As the Phillies ascended up to Baseball Heaven for four days, the rest of the baseball world was chatting about the Phillies. For the first time in a long while.
So, in the midst of this hype, the Phillies did as the recent Phillies have done: lose more than win.
In fact the four-game series – in which the Cardinals took three of four from the Phillies – played out as a miniature version of what you should probably expect this season. There was a pitching gem they rode out to victory (1-0 on Tuesday), a few decent pitching performances, very little offense and some tough finishes that showed the team isn’t quite ready for the limelight.
Let’s start with that one. Leading the Cardinals 4-3 in the ninth inning, an obviously struggling Jeanmar Gomez walked Kolten Wong and surrendered a near-game-winning home run to Matt Carpenter. Then he surrendered another near-game-winning home run, this time to Matt Adams. After an intentional walk, Gomez gave up a single to Stephen Piscotty. A run scored, and after pinch runner Carlos Martinez overran third base, the Phils got mixed up in a game of tag that involved St. Louis third-base coach Chris Maloney.
Yes, that should’ve never happened. The rule allowing Maloney to get away with that sort of interference (even though it seemed purely accidental) is hogwash.
But let’s rewind: Gomez gave up two balls targeted for the top of the fence at Busch Stadium. Tyler Goeddel made a heroic catch to save the first one, and the second was no match for Shaquille O’Neal, let alone Odubel Herrera. Gomez is showing signs of rust; he surrendered a single to Piscotty in Tuesday’s save, and against Cleveland on Saturday allowed two singles and a loud liner for a final out. He’s been a little lucky lately, and Wednesday just wasn’t his night.
Of course tough luck on the mound could be saved by good offensive play, and the Phils have received none of it lately. They scored eight runs in the four games against St. Louis – four of them coming off Ryan Howard‘s bat, one off Herrera’s bat, and the other four off singles and sacrifice flies. In short the Phillies haven’t produced. Maikel Franco, in particular, looked bad against St. Louis, swinging at just about everything and ending up 1-for-10 with a double, two strikeouts and a walk. Punchless.
But we should spread it around: Galvis – despite a two-run single Monday – finished 3-for-16; Cesar Hernandez went 3-for-13; the rotating right fielder went 2-for-14; and Darin Ruf – Mr. Instant Offense, right? – went 0-for-10 and looked particularly lost. Yes, we know the Phillies offense isn’t good, but at some point changes need to be made, even in small doses.
Since pitching this year has succeeded, we can excuse the poor pitching in the series. Jeremy Hellickson continues to struggle the third time around a lineup, and he lasted just 5.1 innings against a good one. From the fourth to sixth innings Monday he surrendered six runs, seven hits and four walks. That won’t cut it. Brett Oberholtzer still resembles 2014 Kyle Kendrick in mop-up duty; he allowed two home runs and four runs in nearly three innings of work. Adam Morgan threw only 70 pitches in four innings, allowing six hits and walking two. He wasn’t on but did enough to keep the Phils in Wednesday’s game. And Jerad Eickhoff wasn’t completely in command of his pitches Thursday, striking out just two while walking two and surrendering six hits in a loss.
But there was good pitching. The high-leverage end of the bullpen in particular fared very well, starting with Hector Neris. The splitter-tossing 26-year-old struck out three in two crucial eighth innings. And Colton Murray, Elvis Araujo and Andrew Bailey pitched well in their appearances. Even David Hernandez, missing after a few days without work, returned to the mound Thursday and did a nice job in pseudo-mop-up duty.
Then, finally but most importantly, there’s Aaron Nola. The 22-year-old righty, flashing a fast-improving sinker, had one of his finest performances Tuesday, quietly baffling the Cardinals over seven innings. His final line: 2 H, 1 BB, 7 K. That’s it. He lowered his ERA to 2.93 and his WHIP to a fourth-best-in-the-majors 0.80. He’s carrying a 20-inning scoreless streak into the weekend.
When the clouds parted over Baseball Heaven the Phillies were left at 16-13, still a few games over .500 (and still better than the 15-14 Cardinals) and overall, still playing above expectations. But the offense isn’t producing. The bullpen will fail sometimes. The pitching won’t always be terrific. These things will be more common.