Phils’ Bats, Late Baserunning Blunder Help Waste Zack Wheeler’s Latest Gem

PHOTO CREDIT: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

If you enjoy watching a team waste dominant performances by its best pitchers, then, man, this Phillies squad is the team for you.

And if you enjoy consistently mind-numbing, junior varsity-level mistakes from a professional baseball team on a near routine basis, well, this team is definitely for you.

Let’s keep it simple. The Phillies blew it on Friday night against the Nationals. They blew it in front of just 15,030 fans who were in attendance at Citizens Bank Park during the first game in which the building reopened at full capacity.

Maybe it was the pregame storms that swept through South Philadelphia, or…?

Either way, just one start after squandering a brilliant 14-strikeout effort by Zack Wheeler last weekend in Tampa, the Phillies again failed to back their guy on a night in which he yielded just two runs while striking out eight Nationals hitters over 7 1/3 innings of work.

Wheeler mixed in an effective curveball that generated four whiffs on seven total swings with a fastball that topped out at 99.1 mph. It was a display of aggressive nastiness.

With essentially no margin for error available to Wheeler, Juan Soto would get his revenge later in the sixth inning when he took him the opposite way for a solo shot, one that proved to be the eventual game-winner in the 2-1 Nationals win.

Despite the loss, Wheeler’s latest performance was another step towards a likely spot on this summer’s National League All-Star team. His last four starts look like something out of MLB The Show:

28.2 IP, 17 H, 6 ER, 5 BB, 44 K, 1.88 ERA, 0.768 WHIP

And yet, the Phillies have, somehow, produced just a 2-2 record in those four starts. In fact, they are now three games below .500 (16-19) when Wheeler, Aaron Nola, or Zach Eflin start. How this team has managed to so frequently waste their efforts, I don’t know.

Actually, I do know.

The Phillies wedged a 17-run anomaly into and around a seven-game stretch in which the lineup has produced just a total of 14 runs.

A season after finishing an abbreviated 60-game sprint by averaging the fifth-most runs of any team in baseball (5.10 runs per game), the Phillies currently average roughly a full run less per game (4.07) and sit around the bottom-third of all offenses in terms of run production.

Throw in some bad defense, an average bullpen, he occasional baserunning gaffe (wait for it), and there you go.

On this night, Wheeler, who didn’t even surrender a hit until fourth inning (on a fly ball that a plus-defender in left field probably catches), was out-dueled by Washington’s Max Scherzer. The Nationals ace is now 6-1 against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park since joining the team back in 2015 after limiting Phillies hitters to just five hits and one run over 7 2/3 innings.

Of course, after nothing much of note happened in the middle-to-late innings, Rhys Hoskins provided some temporary hope by leading off the bottom of the ninth inning with a double that banged off the right field fence.

There was some talk after the game about whether Hoskins should have been on third with a triple. Phils manager Joe Girardi said he had to go back and look at the video. From my viewpoint, it wasn’t a classic case of dogging it out of the box, but he didn’t exactly get down the line like his hair was on fire.

Of course, that detail would loom large.

Girardi promptly opted to run for Hoskins with the speedy Travis Jankowski. In theory, it was a sensible move given Jankowksi represented the game-tying run, but, well:

After the game, Girardi gave his take on the rally-killing play.

“You have to be careful. A lot of times, it’s not the thought process that’s bad, you’re looking for balls in the dirt to move up,” Girardi said. “It’s the read. He didn’t see it get away from him and he was probably too aggressive, and that’s what cost him.”

And that would pretty much do it.

J.T. Realmuto would strike out on the next pitch and Brad Miller would harmlessly fly out to end it.

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