If this is what the Phillies do with a gift, Santa Claus might as well bypass Citizens Bank Park this year. A few hours before the Phillies played Wednesday night, the Atlanta Braves blew 7-1 and 8-7 leads in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively, and lost a stunner to the Boston Red Sox. All the Phils needed to do was defeat the lowly Miami Marlins, and they would be only two games out of first place in the National League East with 23 games remaining. Instead, they were shut down by a rookie pitcher in a 2-1 loss that took the Braves off the hook and restored their three-game lead.
"Whether Atlanta wins or Atlanta loses, a loss always stings," manager Gabe Kapler said. "And it's our responsibility to turn the page as quickly as possible and start preparing for the next game."
In this case, the Phillies will have two days to ponder their missed opportunity. The next game will be Friday night in New York.
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For months, it has been clear that neither the Miami Marlins nor the New York Mets will win the NL East this season.
But don't think for a second that the non-contenders aren't impacting the division race.
After dismantling their roster in the offseason, the Marlins were expected to be pushovers in the first year of their Derek Jeter-led rebuild. But no team steamrolled them quite like the Atlanta Braves, who went 14-5 in the season series and undoubtedly wish it wasn't over. The Phillies, meanwhile, are only 9-7 against the Marlins, including 3-6 in Miami.
"I don't know," said slugger Rhys Hoskins, at a loss to explain the Phillies' struggles in South Florida. "I think the Mets seem to have our number, too."
Indeed, the Phillies are 5-8 against the Mets — and only 2-4 in New York, heading into the series that will begin Friday night at Citi Field. The Braves? Meet the Mets, beat the Mets. Twelve times in 16 games, in fact, with three games still remaining, Sept. 25-27, before the Braves' big season-ending series against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
Add it up, and the Braves are 26-9 against the Marlins and Mets, 50-54 against everyone else. The Phillies are 14-15 against the two worst teams in the division, 59-51 against everyone else.
"I don't know. I don't know what it is," Hoskins said. "Sometimes you can't really put your finger on that. I think, at least at the end of the year last year, we played [the Marlins] pretty well. So, sometimes it's just a year-to-year thing. For whatever reason this year, we haven't been able to put them away when we've had the opportunity."
The Braves have. And the difference might make all the difference in determining which team wins the NL East.
The Phillies got shut down by Marlins rookie starter Sandy Alcantara and extended their winless streak in series to nine. They're almost fortunate to be only three games out of first place. "It definitely could be worse," outfielder Roman Quinn said.
For the second time in as many weeks, the Phillies shuffled their starting rotation to maximize Aaron Nola's potential impact on the NL East race. The latest move lines up Nola to face the Braves in his final two starts of the season.
In case you're wondering what the Braves were saying after their meltdown against the Red Sox, here's the game story from the Atlanta Journal Constitution, in which reliever A.J. Minter vowed that "this one game isn't going to define our season."
Today: Off-day for the Phillies in New York.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola Day! Phillies ace starts opener at Mets, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Phillies face hard-throwing Noah Syndergaard, 7:10 p.m.
Sunday: Jacob deGrom Day! Mets' Cy Young hopeful starts finale vs. Phillies, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Phillies return home to face the Washington Nationals, 7:05 p.m.
By now, it's evident that Gabe Kapler doesn't believe in keeping the batting order static. He prefers to make adjustments based on pitching matchups and other factors. But as much as any player on the Phillies roster, Carlos Santana profiles as a leadoff hitter based on his on-base skills.
Consider this: In 595 career plate appearances out of the leadoff spot, including the last two games in Miami, Santana is a .256 hitter with a .373 on-base percentage, 24 home runs, 94 walks and 85 strikeouts. Among active players with at least 500 plate appearances as a leadoff hitter, only Mike Trout (.398), Matt Carpenter (.393) and Shin-Soo Choo (.384) have a higher on-base percentage than Santana.
Question: Read you every day and here is a question: If the Angels don't trade Trout, why don't the Phillies wait until free agency? — Richard V., via e-mail
Answer: Thanks, Richard, for the question — and for reading, of course. The Angels are poised to miss the playoffs for a fourth consecutive season and just learned that Shohei Ohtani likely will need Tommy John surgery, thereby turning up the volume on rumors they will have to trade Trout. Thus far, they haven't signaled that they will even entertain the idea, and considering Trout is already one of the greatest players in baseball history, it boggles the mind to ponder what a trade for him might look like. Regardless, the Phillies and other teams will certain try to find out.