Same old for Phils in another loss to Braves
Charlie Manuel sounds like a broken record these days. Every day he is asked to explain the Phillies’ losses and every day it’s the same old thing.
“We didn’t do enough to win and we weren’t good enough to win, it seems like I say that every night. And the more we lose the older it gets,” Manuel said. “Actually, if you stop and think about it, that’s the way it is. That’s how we play. The defense part of it, the pitching part and the hitting part — we can’t put them all together. That’s been the story all year long.”
If there was anything that was different about the 6-3 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night (see Instant Replay)
it was that the Phillies scored a run when Hunter Pence bowled over third-base coach Juan Samuel.
That one play kind of summed it up. Pence, rolling around third base on a double by Juan Pierre, took too wide of a turn and clipped Samuel as if it was some sort of sweep-the-leg move. With Samuel sprawled out on his back along the third base line as Pence crossed the plate it was clear that even when the Phillies do something right, someone has to pay a price.
Samuel was OK and the Phillies briefly had the lead, but the rest of the game followed the familiar script of the 2012 season. After three runs in the second inning, the Phillies’ offense shut down for the evening. They got just two more hits off starter Tommy Hanson and sent the minimum to the plate over the final seven innings.
About the only time the Phillies showed any aggression was when a fan dashed out of the right-field stands and took a leisurely run toward the bullpen where he tried to climb the fence. Before anyone knew what was happening, Shane Victorino and Jonathan Papelbon were on top of the interloper and held him in place for security to escort him to a holding pen.
They never found out if he could have given the team a couple of innings.
Nevertheless, the Phillies lost for the third time in a row on Saturday night and for the ninth time in the last 10 games. At 37-49, the Phillies are 14 games behind the first-place Nationals in the NL East and are 9½ games out in the wild-card race.
The last time the Phillies were in a hole this big at the All-Star break was in 2002, when they were 16 games out.
In other words, it’s getting late early in Philadelphia this year. Is there any way the Phillies can snap out of it?
“Winning,” Pence said. “A lot of it.”
In eight years with the Phillies and 2½ seasons as the manager of the Indians, Manuel has never been in this type of predicament. Even when he was fired midway through the 2002 season when the Indians’ management decided to rebuild, Manuel’s team was in third place and 10 games behind in the AL Central.
With the Phillies, Manuel never finished a season worse than second place and never won fewer than 85 games. But to reach 85 wins this season the Phillies will have to go 48-28 the rest of the season. That just might be too big of a hole to crawl out of.
This season has turned into something that hasn’t been seen with the Phillies in a very long time.
“It’s tough,” Manuel said. “We were always in the hunt so we hardly never talked about winning or losing. Nobody ever talked about it because we always felt like we were going to win. You can definitely sense that that isn’t there no more. But at the same time, how we get it back is trying to outplay the other team and have fun with it.”
When asked if the burden feels too great, Saturday’s losing pitcher Joe Blanton said that it did, indeed. However, Blanton added, no one was ready to give up on the season. Not now, anyway.
“We have to stay positive,” Blanton said. “Guys are putting a lot of effort into this every day.”
Why? Because baseball is a weird game. In 2007 and 2008 the Phillies overcame big deficits in September to win the division, falling to seven behind with 17 to play in ’07 and 3 ½ back with 14 to go in ’08. In 2010, the Phillies were 48-46 and seven games behind only to go 49-19 the rest of the way.
Pence was on the 2008 Astros that went 42-24 in the second half and climbed back from 16 games to finish 3½ out in the wild-card race. That was a team that didn’t get over .500 until mid-August.
In other words, the Phillies aren’t ready to give up despite how rough it’s been.
“You can’t explain baseball,” Pence said. “Weird things happen. We’ve all seen collapses and we’ve seen comebacks, so we have to believe that is the case and keep coming every day. We all made the decision that we want to win and we’re not going to stop because we’re facing this adversity.”
Still, Saturday’s loss was another tough one for the Phillies. Not only did the offense shut down after a three-run second inning, but also Blanton couldn’t hold the Braves in check. For the seventh time in 16 starts the righty allowed at least five earned runs. Additionally, Blanton got little help from his defense. A fielding error by Pence led to a two-run fourth inning and they got two more in the seventh to close it out.
One of those runs in the seventh came when Jason Heyward struck out and Michael Bourn stole home when Carlos Ruiz mishandled the pitch and threw to first to get the out.
When it rains it pours.
“We always make mistakes on defense and we have trouble with our pitching, of course,” Manuel said. “We don’t hold runners and we’re not alert … things like that. The way we play it’s not good enough to win and we don’t win because we don’t play good enough.
“We have trouble playing the games completely. We get outplayed and that’s what happens.”
The Phillies will close out the first half on Sunday afternoon.E-mail John Finger at email@example.com