The Andrew Knapp Breakout Season?

Some would say that I called the Andrew Knapp breakout season. I’ll let you decide.

In all seriousness, Knapp, who had a three-hit game tonight for the first time since 2017, has done a nice job in a limited role. Here he is on his early success:

I think Camp 2.0 went well for me as far as being able to get as many reps as I could. We were playing ourselves, so basically, J.T. was catching one team and I was catching the other, so I got into a little bit of a rhythm. We’ve kind of taken it into the season, and then, just, these double-headers kind of help me stay in there a little bit more, too, so I feel good at the plate. I think just with more opportunities this is what I wanted to do is take advantage and show what I could do.

At Least the Base Running Is Better?

There have been plenty of negatives to harp on through 13 Phillies games this season, but one improvement I have consistently noticed has shown up in the team’s base running.

Following a third-inning Rhys Hoskins walk and Bryce Harper bunt-single, J.T. Realmuto looped a base-hit to center.

Both runners had excellent reads, allowing Hoskins to score easily and Harper to aggressively coast from first to third.

That base running would set up the Phils’ third run of the night two batters later when Didi Gregorius came through with a one-out sac fly.

In the fourth inning, Andrew Knapp was also aggressive on a first-to-third which set up another scoring chance. Hoskins, however, well, you know.

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