Gabe Kapler said he had been "thinking a lot" since his Phillies fell on Monday night to the Nationals and dropped to their largest second-place margin since June 26. The Phillies had lost seven of their last nine games before facing Max Scherzer on Tuesday. They have not been in first place for more than two weeks. But all of that thinking led Kapler to optimism.

"On July 31, we were the best team in the National League East, by the standings," Kapler said. "We are now a markedly better baseball team as it relates to the depth of our bench, as it relates to the veteran players, the dirt in the spikes, the experience. In theory, our younger players have developed somewhat over the course of last month. I believe that we are a better baseball team today than we were on July 31 when we were the best team in the National League East."

Since July 31, the Phillies have welcomed five new players, including Jose Bautista, who joined the team in a trade on Tuesday. But those additions have led to the Phillies winning just 11 of their first 24 August games. The lineup entered Wednesday averaging 4.08 runs per game in August and the pitching staff had a combined 4.21 ERA. August has been the team's roughest stretch of the season. "Great teams are going to struggle," Kapler said as he referenced the 12-17 September the Dodgers had last season before reaching the World Series.

"My point in saying all this is, much like good players struggle over prolonged periods of time and can still be in the MVP conversation, great baseball teams do the same thing," Kapler said. "So the one thing we're stressing to our club today is, we are in an incredible position to strike. We control our destiny. We are going to get to play Atlanta several times down the stretch. We are going to get to play some of the other wild-card teams down the stretch. We are a much better baseball team today than we were a month ago. We have just gone through a period of struggle. And we are going to keep our heads up through this. We are going to fight our way through this. We are going to be resilient like we have been all season long. And that's the message we are sending to our club today."

More moves coming

The Phillies designated Mark Leiter Jr. for assignment to create a space on the 40-man roster and will have to make room for two more if they are to bring Pedro Florimon and Jerad Eickhoff to the majors in September.

Florimon has been rehabbing his surgically-repaired right foot for two weeks in the minors. Eickhoff has made five starts in the minor leagues and appears to be past the nerve irritation that sidelined him all season. Two possible players to be trimmed from the 40-man roster appear to be infielder/outfielder Mitch Walding and righthander Ben Lively, who returned from the triple-A disabled list on Tuesday.

Extra bases

Jake Arrieta will start Wednesday's series finale against lefthander Gio Gonzalez. … Several Phillies players will spend Thursday's off day at Morgan's Pier on Columbus Boulevard for "Puppapalooza at the Pier" an event with the Pennsylvania SPCA that begins at 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased in advance at pspca.org/puppapalooza. … Triple-A Lehigh Valley swept the minor-league awards as Cole Irvin won pitcher of the year, Gary Jones won manager of the year, and Joey Menses won hitter of the year and rookie of the year.

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