Sunday, April 17, 2016

Just As Ugly The Second Time Around

GAME RECAP: Nationals Crush Phillies 8-1

Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper led the Nationals to an easy 8-1 win over the Phillies on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park, their seventh straight victory. Scherzer not only allowed one run over seven innings, but he hit a two-out, two-run double to right in the fourth inning to give Washington a 5-0 lead. Harper hit a sacrifice fly to score the game's first run in the first before he ripped a two-run home run to right field in the fifth to make it 7-0 -- his third straight game with a homer. The Nationals (9-1) can sweep the series with a victory Sunday afternoon. Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola allowed a career-high seven runs in five innings, as Cameron Rupp provided the only offense for the Phillies with a solo homer to left in the fifth. "The big hit was the two-run double by Scherzer," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "That really kind of iced it." Chris Heisey hit a pinch-hit home run in the ninth for Washington.

  • For the second straight night, the Nationals hung a crooked number on the Phillies in the first inning. On Friday, it took Jeremy Hellickson 45 pitches to retire the side, allowing five runs. Nola fared slightly better Saturday, surrendering only three runs on 19 pitches in the first inning, but Washington continued to pile on in later innings. Phillies starters entered the series with a MLB-best 2.14 ERA. They now enter the series finale Sunday with a 3.42 ERA. "They're aggressive," Nola said. "We've gotta hit our spots. We've gotta make quality pitches. They're hitting mistakes well right now. That's why they're scoring a lot of runs."
  • Mackanin has been desperately searching for an offensive boost, with the Phillies averaging 2.58 runs per game. Things reached a tipping point on Saturday, when Mackanin inserted Darin Ruf to left field after Phillies left fielders had a combined .299 OPS through 11 games. Ruf went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts as the Phillies' offense tied a franchise record, going the first 12 games of the season without recording 10 hits in a game. The mark was previously reached in 1967. "We don't feel pressure," Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez said through an interpreter. "We just need to get that confidence back, just like it was at the beginning of the season. We know we have what it takes to keep winning games."
  • "I was telling Dusty before the game that [Nola] has a knack for pinpointing his fastball on the knees on both sides of the plate, and he didn't have that today." -- Mackanin, on Nola's five-inning outing.
  • After Harper singled to left in the third, Nola attempted to pick him off first base. Although Harper dove back and was initially called safe, Mackanin challenged the call and replay officials overturned the ruling on the field. That was Mackanin's fourth challenge this season; he has won two of them.
The Phillies send Charlie Morton to the mound in the series finale. Morton's last outing kicked off a streak of 22 2/3 scoreless innings for Philadelphia starters. In two games against the Nationals, the Phillies' starters have allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in eight innings.


Don’t Walk This Way – Aaron Nola had yet to walk a batter in 14 innings over two starts to begin the 2016 season. Then, against the first batter of the game Saturday, he did. And then he did so again in the fourth. And again in the fifth. All three walks came around to score in the Phillies' 8-1 loss to the Nationals. Nola allowed seven runs over five innings, including Bryce Harper's two-run shot to right which scored Anthony Rendon, who -- you guessed it -- reached on a walk to lead off the inning. In the fourth, Nola intentionally walked Washington's No. 8 hitter, Danny Espinosa, with Wilson Ramos on second to get to pitcher Max Scherzer. He left a fastball up and Scherzer ripped a two-run double to right. "I was missing spots on my fastball," Nola said. "My two-seam, I didn't have it out of the gate. I kept missing, and they didn't miss swinging." Phillies manager Pete Mackanin attributed Nola's fastball issues to the ball running back over the plate when he threw to his glove side. That's the pitch Scherzer hit his double against, and Daniel Murphy tripled off that same pitch. Before the game, Mackanin mentioned to Nationals manager Dusty Baker Nola's ability to command his fastball. "This guy's got a real knack for pinpointing his fastball at the knees on both sides of the plate," Mackanin said he told Baker. "He didn't have that today." One of Nola's biggest assets as a pitcher is his strike-throwing ability. After his home-opening start on Monday, Mackanin said he wished Nola was even a little more "effectively wild." Nola left Saturday's game having thrown 80 pitches -- the fourth-fewest in an outing for him in his career -- and only 49 for strikes. That amounts to a strike rate of 61.3 percent. It's the fifth-lowest of Nola's career, but there hasn't necessarily been a trend of ineffectiveness there. Twice he's thrown fewer than 60 percent strikes, resulting in two three-run outings of five and six innings each. Two more times he had exactly 60.4 percent, in both of which he went seven innings and allowed one run. The seven runs the Nationals posted against him Saturday were the most he's given up in his young career. Twice Nola has allowed six runs. In those starts, he threw 70.7 and 73.4 percent strikes. "My plan of attack is to be aggressive. But there's different parts of being aggressive," Nola said. "There's being aggressive and making quality pitches, and there's hitting your spots." The Nationals have found success against Nola and Jeremy Hellickson by being aggressive, themselves, and making the pitchers pay for their mistakes. "We've got to make quality pitches," Nola said. "They're hitting mistakes well right now. That's why they're scoring a lot of runs." After throwing 22 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, Phillies starters have allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in eight innings against the Nationals. They entered the series with a league-leading 2.14 ERA, but that has increased to 3.42.

