Saturday, May 23, 2015

Phillies Offense Stymied in Loss Against Nationals

GAME RECAP: Nats Edge Phils 2-1

Nationals starter Max Scherzer was brilliant on the mound yet again, and it was his leadoff single in the sixth and run scored from first base on Ian Desmond's double that decided Washington's 2-1 win over Philadelphia on Friday night at Nationals Park. On the bump, Scherzer outdueled Sean O'Sullivan, lasting eight innings and allowing only a second-inning run. Now 5-3 on the season, after winning his fourth straight start, Scherzer recorded his sixth consecutive outing of at least seven innings pitched. "He's got all four pitches that he's able to throw for strikes," said Nationals manager Matt Williams. "That's key for any pitcher, I think. If you have four pitches you can throw for a strike at any time, as a hitter I would know that I just couldn't sit on something, or I'd find myself behind in the count." Drew Storen worked around a pair of ninth-inning singles to secure his 13th save this season. It was the Nationals' sixth consecutive victory. "We just ran into a guy with his 'A' game tonight, and Scherzer with his 'A' game is tough to beat," O'Sullivan said.

  • O'Sullivan allowed two runs in six innings, but he will regret how that second run scored in the sixth inning. He allowed Scherzer's single on a 1-2 fastball to set up his decisive dash from first base.
  • The Phillies had some chances to score against Scherzer, but they could not cash in. They were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against him, 0-for-8 in the game, failing to score a runner on second base with one out in both the fifth and sixth innings. "I thought we hit some balls hard off of him, hit some balls off the wall," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Thought we attacked him pretty well, but yeah, he's top-notch."
  • Phillies second baseman Chase Utley went 2-for-4 with one double. He is hitting .458 (11-for-24) with five doubles, one triple, three RBIs, four walks, one strikeout and a 1.286 OPS in his last seven games.
  • Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang and Nationals right-hander Aaron Barrett had a long standoff on the field following the national anthem. As their teammates returned to their respective dugouts, Harang and Barrett remained on the field -- with Harang donning catching gear, while Barrett sported a backwards batting helmet. They remained on the field through Scherzer's first pitch, at which point Harang scampered back into the Phillies' dugout with Barrett raising his arms in triumph. "The Bear was steadfast tonight," said Williams.
  • "We were trying to go up, I went up. Right now, the best way to pitch to him is with nobody on base." -- O'Sullivan, on Harper's homer. Harper has gone yard three times against O'Sullivan this season.
Cole Hamels will make his 10th start of the season when the Phillies face the Nationals on Saturday at 4:05 p.m. ET. He has been on a roll lately, going 4-1 with a 2.45 ERA in his last six starts. He has allowed two or fewer runs in five of those outings. Stephen Strasburg may be having a down year by his standards, but a start against the Phillies could turn that around. He is 5-1 all-time vs. Philadelphia with a 2.00 ERA, the lowest against any team he's faced at least 10 times.


Outcome Doesn’t Reflect Performance – Maybe the fourth time will be the charm for Phillies right-hander Sean O'Sullivan. He made his fifth start of the season Friday in a 2-1 loss to the Nationals at Nationals Park, but it was the third time he matched up against Nationals ace Max Scherzer. He is now 0-2 in those meetings. "At least I know what I'm up against when I go out there," O'Sullivan said. O'Sullivan is a journeyman who signed a Minor League contract with the Phillies in December. Scherzer is one of the best pitchers in baseball who signed a seven-year, $210 million contract in January. But O'Sullivan held his own. He allowed five hits, two runs, one walk and struck out three in six innings. He has allowed two or fewer runs in six or more innings in consecutive starts for the first time since April 2011, when he pitched for the Royals. "It's definitely a confidence builder and something to build on," he said. "It feels good to take the mound and have my team feel like we've got a chance to win that day." O'Sullivan allowed Bryce Harper's 16th home run of the season, a solo shot in the second inning to tie the game. It was the third time Harper has homered against O'Sullivan this season. "We were trying to go up, I went up," O'Sullivan said. "Right now, the best way to pitch to him is with nobody on base. At least I [was getting] the first two guys out in front of him." O'Sullivan retired 11 of the next 13 batters he faced when Scherzer stepped into the batter's box to start the bottom of the sixth inning. It should have been an easy first out, but Scherzer instead hit a 1-2 fastball to right field for a single. "He'd probably like that at-bat back to Scherzer," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. Ian Desmond followed two batters later with a double off the top of the center-field wall. Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera misread the ball, which caromed back toward the infield. Scherzer scored from first base to give Washington a 2-1 lead. "For him to be the go-ahead run kind of stings," O'Sullivan said of Scherzer. "We've been playing good baseball lately, and we played good baseball tonight. We just ran into a guy with his 'A' game tonight, and Scherzer with his 'A' game is tough to beat."

