Call them the first-place-for-a-day Phillies. One day after forging ahead of the Atlanta Braves, the Phillies slipped back into second place Sunday following a 5-3 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Citizens Bank Park. The Washington Nationals also continued their charge toward the top of the division they've won the last two seasons by completing a three-game sweep of the lowly Marlins in Miami. The Nats (29-22) have won five of their last six and 18 of their last 24 and trail the Phillies by just a half game. The Nats' schedule does not get any more difficult either: They play their next three games at Baltimore, one of only two teams with a worse record than the Marlins. Washington finishes a long road trip with four games in Atlanta, so at least the two teams fighting with the Phillies for first place will be playing each other this weekend. The Phillies are off to Los Angeles following Sunday's loss to begin a 10-game road trip of their own.
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Last season in late April, the Phillies went out to the West Coast with an 11-9 record after stringing together six straight wins at home. They proceeded to lose three straight games to Los Angeles in Dodger Stadium and never got above .500 again for the rest of the season. They finished that road trip by losing three out of four to the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field, which started a monstrous free-fall to the bottom of the National League East.
This year's first West Coast trip is even more brutal. After four games with the Dodgers, the Phillies will play three in San Francisco and three against the Cubs at Wrigley. It's a stretch of 10 games in 11 days and even though the 2018 Phillies, with a vastly improved pitching staff, seem far better equipped to handle such a grueling stretch, it will still be fascinating to see where they sit in the standings and record-wise when they return home on June 8. Over the last three seasons, the Phillies are a combined 9-21 against the Dodgers, Giants and Cubs on the road.
"It's going to be a good barometer," Phillies outfielder Aaron Altherr said.
This trip also got a little tougher Sunday when the Dodgers announced that lefthander Clayton Kershaw will return from the disabled list to start Thursday against the Phillies. Kershaw, 1-4 with a 2.86 ERA, had been out with biceps tendinitis since a May 1 start at Arizona. Chase Utley, after signing a two-year, $2 million deal with the Dodgers in mid-February, has started 25 games this season and is hitting .226 with seven doubles, one home run and 14 RBIs.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, born in Hollywood and raised in Southern California, returns home for the Phillies' four-game series against the Dodgers this week. Ahead of the trip, Kapler gave our Matt Breen detailed descriptions of the events that shaped his life during his failed college baseball career at Cal State Fullerton, where he lost his scholarship, and at Moorpark College, where he was served a large dose of reality by juco baseball coach Mario Porto. In between, a skinny Kapler delivered pizzas for a place called Earth, Wind & Flour.
Nick Pivetta's string of 19 straight scoreless innings ended in the second inning of Sunday's 5-3 loss to Toronto when he hung a 3-2 slider that Devon Travis lined to left-center field for a two-run double. Struggling reliever Tommy Hunter (5.11 ERA in 15 games) gave up two more runs in the sixth and Hector Neris (4.50 ERA in 22 appearances) allowed a home run in the ninth as the Jays took two out of three at Citizens Bank Park.
David Murphy opines that the Phillies will struggle to keep up their winning ways if they do not start scoring more than the 3.5 runs they have averaged over the last 13 games. Struggling youngsters Scott Kingery and Rhys Hoskins are two of the players who need to pick up the slack.
Goose Eggs and Broken Eggs are little-known statistics that monitor the work of relievers. They were created last year by Nate Silver, a baseball statistician and political forecaster, and Gabe Kapler loves how they evaluate his bullpen.
Righthander Enyel De Los Santos had another outstanding outing for triple-A Lehigh Valley, albeit in a losing effort at Pawtucket, while low-A Lakewood swept a doubleheader with the help of a home run from Jhailyn Ortiz.
Our Ed Barkowitz provides a look at some of the Phillies' past drafts and some potential third overall selections with the MLB draft just over a week away.
Tonight: Vince Velasquez vs. Brock Stewart at Dodger Stadium, 8:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta vs. Kent Maeda, 10:10 p.m.
Wednesday: Zach Eflin vs. Ross Stripling, 10:10 p.m.
Thursday: Aaron Nola pitches series finale vs. Kershaw, 7:35 p.m.
Friday: Start of three-game series in San Francisco
Edubray Ramos entered Sunday's game with runners at second and third and two outs in the top of the sixth inning. After being charged with an intentional walk to Devon Travis, Ramos got pitcher J.A. Happ to fly out to right field, ending the inning and bolstering the Phillies' already impressive inherited-runners percentage. Phillies relievers have allowed just six of 56 inherited runners to score. That 89.2-percent strand rate is the best in baseball. Luis Garcia has been the leader of the pack, stranding 16 of 17 inherited runners.
I love your stuff on the Phillies. Keep it up. Can't get enough. Kingery back to minors for a while? What do you think?
Paul P, email