If three of the Phillies' losses on their most recent road trip were gut punches, then this one, a 5-3 setback Monday night against the Washington Nationals, was a face slapper. You needed your face slapped to stay awake through this 3-hour and 13-minute snoozer in which Zach Eflin self-destructed in the top of the fourth inning by walking two batters before committing a mind-numbing throwing error after fielding a bad bunt by opposing pitcher Stephen Strasburg.
The loss left the Phillies 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves and left the impression that pennant fever does not exist in Philadelphia right now. The crowd at Citizens Bank Park was 21,261, the smallest since a June 19 game against the St. Louis Cardinals. At times, it was so quiet you could hear the radio broadcast in the stadium and the sounds of Bryce Harper's dugout temper tantrum after his ninth-inning pop out.
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Cole Hamels will make his first appearance at Citizens Bank Park as a member of the Cubs this weekend when Chicago comes in for a three-game series, but the 2008 World Series MVP will not pitch against his former team. Had the Cubs stayed on turn, Hamels would have been scheduled to pitch Sunday. Instead, Cubs manager Joe Maddon has decided to go with a six-man rotation for at least the remainder of this week.
Hamels, who is scheduled to start tonight against the New York Mets' Jacob deGrom, has been sensational since joining the Cubs, going 4-0 with a 0.79 ERA in five starts. The Phillies still must face a tough lefty Sunday in Jon Lester, who is 14-5 with a 3.64 ERA.
The Phillies have the option of skipping Eflin's next start and sending Aaron Nola to the mound against Lester, but that's not likely. Nola will be on the mound tonight for a second straight clash of the aces against Washington's Max Scherzer. Nola (15-3, 2.13 ERA) beat Scherzer (16-6, 2.13), 2-0, last Thursday at Nationals Park and could enhance his chances for the Cy Young Award by beating him again.
In addition to Zach Eflin's bad fourth inning, the Phillies were also done in by a Wilson Ramos base-running blunder in the sixth. Ramos, hampered by sore hamstrings, tried to go from first to third on a single by Asdrubal Cabrera and was easily nailed by a strong throw from right fielder Adam Eaton for the first out of the inning. It was a rally killer that sent the Phillies to their 13th loss in their last 20 games.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has only until Saturday to make a trade for a player who could be part of their postseason roster. Our columnist Bob Ford opines that the Phillies might have to go after their first division title with what they already have, and he still thinks they could win it given the sorry state of the National League East contenders.
The Phillies claimed slugger Jose Bautista off waivers Monday, but if they want him, they need to work out a trade with the New York Mets before the end of today. Bautista would give the Phillies another power bat off the bench.
The Phillies had hoped to get top minor-league prospect Sixto Sanchez back on the mound at high-A Clearwater before the end of the Threshers' season, but that is not going to happen. Plan B, according to general manager Matt Klentak, might be to send him to the Arizona Fall League. Sanchez, out since June 3 with elbow inflammation, has made only eight starts this season.
Tonight: Aces up — Aaron Nola vs. Max Scherzer, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Series finale with Nats: Jake Arrieta vs. Gio Gonzalez, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Off day
Friday: Cubs come to town for three-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Monday: Phils begin three-game series in Miami, 1:10 p.m.
In early July, a report surfaced that the Phillies would not be willing to include righthander Zach Eflin in a trade to acquire Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. At the time, Eflin was 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA and the Phillies were 8-3 in his 11 starts. He had also allowed just 55 hits and 14 walks and struckt out 63 in 63 2/3 innings.
Since then, Eflin is 2-3 with a 5.53 ERA and the Phillies have gone 2-6 in his last eight starts, including Monday night's loss to the Nats. Eflin has allowed 51 hits, walked 12 and struck out 32 in 42 1/3 innings during his last eight starts. If it's any consolation, the Dodgers are only 17-18 with Machado and the all-star shortstop has hit .266 with 14 extra-base hits, 17 RBIs, and an .816 OPS.
If the Phillies offer Ramos a two-year $20 million contract do you think he accepts it? He's injury prone, but we should get his last two prime offensive years and then hopefully turn things over to [Jorge] Alfaro. Maybe he starts 100-110 games and Alfaro starts 50-60.