Bad offense, bad 'pen, bad trip; Phils lose again

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Bad offense, bad 'pen, bad trip; Phils lose again

BOX SCORE

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Phillies’ tour of the upper Midwest is turning into a disaster.

They suffered another loss to a last-place club Tuesday night when they were beaten by the Minnesota Twins, 3-2, in an interleague game at Target Field (see Instant Replay).

The Twins broke a 2-2 tie against relievers Mike Adams and Antonio Bastardo in the bottom of the eighth inning for the win.

Some of the ugly facts:

The Phils have been held to two of fewer runs in 23 of 65 games.

They have lost four in a row to last-place clubs Milwaukee and Minnesota.

The four losses have come after the Phils briefly poked their head above .500. They are now 31-34 and are eight games back of division-leading Atlanta in the NL East.

“It’s not good,” said Cole Hamels, who once again received little run support on a night he allowed just two runs over six innings. “It’s really not great. When you think you’ve finally got momentum and then you get the results we’ve been having, it’s not good.

“If [losses] add up, it’s not going to put us in a good situation. Losing four in a row makes it add up real fast, especially when we just got over .500. Now we have to start back over again.”

The Phillies are 2-12 in Hamels’ 14 starts. That’s mind-blowing considering Hamels entered this season on everybody’s short list of Cy Young candidates.

Hamels had a little hiccup in this game. He appeared a little unnerved by home-plate umpire Paul Emmel’s strike zone in fourth inning and got hit hard by four consecutive batters. Three of them doubled and one singled as the Twins took a 2-1 lead. Hamels did not give up a run the rest of the way but was out of the game earlier than he liked because the Twins fouled off a slew of pitches that pushed his count to 108.

Hamels would not admit to being frustrated with Emmel, even though he pointedly turned his back on the umpire at one point in the fourth inning.

“I have the utmost respect for umpires,” he said.

All right, on to where this game was lost. Obviously, the Phillies didn’t score enough against a pitcher -- P.J. Walters -- who entered the game with a .329 opponents’ batting average. Phillies hitters had typically poor plate discipline. Domonic Brown, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins all made outs with men on base by swinging at pitches out of the strike zone.

“Yeah,” manager Charlie Manuel said when asked about those at-bats. “But that’s who they are. Tomorrow night they might hit some pitches. That’s how our offense runs. That’s why you look there and see a .248 batting average. You can start right there. That’s inconsistency. We talk about it every night. Tomorrow night it might be there and the following night it won’t be. That’s kind of how it comes and goes.”

Howard did come up with a big hit for his club with two outs in the eighth when he benefited from the Twins’ decision not to employ a shift and slashed a single to right, through the hole between first and second. The hit scored Kevin Frandsen, who had led off with a pinch-hit single, with the tying run.

The game didn’t stay tied long.

Manuel went to Adams for the eighth. Adams had spent the previous four days nursing shoulder soreness caused by biceps tendinitis, but he felt good enough to go and Manuel said he felt confident in using the right-hander because “he was ready to pitch and I wanted to bring him in.”

Jamey Carroll, who entered the night hitting .202, was the first batter Adams faced. He walked on four pitches. Adams then allowed a single before getting two outs.

With runners on the corners, two outs and lefty-hitting Justin Morneau coming up, Manuel went to the lefty Bastardo. The count was 1-and-1 when Morneau fouled off two fastballs and two sliders. With the count 1-and-2, Bastardo threw a fastball down the middle -- he said he was trying to throw it to the outside part of the plate -- and Morneau drove it up the middle for the go-ahead run.

“We had two outs and Antonio just couldn’t get him,” Manuel said. “He had him 1-and-2 and it looked like he threw a fastball low down the middle of the plate or something. Antonio has to get Morneau. That’s why he’s there.”

Adams took the loss, his fourth. His ERA is 4.22. He has allowed 19 hits and 11 walks in 21 1/3 innings. The Phillies signed Adams to fix the eighth inning that was such a problem last year. He hasn’t.

“I’m disappointed I’m letting my teammates down,” Adams said. “I’m frustrated. It seems like it has been one at-bat, one hitter that’s been kicking my butt and I need to fix that.”

Adams had offseason surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. Doctors removed the rib under his collarbone in the surgery. Earlier this season, Adams missed time with a bad back and recently was sidelined with the sore shoulder. He would not use health as an excuse for his performance Tuesday night.

“I’m good enough to go out there,” he said. “I’m just not pitching like I need to right now.”

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.

Pain-free, Zach Eflin is ready to climb Dodger Stadium mound again

Pain-free, Zach Eflin is ready to climb Dodger Stadium mound again

LOS ANGELES — What Zach Eflin remembers most about his last start at Dodger Stadium isn't so much the result, it's the long walk he took up the corridor behind the dugout to the visiting clubhouse.
 
It hurt.
 
Physically.
 
Eflin lasted only three innings in that game on Aug. 8 of last season. He gave up seven hits, three of which were home runs, and seven runs before walking gingerly to the clubhouse, his night and his season over.
 
"I remember feeling pain as I walked to the trainer's room," he said Friday.
 
Eflin will be feeling no pain when he returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night. He had dealt with chronic tendinitis in his knees for years. The flare-up that affected his performance and forced him to leave the game the last time he pitched in Dodger Stadium hastened his decision to have offseason surgery — on both knees — to fix the problem.
 
"Surgery was always something off in the distance," the 23-year-old pitcher said. "But after that night, we sat down and talked about it. It was absolutely a good thing that we took care of it at that point, do it while I'm young, make sure it's a 2016 injury and not a career injury."
 
Team physician Steven Cohen performed the surgeries six weeks apart in August and September and Eflin says, "I feel completely rejuvenated. It's like night and day."
 
The surgical procedures, Eflin said, involved Cohen cutting a two-inch vertical incision over the middle of the kneecap.
 
"He cleaned out some dead tissue and little tears," Eflin said. "He drilled some holes in the kneecap, moved some stuff around and glued it all down."
 
Obviously, that's not a scientific description of the surgeries, but all that matters to Eflin is, "I feel great now."
 
Eflin got in on the ground floor of the Phillies' rebuild. He came to the Phils in the first trade that the team made after embarking on its rebuild after the 2014 season, the one that sent Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. Eflin was actually a San Diego Padres prospect as the trade was going down. The Phillies targeted him and got him in what was ostensibly a three-team deal. Eflin was a Dodger for about 20 minutes before joining the Phillies' organization.
 
The Phillies took it easy with Eflin out of the gate this season, giving him a little extra time to get used to his new knees. He has made two starts with the big club and given up just three runs in 12 innings. His last start was excellent — seven innings of three-hit, one-run, no-walk, three-strikeout ball in a 5-2 win over Atlanta.
 
Eflin would like to duplicate that effort as he returns to the Dodger Stadium mound Saturday night. He will be opposed by right-hander Brandon McCarthy.
 
"I'm ready to go and take care of business," he said. "I'm excited to take the mound healthy."