Coming Up Empty – An ace trumps momentum almost every time in baseball. The Phillies' 2-1 loss to the Nationals on Friday night at Nationals Park proved as much. They had won seven of their previous nine games, hitting .285 and scoring 40 runs in that stretch. But they could not break through against Nationals ace Max Scherzer, who allowed four hits, one run, one walk and struck out six in eight innings. "He's a pretty good pitcher, I think," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "He's probably the ace of their staff. I thought we hit some balls hard off of him, hit some balls off the wall, had another ball that was caught in center field. Thought we attacked him pretty well, but yeah, he's top-notch." The Phillies were 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position against Scherzer, and 0-for-8 in the game. In one sense, they wasted some golden opportunities. In another, that is what aces do. They kill rallies. Phillies center fielder Odubel Herrera doubled deep to center field in the second inning to score Maikel Franco and give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. "I hit it good," Herrera said. "I hit it perfect. It just didn't go out." The Phillies had runners on first and second with one out in the ninth inning. Chase Utley actually had a chance to reach third on Franco's infield single, which second baseman Danny Espinosa kicked into left field. But Utley remained at second. "Our angle from the dugout and his angle were completely different angles," Sandberg said. "We could see the gap there, and he's such a heads-up player that ... I think the player [Espinosa] and the ball were lined up, it was hard to tell if it was 10-15 feet away or 30 feet away. That's my guess." Grady Sizemore followed with a fly ball to left field for the second out, but as Sandberg pointed out, it is hypothetical to wonder if Utley would have scored from third on the play. "You don't even know if [Sizemore] gets that pitch," Sandberg said. "Other than that, I mean, solid game, pitchers' duel, solid defense, both sides. Pretty solid game all the way around, right down to having a chance at the end."

Work To Be Done – Nothing is wrong with Jesse Biddle, but the Phillies did scratch their No. 9 prospect from Friday's scheduled start with Double-A Reading because they want him to work on his mechanics. He is scheduled to rejoin the rotation next Tuesday. The Phillies selected Biddle in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, and this is his third season with Reading. Injuries have limited him in the past, but the organization clearly was hoping for a big step forward this season. Biddle is 3-1 with a 4.84 ERA in seven starts this season. He has a 1.585 WHIP, which is the highest rate of his professional career. The Reading rotation includes right-handers Aaron Nola (6-2, 1.54 ERA in eight starts), Zach Eflin (3-3, 2.74 ERA) and Ben Lively (3-1, 3.50 ERA); and left-hander Tom Windle (0-3, 5.35 ERA). The Phillies selected Nola, their No. 2 prospect, in the first round of last year's Draft. They acquired Eflin (No. 5), Lively (No. 7) and Windle (No. 6) in trades for Jimmy Rollins and Marlon Byrd. Windle has struggled so far, but there is some thought his arm might eventually play bigger in the bullpen.

Standoff – The Phillies were in Colorado on Thursday night, where Sean O'Sullivan and Boone Logan partook in a thrilling post-national anthem, pregame standoff that ended in a mutual decision to turn away. Well, the Phillies apparently got a taste for the standoff thrill, because ahead of Friday night's game in Washington, starter Aaron Harang and Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett faced off in yet another standoff. And lo, it shall be known as the Battle of the Aarons -- and, as with any official battle, the opponents came prepared with battle gear. On one side of the diamond, Barrett donned a backwards helmet. On the other was Harang, in full catcher's gear. Yes, we know what you're thinking: This is the most stylish standoff in some time. The standoff lasted quite a while -- even after Nats' starter Max Scherzer threw the first pitch -- and for a moment it looked like it would stretch until the end of time, or until Harang had to pitch, at least. But eventually Harang flinched and Barrett was victorious. Hey, this wasn't his first rodeo, and he wasn't even trying: "It's completely random," Barrett told's Jacob Emert postgame. "Honestly, I didn't want to do it at all. Last year I thought was my only time I'd ever do it. It just happens. There were like five of them at one point that it looked like they were basically just trying to challenge. I was like, 'OK.'

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 18-26. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance this spring, don’t expect their competitive place in the standings to last. All time, the Phillies are 43-50-0 on this day.

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