Stop Pushing The Off Button! – Manager Pete Mackanin has been trying everything to jumpstart the Phillies' offense. He tried his 11th lineup in 12 games on Saturday night in an 8-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. He tried Darin Ruf in left field. He returned Cesar Hernandez to the leadoff spot after giving him a day off on Friday. Of course, it did not help that he tried those things against Nationals ace Max Scherzer, but what are his options? "There's not much tinkering I can do," Mackanin said. Mackanin was answering a question about the Phillies' corner outfielders, who have struggled. But he could have been talking about the Phillies' offense, which is 28th in baseball, averaging 2.58 runs per game. The Phillies scored their only run on Saturday on Cameron Rupp's fifth-inning home run. The Phillies have not had 10 hits in a game in 12 games this season, which tied a franchise record to begin the season. The 1967 Phillies also opened the season without 10 hits in a game in their first 12 games. It is the longest such drought to open a season since the 2014 Astros opened with a 14-game streak. The Phillies' franchise record in that category is 17 games, which they did twice: Sept. 28, 1966-April 27, 1967, and July 22-Aug. 4, 1955. The Phillies would love to see Hernandez get on a roll again, particularly in the leadoff spot. Phillies leadoff hitters entered the night with a .292 OPS, which ranked last in baseball. Hernandez is the Phillies' best option to hit first, but for some reason he has struggled there. He entered the night with a .625 OPS in 292 career plate appearances hitting leadoff, compared to an .814 OPS in 219 plate appearances hitting second. He went 0-for-4 Saturday. "I feel comfortable leading off or batting second," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "I just want to do my job right. I want to do what my manager needs me to do. That's what I'm here for. I just need to adjust." The Phillies hope to adjust to Nationals left-hander Gio Gonzalez in the series finale Sunday afternoon. He is 8-5 with a 3.02 ERA in 16 career starts against the Phillies.

Change On The Horizon? – Manager Pete Mackanin has seen the numbers, which is why changes could be coming to the Phillies' outfield in the near future. "You can't get around it," he said. "It's not good." Phillies left fielders finished Saturday night's 8-1 loss to the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park with a .267 OPS, which ranked last in Major League Baseball. Phillies right fielders have a .411 OPS, which ranks 29th. Twelve games is a small sample size, but to put those numbers into perspective, the 1968 A's had a .555 OPS in left field and the 1978 A's had a .550 OPS in right field. Both are the lowest marks of any team in baseball from 1913-2015. The Phillies' poor production in the corners is why Darin Ruf started in left field Saturday for the first time this season. He went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. "I just needed some kind of infusion of offense," Mackanin said before the game. Ruf playing the outfield is something the Phillies repeatedly said they wanted to avoid as they emphasized defense in the offseason and Spring Training. But every team has its breaking point, and a .267 OPS in left field is it. "In the short term, if we don't show improvement, we'll probably make a change," Mackanin said. "We have to either get those guys going or do something." Will Venable is a candidate. The Phillies signed him to a Minor League contract before the end of Spring Training. Venable, 33, is just 3-for-20 in six games with Triple-A Lehigh Valley, but he has an extensive track record in the big leagues. Venable also can opt out of his contract May 1, if he is not on a big league roster. The Phillies could choose to give him a shot before potentially losing him. David Lough, 30, also is an option after being one of the final cuts in Spring Training. He is hitting .280 (7-for-25) with one double, two RBIs and one stolen base in six games with Lehigh Valley. He also has big league experience. Mackanin said the Phillies are not talking about top outfield prospect Nick Williams as a candidate. Williams, 22, is hitting .192 (5-for-26) with one double, one triple, and four RBIs in eight games with Lehigh Valley. He needs more time to develop in the Minor Leagues.

Today In Phils History – We start this retrospective by remembering the debuts of Pickles Dillhoefer in Jimmie Wilson in 1923. Not a very auspicious start but debuts would play a key role in 1945 with Vince DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, and Garvin Hamner all donning the Phillies uniform for the first time on this day (Dutch Leonard debuted two years later). Twenty years after the debut of this trio, We Covington became the first of four strikeouts in an inning by Don Drysdale of the Dodgers. From 4 strikeouts to no hits, in the 9th game of the Expos’ existence, Bill Stoneman pitched a 7-0 no hitter against the Phillies in 1969. Seven years later, one of the greatest performances in franchise history took place at Mike Schmidt went 5 for 6 with four homeruns and eight RBI in a victorious 18-16 slugfest against the Cubs. The final event to mark the day is a bit of an oddity as the Phillies records an NL record 21 infield assists in a win over the Expos in 1996.

The Phillies are currently 5-7 this season putting them on pace to meet most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 34-37-1 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

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