Touché – Thoughts after Brewers 10, Phillies 0

Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Turnabout is fair play, I guess.

There’s no other way to describe the Phillies clobbering Milwaukee only to have the tables completely turned the next day.

Every game is important for the Phillies the rest of the way, and Tuesday was included in that list. They weren’t going to win all of them and if you’re going to lose a game, it’s better to get your ass handed to you 10-0 then to have the bullpen blow it on a walk-off in the ninth inning.

The former is something that just happens from time-to-time in sports. The latter is too, but man, it’s far more dispiriting. So, from that standpoint, if the Phillies had to lose, not that it was a good loss, but, it’s likely easier to rebound from a butt-kicking than a game you lost but you felt like you should have won.

Making things worse for the Phillies on Tuesday night was the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, and New York Mets all won. The good news was the San Diego Padres and St. Louis Cardinals both lost.

So, when the dust settled, the Phillies did lose a game in the division standings and are now 2.5 games behind the Braves, but they didn’t lose ground in the Wild Card race and are still two games out, with the Reds and Padres tied for that final spot. The Mets and Cardinals are both 1.5 games behind the Phillies.

As for Tuesday’s game, there’s not much to break down as the Phillies look ahead to Wednesday, but here are a few thoughts:

Nola Contendere

Everyone keeps asking Aaron Nola about his failures in September. And while there is a history of falling off the table in the final month of the season, that’s not the issue with Nola this time around.

No. Nola has been inconsistent all season long – it’s not just “in September.” There are days when he pitches like an absolute stud. And then there are days where he looks like a back of the rotation starter who is just trying to keep you in the game.

I don’t think his start Tuesday was as bad as most people do, as I think he was a victim of circumstance in the third inning, when things went awry, but I also know that he’s lacking confidence – and has been lacking confidence – in one of his go-to pitches for quite some time, and that is making him imminently more hittable than he usually is.

Never mind the fact that the Phillies didn’t hit for Nola – which is a recurring tune – but he has to have extreme confidence in all his pitches, and more often than not, doesn’t.

It’s his fastball that he’s not trusting, nor has been for much of the season. It’s not that it lacks velocity. He’s still throwing his usual 94-95 when he goes to it, he just can’t seem to command it. It’s gotten to the point where hitters are eliminating it in spots he would normally throw it.

And if they’re sitting on his breaking stuff, no matter how good the curveball or change up are, they’re going to get him eventually. And that’s what’s happening.

Of course, Tuesday was created by something out of a Lemony Snicket novel.

After giving up a single to Lorenzo Cain to lead off the bottom of the third, Nola made a nice move to pick him off of first base.

Milwaukee pitcher Eric Lauer was at the plate. He was likely bunting with Cain on base, but now the pitcher was going to have to hit.

He hit a hard ground ball up the middle, but it was a play that Freddy Galvis makes look routine… usually. Instead, in this case, the ball popped in and out of a sliding Galvis’ glove. It probably should have been an error, but the Milwaukee official scorer gave Lauer a hit.

Now, pitching out of the stretch with a runner on base and one out instead of the wind up with no one on and two outs, Nola gives up a double to Kolten Wong, a bloop double to Eduardo Escobar and a single to Christian Yelich, and suddenly the Phillies were down 3-0:

Here’s the thing:

All five batters who got hits off Nola did so with two strikes. That’s the evidence you need that they are sitting on off-speed and reacting to the fastball, if it’s coming.

Nola did get a few strikeouts Tuesday with the four-seamer, but that’s only because the Brewers weren’t looking for it.

There was so little confidence in it Tuesday that Nola was throwing a steady diet of cutters, a pitch he’d only thrown on one percent of his pitches all season prior to Tuesday, to try and induce weak contact.

Still, if Galvis makes that play on Lauer and Nola is throwing out of the windup to Wong, he probably gets out of the inning, and can give the Phillies more than five innings. Alas…

Sometimes pitchers go through this type of season. This season for Nola is very reminiscent to me of 2009 Cole Hamels.

In fact, their numbers are pretty close:

  • Nola:  7-8 4.57ERA, 157.2 innings, 1.129 WHIP, 23HR, 11.0 K/9
  • Hamels: 10-11 4.32 ERA, 193.2 innings, 1.286 WHIP, 24 HR, 7.8 K/9

Mismanagement?

Manager Joe Girardi has faced plenty of criticism about how he’s used his bullpen this year. And another curious case arose on Tuesday.

When Nola was replaced in the sixth inning, Girardi went to inexperienced Ramon Rosso. To be fair, in the three outings previous, Rosso had looked good, but none of them were high-leverage situations.

Normally, this would be a spot for J.D. Hammer, or Sam Coonrod. Instead, he went Rosso. It wouldn’t have been my choice, but hey, what do I know?

Rosso almost proved me and any other skeptical armchair managers wrong by getting the first two outs relatively easily and then inducing a horrible swing from Luis Urias on a slider in the dirt for a third strike.

The problem was, the pitch was so bad, catcher Rafael Marchan couldn’t block it, and Urias was able to make it to first base on a strikeout/wild pitch.

That’s when things started to unravel.

Rowdy Tellez singled and Lorenzo Cain worked a walk, loading the bases.

It was obvious Rosso was not ready for this moment and it was imperative that the Phillies keep the game within striking distance.

Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell tried to nudge Girardi into a pitching change by putting Dan Vogelbach on deck as a pinch hitter for Lauer, but Girardi called his bluff, and Lauer emerged from the tunnel to bat with the bases loaded and two outs.

And yet, Rosso still couldn’t find the strike zone and walked the opposing pitcher with the bases loaded and two outs. This made it 4-0.

Surely, that’d be it for Rosso then, right? You have to keep the game within four runs. Anything more, and it’s turn the lights off, goodnight.

But, instead of Girardi coming out of the dugout to hook Rosso, it was pitching coach Caleb Cotham who had a lengthy chat with Rosso, who was inexplicably left in the game.

You know what happens next. Wong singles. Two runs score. Ballgame:

Girardi will tell you he has the final say in pitching changes, and he probably does. He certainly has more input on pitcher usage then, say, Charlie Manuel did when Rich Dubee was the overseer, but one has to wonder if this time it was Girardi or Cotham’s call. Either way, it can’t happen.

Hidden Ball Tricks?

Eric Lauer must hide the ball really well, because the Phillies couldn’t touch him. He only allowed four hits in seven innings. The Phillies never got a runner past second base. Every at bat they were either behind or generating weak contact. And it’s not like he was throwing hard and he left some pitches out over the plate for the Phillies to do damage and they flat out missed them.

More concerning is the Phillies fell to 20-25 against left-handed starting pitchers this season. When you don’t have a Rhys Hoskins in the lineup, or frankly even an Alec Bohm, who was decent against lefties, other guys have to step up, and the Phillies haven’t had that happen for them often enough against the lefties.

What’s next?

Kyle Gibson squares off against Freddy Peralta in the rubber match Wednesday at 7:40pm.

The Braves get another game with the Nats, the Reds finish up their series in Chicago against the Cubs, the Padres wrap up a quick two-game set with the Angels, the Mets battle the Marlins in Miami again and the Cardinals look for a way to beat the Dodgers.

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