Bullpen woes cost Phillies again as club swept by Rangers

Bullpen woes cost Phillies again as club swept by Rangers

BOX SCORE

ARLINGTON, Tex. — As Phillies players showered, dressed and hurried off for the bus to the airport late Thursday afternoon, Freddy Galvis lingered in front of his locker and stewed in the juices of the team's 15th loss in the last 18 games.

"It sucks, man," Galvis said. "That's the truth. If somebody says it's OK, it's not OK. We're (bleeping) losing a lot of games."

The latest was an 8-4 loss to the Texas Rangers (see Instant Replay). Now, the Rangers are smokin' hot. They've won nine in a row, averaging 6.5 runs and posting a 2.66 ERA over that span. While it's true that they caught the Rangers at a bad time, the Phils didn't exactly play good baseball while getting swept in Texas. They were outscored 22-8 in the series and their starting pitchers went just six, four and 4 2/3 innings, respectively, in the three games. Meanwhile, Rangers starters delivered seven innings in each game.

Thursday's game turned when the Rangers rallied for five runs in the fifth inning to erase a 2-0 deficit. Ryan Rua's three-run homer against a completely ineffective Joely Rodriguez was the game-changing blow. It was the 27th homer surrendered by the Phillies' bullpen this season, the most in baseball.

The Phillies are now 14-24, matching their worst 38-game start since 2000.

Galvis, the team's longest-tenured player, is frustrated.

"When you're losing and losing and losing …" he vented. "We have to play better baseball. We have to be on the same page. We have four months to go and if we don't start playing better, it's going to be a bad season. We have to play better, play together, fight, make pitches, get on base, move runners.

"We're not doing what it takes to win games. I'm tired of losing so many games. If somebody says it's OK, it's not OK.

"You have to know how to win, how to play 162 games. You have to stick together, play together on the field. We have a bunch of good players and a bunch of good coaches but it's just not there right now. We need to show everybody we belong here. We're not doing what we're supposed to be doing. Pitch, run, get on base, move runners. We're not doing that and that's why we're losing, losing and losing."

The Phillies have lost 15 times since winning six in a row and heading to Dodger Stadium on April 28. Thirteen of those losses have come against top competition — the Dodgers, Cubs, Nationals and Rangers. All four of those clubs made the postseason last year — the Cubs won it all — and have October hopes this season.

The rebuilding Phillies did not enter the season with October hopes.

But they were supposed to be better than this.

"We need to step it up," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We're better than what we're going through right now. But we need to execute, play better. I can't make excuses. We have to pitch better and hit better."

Maikel Franco has slumped lately. Mackanin dropped him to seventh in the order Thursday and he responded with some good swings, a hard-hit sacrifice fly to center and a homer to right as he drove in the first two runs.

But Odubel Herrera, another player being counted on for offense, has slumped badly. He went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. He is hitless in his last 11 at-bats and is just 3 for 23 through six games on the road trip, dropping him to .242 on the season. His on-base percentage is now .298.

The Phillies are just 3-12 in the month of May. The team ERA in the month is an obscene 5.87. For the season it is 4.92, second worst in baseball.

Nick Pivetta added to that ERA during four starts with the club, but he's a rookie and he's learning. He needs to throw more strikes so he can stay in games longer. He will continue to work on that in Triple A as he was returned to the minors after Thursday's start. The Phillies will likely add a bullpen arm for a couple of days in Pittsburgh before activating starter Aaron Nola on Sunday.

Pivetta took a 2-0 lead into the fifth inning Thursday, but a one-out walk cost him a chance to finish the inning and he was lifted with two outs and 107 pitches. The move to go to the lefty Rodriguez made sense because dangerous Nomar Mazara was coming to the plate and he was just 3 for 27 against lefties. But Rodriguez walked Mazara. Then he gave up two run-scoring hits before Rua's killer homer.

Rodriguez ended up being tagged for six hits, two walks and seven runs in just two-thirds of an inning in taking the final loss of this Texas torture.

