Sox keep the sea­son un­rav­el­ing

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Bob Brookover

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.

MARY ALTAFFER/AP

Phillies out­fielder Bryce Harper on Sun­day was ejected in the fi­nale of a 2-6 home­s­tand af­ter com­plain­ing about a strike call.

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