Gabe Kapler likes to call tough losses "gut punches," and his squad took three of them to the solar plexus during their just-completed 2-4 road trip against the Washington Nationals and Toronto Blue Jays. It could have been a lot of worse. The Phils did land a jab Sunday, salvaging the final game in Toronto with an 8-3 win fueled by home runs from the quartet of Rhys Hoskins, Carlos Santana, Maikel Franco and Wilson Ramos.
The Atlanta Braves had a chance to deck the Phillies with a Joe Frazier left hook down in Miami, but the best they could do against the lowly Marlins was a split of a four-game series, leaving the Phillies just three games behind in the NL East. Meanwhile, baseball's most disappointing team, the Washington Nationals, continued to disappoint. They followed up two exhilarating, come-from-behind wins against the Phillies last week at Nationals Park by going three straight games without scoring a run. The Nats lost two of three to the New York Mets and remained 8 1/2 games behind the Braves and 5 1/2 behind the Phillies. Washington will begin a three-game series against the Phillies tonight at Citizens Bank Park.
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The Phillies have 32 games remaining, including seven against the Braves, so a three-game deficit can easily be erased. They also have 18 home games and only 14 road games remaining, which is a good thing when you consider that they are a league-best 41-22 at home, but just 29-38 on the road. The Phillies' remaining opponents are their four NL East rivals, the Chicago Cubs at home, and the Colorado Rockies on the road. The combined record of their opponents is 396-385. They have 14 games left against teams with winning records and 18 games against teams with losing records.
The Braves, who have been a better road team (39-29) than home team (34-28), have a difficult homestand in front of them. It will start tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Rays, who have won a major-league-high eight straight games. That will be followed by a one-game makeup against the Cubs, three games against Pittsburgh, and three against a Boston team that suddenly has something to play for with the Yankees now just six games behind.
Atlanta has 19 home games and 13 road games remaining, and the combined record of the Braves' remaining opponents is 703-604. They have 20 games remaining against teams with winning records and 12 against teams below .500. The Braves clearly have the much more difficult schedule ahead, but that will not matter if the Phillies do not play better baseball than they have over the last three weeks.
Wilson Ramos went 4 for 5 with a two-run home run in Sunday's win over the Toronto Blue Jays, and manager Gabe Kapler would love to put the veteran catcher in his lineup four to five times a week. Our Matt Breen notes the only things preventing Kapler from doing that are nagging injuries that Ramos is trying to play through.
The Phillies have lost 12 of their last 18 games, but they did manage to salvage the final game of the series in Toronto with an 8-3 win. Rhys Hoskins set the tone for the victory with a solo home run in the first inning.
Roman Quinn has had more than his share of injuries during his professional career, but the speedy outfielder insists the hamstring injury he suffered Saturday in Toronto is just a minor setback.
In case you missed it, the Phillies' triple-A affiliate at Lehigh Valley won its first International League North Division title Saturday and J.P. Crawford provided the game-winning hit in walk-off fashion.
Tonight: Zach Eflin faces Stephen Strasburg in series opener vs. Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: The Cy Young candidates rematch between Aaron Nola and Max Scherzer, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Jake Arrieta goes against Gio Gonzalez in series finale with Nats, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Off day
Friday: Cubs come to town for start of three-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Baseball is a funny game, and here's another reason for that: Kapler might not need or want a pitcher with the title of closer in his bullpen, but if he's looking for a guy to get three huge outs these days, it appears as if Hector Neris is his best bet again. Since being recalled from Lehigh Valley 12 days ago, Neris has appeared in seven games, pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowed just three hits, walked one and struck out 15. Add in his minor-league stats since July 3, and he has allowed just three runs on 12 hits and struck out 44 in his last 24 games.
Hi Extra-Innings! Love the daily emails! How could the Phillies be so wrong about Cole Hamels? Their scouts claimed he had nothing left in the tank, yet he is 4-0 with the Cubs and has an ERA under 1.00. He seems motivated and rejuvenated after leaving last-place Texas. He has always been a big-game pitcher and wanted to return to Philly. Why isn't he here?
Greg S., via email