NEW YORK — It stands to reason that if the Phillies are going to complete their quest to go from worst to first in the National League East this season, they will need to win at least a few more series before they cross the finish line. It is nothing short of amazing, not to mention sad commentary on the division itself, that the Phillies have gone more than a month since last winning a series and yet they still find themselves in the thick of the race with the first-place Atlanta Braves while barely losing any ground to the third-place Washington Nationals, the unanimous choice for baseball's most disappointing team.
For some context, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen were still innocent when the Phillies last won a series by completing a four-game sweep of the Miami Marlins at home on Aug. 4. The Eagles were five days removed from playing their first preseason game. Justin Bour was still a member of the Marlins. Since Bour's Philadelphia arrival, he has gone on and come off the disabled list without the Phillies winning a series, while the lowly Marlins have won three, including their most recent one against the Phillies.
"I think we're in a really good spot," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said before his team was whacked 10-5 by the New York Mets on Saturday night at Citi Field.
Sometimes you wonder if Kapler were standing in a pool of lava if he'd describe it as a cool, refreshing experience.
"Leaving aside what has happened over the last month, I don't think we have played our best baseball by any stretch and I think we are in the perfect spot to strike," the manager said.
Last night sure would have been a good place to start the striking. Instead, with a chance to win the series a day before facing National League Cy Young Award favorite Jacob deGrom, the Phillies delivered another clunker.
Kapler still managed to slip on his rose-colored glasses afterward, focusing on his team's 14 hits ahead of the Zach Eflin pitching performance that sentenced his team to defeat.
"This certainly was not our night, but I thought there were real positive things to talk about," Kapler said before going down a long list of things that still could not prevent a rather lopsided loss.
This was the eighth time the Phillies played a game with a chance to win a series since that last series victory against the Marlins. In those eight losses, they have been outscored 53-14, batted .233 overall and .204 with runners in scoring position. The starting pitchers in those eight games have posted a 7.93 ERA and the bullpen has posted a 4.55 ERA.
This batch of bad baseball has taken place since Phillies general manager Matt Klentak executed a series of trades in an attempt to make the roster better. He did not get Manny Machado or Cole Hamels or J.A. Happ, but Kapler believes these Phillies that cannot win a series are better than the team that was 14 games over .500 when they completed that August sweep of the Marlins.
"I believe strongly this is a better team than it was at midseason," Kapler said. "I do think it does take some time for a club and new personalities to jell and for that chemistry to kind of get to its peak."
Note to manager: Time is running out.
Kapler tried lots of things to get the Phillies that elusive series victory Saturday night. Nothing worked.
He gave Eflin an extra day of rest in an effort to get him back on track. Instead, the 24-year-old righthander continued to go off the rails. Eflin was the winning pitcher when the Phillies completed that aforementioned sweep against Miami. He went a season-high eight innings in that game and improved to 8-3 with a 3.61 ERA. In six starts since, he is 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA.
Hamels or Happ would have been a suitable replacement for Eflin before the trade deadline. Now, there is none.
"Nothing but confidence in Eflin," Kapler said. "Eflin is going to go out there and make his next start and I would not be surprised if we rode him into the end of September."
Kapler tried to kickstart his offense at the expense of his defense by putting Carlos Santana at third base and Justin Bour at first base. Part of his explanation was that the opposing manager was able to counter with a lefty reliever every time Kapler tried to send the left-handed hitting Bour up as a pinch-hitter. This way, Kapler was able to get the matchup he wanted.
Mets manager Mickey Calloway seemed quite comfortable with letting Noah Syndergaard face Bour. In fact, he let him do it four times and the results favored New York even though Bour did manage a single in the seventh inning. The biggest matchup between the two came in the third with the Phillies down 3-0. Santana opened the inning with a single and was immediately erased from the basepaths when Bour hit into a double play.
The Phillies later loaded the bases, but could not score. The Mets tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the third on a home run by Todd Frazier to take a 6-0 lead and the Phillies, despite rallies in the sixth and seventh innings, could not recover.