Phillies Wasting Chances to Catch First-Place Mets

Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) and catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) (Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports)
Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Zack Wheeler (45) and catcher J.T. Realmuto (10) (Gregory Fisher/USA TODAY Sports) /
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The Philadelphia Phillies again squandered a chance in the National League East race, this time by blowing three separate leads in a 13-12 loss to the Washington Nationals on Wednesday afternoon.

The usual fielding blunders and ineffective bullpen play bit them once again despite a great day for hitters Bryce Harper, Alec Bohm, Andrew McCutchen, and Travis Jankowski. The Phillies and Nationals played the first game in MLB history in which each team hit a three-run homer and grand slam, and the Phillies still couldn’t win.

The Phillies have now dropped to a tie with the Atlanta Braves for third place in the division at 34-37, five games behind their weekend opponent for four games, the first-place New York Mets.

Perhaps the most hopeful motivator for manager Joe Girardi and the Phillies to end their playoff drought is the surprising lack of separation from their competition in the NL East. However, if they even want to remain in striking distance throughout the summer, they must seize the opportunity to gain ground on the Mets this weekend.

Phillies Hope to Catch the Mets

The Mets are just 3-6 in their past nine games after they finally looked like they were peaking in early June. Prized offseason acquisition Francisco Lindor has improved marginally in recent weeks; he is still hitting just .217 on the season, but .256 with five home runs over 23 games in June.

The bizarre circumstances surrounding the pandemic forced the Phillies into unideal scheduling last season, and their 5-11 record in seven-inning doubleheaders was a major factor in missing the 2020 playoffs.

The Mets have played fewer games than their division opponents this season due to similar circumstances surrounding cancellations. Friday will be their third doubleheader in a week’s span, and the Phillies need to capitalize on an opportunity to take advantage of an overworked team.

The biggest concern for the Phillies in pursuit of the Mets, however, is the historically dominant season of starter Jacob deGrom. He has allowed just four earned runs in 12 starts in 2021 and, per ESPN.com, is the “only pitcher in MLB history with more RBIs at the plate (five) than earned runs allowed in a 10-start span within a single season.” Despite minor injuries in recent weeks, he is scheduled to start Saturday against Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin.

Now is the Time for the Phillies

This four-game set at Citizens Bank Park could be make-or-break for the Phillies, in terms of both their status in the NL East this season and the perception of the fanbase.

Their horrendously sloppy play has spurred heavy criticism from the fans all season, but a failure to seize an opportunity to beat their first-place rivals in this weekend series will worsen that frustration and could potentially lead to the dangerous territory of downright apathy.

The recent success of the offense has been overshadowed by the struggles in other areas of the game. First baseman Rhys Hoskins has six extra-base hits and eight runs batted in over his last six games, and Harper homered in both games of the Nationals series. Andrew McCutchen hit his first grand slam since 2017. The Fightin’ Phils need their big bats to continue carrying them through the season, considering the pitching has struggled so mightily.

Bohm is finally starting to find his stroke also. His four hits on Wednesday raised his batting average during the month of June to .377. He has shown noticeable improvement hitting to the opposite field, and his power is finally showing as well. He has doubled in consecutive games.

The Phillies set their pitching rotation to feature top starters Aaron Nola, Zach Eflin, and Zack Wheeler on consecutive days this weekend because of the heightened importance of the series. Girardi announced Wednesday that lefty Matt Moore will likely start the second game of Friday’s doubleheader. They are also scheduled to face right-hander Jered Eickhoff, who faded after pitching in parts of five seasons for the Phillies, on Sunday.

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