It’s tough being a Phillies fan. Their manager is incompetent, their bullpen is inept, their defense is putrid, and their offense is extraordinarily streaky. All of these things and more were on full display tonight when they snatched defeat from the jaws of victory once again. Yes, the Phillies blew another game to the Mets.
Let’s start with the silver linings. Zack Wheeler pitched exceptionally well, allowing three runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks while striking out seven over 6.0 innings. Wheeler really deserved a win tonight, as he pitched flawlessly. His defense completely collapsed during the first inning and Wheeler did excellent work in only allowing three runs to score.
Another bright spot: Nick Castellanos finally hit a home run. His eighth inning three-run shot off of Adam Ottavino was a welcome sight from a hitter who had looked completely lost at the plate recently. It also gave the Phils a one-run lead which they were destined to squander one inning later.
And the last bit of consolation: it’s not quite as bad as the 7-1 meltdown from last month. This was a game that the Phillies were trailing for the first seven innings, and really gave fans no hope for a victory for most of the night. Sure, it’s another infuriating loss, but at least it’s one that we largely expected. It’s not quite as tough to swallow as the 7-1 nightmare from earlier this year. With the Phillies it’s not about enjoying the happiness they bring to us; it’s more so limiting the amount of despair they inject into our lives.
This was one of the most Phillies-esque losses in recent memory. They put all of their fatal flaws on full display tonight. They came out of the gates hot by botching an easy play. In the first inning the Mets had runners on first and third with nobody out. Wheeler induced a picture-perfect double play ball to first base. Rhys Hoskins gloved it and looked the runner back to third, and then threw high to second base. The throw pulled Johan Camargo off the bag. No out recorded. Camargo then threw home to get Luis Guillorme, and likely would have, but his throw went wide and allowed Guillorme to score. That began an inning where the Mets would put up three runs.
The Phils then showed their worth, or lack thereof, when they had the bases loaded and no one out in the third. Alec Bohm rolled one over to second base for an easy double play to kill what could have been a big inning. Yeah, one run scored, but with this team that’s not nearly enough.
The 3-1 affair continued until the eighth inning in which Castellanos hit the aforementioned longball. And this is where the game really becomes a Phillies special. As of the eighth inning they were on top of the world. Castellanos was out of his slump. The bullpen had looked good to that point. They had a late lead, and could gain a game on the division-leading Mets. And then, it all came tumbling down.
Seranthony Domínguez pitched a clean bottom of the eighth to keep things where they were. In the bottom of the ninth Phillies mastermind Joe Girardi brought in his vaunted stopper: Corey Knebel. Knebel took the mound and things were looking good. And on the first pitch of the inning he gave up a titanic shot to Mets legend Nick Plummer. NICK PLUMMER! A 25-year-old rookie who was called up from Triple-A earlier this week. That’s all it took to torpedo the Phillies. Why did the Mets bother spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Max Scherzer and Starling Marte and Mark Canha this winter when all they needed was Nick Plummer?
It was at that moment that all hope was lost. One pitch into the bottom of the ninth and the Phillies were right back where they belonged. There was no deluding ourselves any longer. The Phillies can’t beat the Mets. When the offense is good the pitching can’t hold up. When the pitching is solid the offense goes silent. It’s as if it’s just not meant to be. And tonight it wasn’t.
Girardi did what he does best and left his pitcher in far longer than he should have. Knebel set down the next three batters after future Hall of Famer Nick Plummer, but it was clear he just didn’t have it. And yet, Joe Girardi rode it till the wheels fell off, and fall off they did. He sent Knebel back out for the bottom of the tenth after the Phil’s failed to score in their half of the frame. With the Manfred man on second, it was thin ice. And Knebel fell straight through.
He struck out Francisco Lindor to lead off the frame. Then Pete Alonso was intentionally walked to set up the double play. One out, runners on first and second. Eduardo Escobar, who has a sub-.700 OPS this year, strode to the plate. What do you think happens next? Escobar laced a ball down the right field line for a walk-off double and the Mets completed the series sweep. With that, the Phillies fell to 10.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East.
Isn’t this what we’ve come to expect? They give us just enough hope to stay excited, and then let things slowly slip away. It would almost be better to be Orioles or Reds fans, where there are no expectations to dash. With those teams you know what you’re going to get: a bad baseball team. But this team is different. They should be good. They have last year’s MVP. They have the Cy Young runner-up. The rotation as a whole really isn’t bad. They have a star-studded lineup and three former All-Stars in the back end of the bullpen. And yet, they just keep finding ways to lose.
The Phillies can’t win the division playing like this. Even if they make a miraculous turn around soon, they’ve dug themselves an enormous hole to get out of. There is an extra wildcard spot this year, so that helps. But they’ll still need to keep up with teams like the Giants, Padres, Cardinals, and Braves if they want to land one. It’s doable, but not if they keep playing like this.
I’m not sure what the solution is. They obviously need a new manager. Girardi has proven he’s simply incapable of handling a bullpen. But, even if they do replace him, a new skipper can’t magically make them field the ball cleaner or hit more home runs. They could use a lot more reliable arms in the late innings, but who knows if they’ll bring in the right guys? Knebel, Brad Hand, and Jeurys Familia were all battle-tested veterans and look how they’ve panned out. At this rate, anyone they acquire is going to turn into a pumpkin. There just aren’t any easy answers.
This team should be good. This team NEEDS to be good. With the amount of money they’re spending and the type of talent they have there’s no excuse for this level of futility. There’s still well over half the season left to be played. The Braves taught us last year that things can turn around in a hurry. I’m desperate to see that happen. I’m eager to see the Phillies start winning again, and I’ll be the first person to praise them when they do. But for me, the biggest takeaway from this Phillies-Mets series is that I just don’t have much faith anymore.