Phillies 2015 – Week Twenty-Three
At 53-84, the Philadelphia Phillies needed to lose 16 of their last 25 games to reach the dreaded 100-loss mark. With an Atlanta Braves team coming to town dragging a 12-game losing streak behind them and a Chicago Cubs team that they had swept out of the Windy City earlier in the season following them, there was a chance that ‘Tragic Number’ might not be inching much closer to the Century Mark.
The combination of two of baseball’s worst teams playing on Labor Day night created the smallest crowd in the history of Citizens Bank Park (15,125). Braves starter Williams Perez had not won a game since June 20th. During that time, Atlanta was 0-8 in his starts. Naturally, he confounded the Phillies, striking out seven in as many innings and allowing only single runs in the third and fifth innings. In the meantime, Nick Markakis reached base four times, scoring three runs and Cuban rookie Hector Olivera, who entered the game hitting .133 after his first week in the bigs, had four RBI, notching his first double and first home run. The only ‘highlights’ of the night for the home team were a pinch hit homer by call-up Brian Bogusevic and a fine running catch by Aaron Altherr that started an inning-ending double play. Braves 7, Phillies 2
Single runs in the fourth and fifth innings buttressed a brilliant performance by Aaron Nola. The rookie righthander fanned seven Braves across seven scoreless innings. When the Braves threatened in the eighth against Luis Garcia, interim manager Pete Mackanin went to Ken Giles for the four-out save. Giles walked Nick Swisher to load the bases before getting the third out on a line drive to shortstop Freddy Galvis. In the ninth, Odubel Herrera battled out of an 0-2 hole before launching a three-run bomb that put the game out of reach. Phillies 5, Braves 0
David Buchanan (2-7, 9.00) was inexplicably recalled and handed the ball. With the game tied 1-1 in the fourth, we were all reminded what we’d been missing since Buchanan had been sent down to AAA in August: four hits, two walks and three runs, the only out he managed to record was a sacrifice bunt. When Mackanin finally went and got him, he was trailing 4-1. The Phils’ line-up couldn’t do much with Braves starter Julio Teheran, as the visitors pulled away and coasted to the win. Braves 8, Phillies 1
Rain postponed Thursday’s game until Friday evening. So, there really wasn’t much to talk about.
Except, of course, that the Phillies had parted ways with GM Ruben Amaro. The son of a former Phillie, Amaro had been a bat boy, reserve outfielder and assistant GM for the organization before assuming the reigns in November 2008. His desire to maintain the dominance of that championship team was never in question. But, the choices he made in his attempt to do so proved catastrophic more often than not. The immediate dividends of the 2014 draft and the trades of Jimmy Rollins, Jonathan Papelbon, Cole Hamels, Ben Revere and Chase Utley had moved some to allow for the possibility that Ruben might retain his position under new team president Andy MacPhail. But, when you are the steward of such a precipitous collapse, taking a team from World Champions to the laughingstock of the league in a matter of five or six years, you simply can’t be allowed to stay.
In the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, the Friday night ‘Twi-night’ doubleheader was a regular occurrence. But, in recent years it had given way to the ‘Day-Night’ doubleheader and the promise of two separate gates. Alas, thanks to Thursday’s rain and this season’s consistently low attendance numbers, the Twi-nighter returned.
In game one, rookie Adam Morgan carried a 1-0 lead into the fifth. After retiring the first two Cubs, he allowed a single and two doubles, as Chicago took a 2-1. Morgan faced two hitters in the sixth, both singled. They each scored after Hector Neris replaced Morgan. Starlin Castro’s seventh inning homer sealed the deal. Cubs 5, Phillies 1
In game two, Alec Asher was touched for six runs in five innings, including two homers from rookie Kyle Schwarber and one by presumptive NL Rookie-of-the-Year Kris Bryant, who went 5-10 in the doubleheader. While this one was never close, there was one positive note, Ryan Howard ended his 0-35 slide with a seventh inning double. Cubs 7, Phillies 3
In a game that was delayed by rain, Jerad Eickhoff threw seven strong innings. He struck out eight and allowed only three hits, one was another Schwarber big fly. When he was pinch-hit for in the Phils’ half of the seventh by Darnell Sweeney, his offense was in the process of rolling up five runs, highlighted by Cesar Hernandez’ three-run double. Chicago charged back with four runs of their own in the eighth off of Garcia and Jeanmar Gomez. With the game still tied 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth, Cody Asche smoked the first pitch he saw over the right field wall for a two-run homer and a walk-off win. Phillies 7, Cubs 5
Aaron Harang (5-15, 5.02) took the ball on Sunday against Dan Haren, a veteran righty who had never won a game in Philadelphia. The Phillies answered the Cubs first inning run with two of their own. Then, Howard continued to put his struggles behind him with a two-run tater in the third. The Cubs would eventually tie it at 4-4, led by Chris Coghlan’s monster day (4-5, 1 HR, 2 3B, 2 R). In the bottom of the seventh, Altherr laced a line drive past shortstop Addison Russell that scooted all the way through the gap to the base of the wall. The speedy rookie hustled all the way to third when Dexter Fowler failed to field it cleanly. He then scored on a wild pitch to give the home team a 5-4 lead. The Phils added two more in the eighth on a Freddy Galvis double and Giles dutifully closed it out. Phillies 7, Cubs 4
There are times, like Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, that you would swear this team has just given up. But, then there are days like Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday, that you marvel at how they refuse to quit. They need to win seven of their last 18 to avoid the ignominy of a hundred-loss season. It’s those ‘no quit’ days that make us at The Cave think they have it in them.
Looking ahead –
The immediate challenge of hosting the Washington Nationals for three games will be not giggling at their current predicament. The presumptive favorites in the NL East have fallen far behind the first place New York Mets and lost reliever Drew Storen to an injured hand after he punched his locker in frustration. The weekend will be spent in Atlanta, playing three with the Braves.
Happy Anniversary of the Week –
Asche’s walk-off homer on Saturday night was the second of his career. The last time he hit a ‘Sayonara Smash’ was exactly a year to the day … September 12, 2014. Let’s make sure he’s around on 9/12/16 against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Next Generation of the Week –
In the first round of the Eastern League playoffs, the Reading Fightin’ Phils faced the Binghamton Mets. Led by the arms of Zach Eflin, Jake Thompson and Ben Lively and the bats of J.P. Crawford, Andrew Knapp and Brock Stassi , they dispatched the future Metropolitans in an impressive 3-0 sweep. Next up, they meet the Bowie Bay Sox in the best-of-five Eastern League Championship Series.