Uh-oh. If it wasn't already bad enough that the Phillies turned a 4-1 lead into a 10-4 loss last night in Washington and slipped to two games off the pace in the National League East, check out the opposing pitchers for the next two games. Stephen Strasburg is expected to return from the disabled list tonight and start for the Nationals, who have ace Max Scherzer looming in the series finale Thursday. That spells trouble for a Phillies offense that has averaged only 3.5 runs over the past 23 games.
So, yes, the Phillies' staunch bullpen picked a lousy time to buckle. Victor Arano, so good for so long this season, allowed four runs in the sixth inning last night, and Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos each gave up one run before Yacksel Rios yielded three in the eighth. The Phillies have gone 5-9 since a four-game sweep of the Miami Marlins. They are 27-35 away from home and have five games left on this weeklong road trip.
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Gather 'round, everyone, and listen to the story of the 2006 Phillies.
Don't remember that team? It's understandable. A year before they overtook the New York Mets for the first of five consecutive division titles, two years before they won the World Series, the Phillies went 86-76 and missed the playoffs. It's easy now to look back on 2006 as utterly forgettable.
Except, of course, for this: On July 25, the Phillies were 44-53, 13 1/2 games out of first place. Over the next six days, general manager Pat Gillick traded every veteran player who wasn't nailed down. In four deals, he unloaded Bobby Abreu, Cory Lidle, David Bell, Rheal Cormier and Sal Fasano. The white flag had been waved. The Phillies were cooked.
Only they weren't. Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell and Aaron Rowand remained in the lineup, and the Abreu trade opened up more playing time for Shane Victorino. Cole Hamels and Brett Myers were still in the rotation. And the Phillies went 42-23 over the final 65 games and nearly reached the postseason.
We bring this up because, as you might have heard, the Washington Nationals gave up on their season yesterday. Succumbing, at last, to the reality that his band of underachievers won't turn things around in time to reach the postseason, general manager Mike Rizzo traded Daniel Murphy to the Chicago Cubs and Matt Adams to the St. Louis Cardinals in waiver deals and turned the NL East into a two-team race.
Oh, and then the Nats scored nine unanswered runs to beat the Phillies.
Look, we're not saying the Nationals are going to overcome their 7 1/2-game deficit in the NL East or leapfrog a half-dozen teams to claim a wild-card berth. If their super-talented roster didn't click for 125 games, it isn't suddenly going to start clicking now. And since Murphy and Adams are eligible for free agency after the season, it made sense for Rizzo to get anything he could for them now.
But there's at least a chance that reports of the Nationals' demise are premature. After all, the lineup still features Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman and rookie phenom Juan Soto, all of whom would probably bat third for the Phillies. Scherzer is still the two-time defending Cy Young Award winner and probably the favorite to win a third, and Strasburg is about to return from the disabled list. Reliever Kelvin Herrera came back last night, and closer Sean Doolittle is due back in early September.
The point is, the Nationals are still plenty dangerous. It might be too late for them to salvage their season, but with five games in the next eight days, they can certainly still spoil it for the Phillies, even without Murphy and Adams.
Phillies starter Vince Velasquez went back out to the mound after a 1-hour, 42-minute rain delay last night. He just didn't stay out there long enough, and the bullpen couldn't hold a lead.
In trading Daniel Murphy and Matt Adams in waiver deals yesterday, the Nationals appear to be looking past 2018, as Marc Narducci writes.
Within the Phillies notebook, Asdrubal Cabrera discusses the challenge of returning to shortstop after not playing the position regularly since 2016.
Tonight: Stephen Strasburg returns from disabled list to face Phillies, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Take a long lunch break for Aaron Nola vs. Max Scherzer, 1:05 p.m.
Friday: Phillies open a three-game interleague series at Blue Jays, 7:07 p.m.
Saturday: Oh, Canada! British Columbia's Nick Pivetta starts in Toronto, 4:07 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies and Blue Jays wrap up their series, 1:07 p.m.
Cue the clamor for Roman Quinn to begin playing more regularly.
Quinn started last night for only the seventh time since getting called up from triple A last month, and once again, he delivered. The rookie outfielder notched two hits, including his first major-league home run, out of the No. 9 spot in the order. He is 14 for 45 (.311) with an .815 OPS since joining the Phillies.
So, if Quinn plays, who sits? As Matt Breen suggested last weekend, how about struggling centerfielder Odubel Herrera?
Herrera went 0 for 3 last night and is batting .223 with a .657 OPS since Memorial Day. He has five extra-base hits in his last 96 plate appearances — as many extra-base hits as Quinn has collected in his last 40 plate appearances.
Question: It was very refreshing to see the Phillies run a bit against the Mets. Understanding that you don't have a crystal ball, do you think it's likely that Gabe [Kapler] will try to generate more offense using speed (Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, Roman Quinn, Scott Kingery, etc.) over the last few weeks of the season? Personally, I'd love to see the hit-and-run once in a while, even if the lineup isn't ideally structured for it. Using speed, either for straight steals or the hit-and-run, certainly makes things happen. Your thoughts? — Dave G., via e-mail
Answer: Thanks for the question, Dave. I wholeheartedly agree that speed on the bases is both an entertaining style of play and a tried-and-true way for a team to generate more offense. Here's the problem: The Phillies entered the week having struck out 1,173 times, second most in the NL and fourth most in the majors. Jorge Alfaro, Hernandez, Rhys Hoskins, Kingery and Herrera have whiffed more than 100 times apiece.
With so much swings-and-misses up and down the lineup, it's difficult for Kapler to put runners in motion, either via the hit-and-run or a straight steal, because of the risk of a double play. It's one of the reasons, I think, that Herrera has basically stopped running after stealing 25 bases two seasons ago.