Sox keep the season unraveling
Gabe Kapler promised a fight and nothing more before the Phillies started a six-game homestand Sept. 9 against the Atlanta Braves.
The manager made that pledge a week ago after his team had just won two of three games from the New York Mets up at Citi Field to remain within striking distance of the Chicago Cubs for the National League’s second wild-card spot.
“I think we need to keep demonstrating the fight we had on this road trip,” Kapler said before the Phillies boarded their team buses back to Philadelphia.
They needed more than that, of course.
They needed to go at least 4-2 in their six games against the Braves and Boston, a tall task given the talent disparity between the Phillies and those two teams. Instead, Kapler’s crew lost four of six, including Sunday’s 6-3 setback to a Red Sox team that came to town with nothing to play for a year after winning the World Series.
The Phillies have had just one winning homestand since the All-Star break and are 16-18 at Citizens Bank Park in the second half of the season. That is one of many reasons they have become pretenders rather than contenders in the race for the NL’s final wild-card berth.
And now they embark on a 10-day, 11-game road trip that presents the same degree of difficulty as a four-somersault in the pike position, the most difficult of all dives. Speaking of dives, the Phillies plummeted to four games back in the wild-card race with 14 to play after the Cubs put up another double-digit run total in their win over the Pittsburgh Pirates at Wrigley Field.
“Definitely a tough spot,” Kapler said. “From here on out, it’s like Game 7 of a playoff series.”
Kapler and the Phillies did fight in Sunday’s loss
to the Red Sox. Well, they at least argued. All it got them, however, was a couple of ejections, one of which they could ill afford.
The Phillies hit just .188 and scored four runs in their two losses to the Red Sox, whose 4.63 ERA is the worst among all winning teams in baseball. The Phillies’ frustration came to a head in the bottom of the fourth inning when Bryce Harper was ejected by home-plate umpire Gabe Morales for screaming “not even bleeping close” from the home dugout shortly after being called out on strikes.
While defending Harper, Kapler also was ejected by Morales.
With 14 games left, including 11 on the road against three of the top 10 teams in baseball, the Phillies are 4 1⁄2 games behind the Cubs. They also trail Milwaukee by 3 1⁄2 games and the Mets by a half-game.
If the Cubs go 6-7 in their final 13 games, the Phillies must go 11-3 just to tie them with 87 wins.
Mathematically, they are still alive and they promise to fight on. Realistically, it’s time to jot down 2019 as a major disappointment.
Some troubles can be traced to deadline pick-ups: Phillies general manager Matt Klentak tried to get something for nothing in the days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline, and it turned into a classic case of you get what you pay for.
Acquired for minor-league catcher Austin Bossart, Jason Vargas has made nine starts for the Phillies and gone 0-3 with a 5.48 ERA. The team is 3-6 in his nine starts.
Vargas, a 36-year-old lefty, pitched six innings or more and allowed two runs or fewer in two of his first three starts, but he has not had a quality start since then.
His ERA in his last six outings is 6.33, and it’s hard to imagine the Phillies wanting to sign him as a free agent once this season is over.
Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper on Sunday was ejected in the finale of a 2-6 homestand after complaining about a strike call.