"He just didn't pitch well," Mackanin understated.

Why Phillies got 3 young lottery tickets for Pat Neshek and his 1.12 ERA

Why Phillies got 3 young lottery tickets for Pat Neshek and his 1.12 ERA

Pat Neshek was by far the Phillies' best trade chip, but it wasn't at all surprising to see their return in Wednesday night's deal consist of three very young lottery tickets.

First off, as good as Neshek is, he's a two-month rental. He might pitch a grand total of 18 innings for the Rockies before hitting free agency. Yes, he has a 1.12 ERA, but his situation wasn't anywhere close to Andrew Miller's or Aroldis Chapman's last summer.

For Neshek and their other trade candidates, the Phillies are seeking young prospects who won't yet complicate their 40-man roster situation. The Phils already have a crowded 40-man roster picture and will have to add J.P. Crawford and Rhys Hoskins to it this winter to prevent them from being selected by another team in the Rule 5 draft.

A quick refresher course on the 40-man roster and Rule 5 draft eligibility:

• If a player is 18 or younger when signed, he must be added to the 40-man roster within five years to avoid the Rule 5 draft. (Crawford was 18 years old when he was drafted in 2013, so this is the fifth and final year for him.)

• If a player is 19 or older when signed, he must be added to the 40-man roster within four years to avoid the Rule 5 draft. (Hoskins was 21 when he was drafted in 2014, so this is the fourth and final year for him.)

If the Phillies want to take a look at reliever Jesen Therrien soon, they'll have to add him to the 40-man roster. If they want to check out starting pitcher Tom Eshelman next season, that's another addition. Same goes for outfielder Andrew Pullin. Plus, any free agents or veteran players they acquire via trade this offseason would have to be added to the 40. 

So it was the Phillies' intent to not add even more names to a growing list. Had they added a player closer to the majors in the Neshek trade, it could have cost them another prospect they like. This cluttered picture is why someone like Mark Appel is a non-tender candidate after the season (i.e. he could be cut). 

For Neshek, the Phillies acquired three players all in Single A. Two of them are 20 years old and the other is 23.

Alejandro Requena
The 20-year-old right-hander was 17 when he signed with the Rockies in between the 2013 and 2014 seasons. He does not need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft until after the 2018 season.

Requena was 8-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 19 starts this season at Class A Asheville, which is a hitter-friendly park. He's walked just 2.0 batters per nine innings since turning pro.

J.D. Hammer
First off, great name, we can all agree on that. 

Hammer, 23, was 21 years old when he signed out of Marshall University in 2016. He does not need to be protected from the Rule 5 draft until after the 2019 season.

Hammer, a reliever, dominated at Class A Asheville, posting a 1.20 ERA with 47 strikeouts and five walks in 30 innings. That earned him a promotion to High A Lancaster — the Lancaster in California, not Pennsylvania.

All told, Hammer has a 2.36 ERA with 13.9 strikeouts per nine innings this season.

Jose Gomez
The 20-year-old infield prospect signed as a teenager in 2013, so he'd have to be added to the 40-man roster after this season.

Gomez hit .324 in 351 plate appearances with Asheville this season and has hit .316 since turning pro.

He's another lottery ticket, basically a younger version of Jesmuel Valentin, the utility infielder the Phillies acquired from the Dodgers for Roberto Hernandez in August 2014.

For Phillies, emulating Astros' ascent requires much more than high picks

For Phillies, emulating Astros' ascent requires much more than high picks

The Astros were proponents of The Process before it was couth to be.

From 2011-13, Houston lost an average of 108 games per year. The Astros picked first overall in 2012, '13 and '14, then second overall in 2015.

And even without hitting on all four picks — they did, after all, take Mark Appel first overall over Kris Bryant — the Astros have in the span just of a few years shifted from AL doormat to the envy of the league.

A.J. Hinch's club left South Philadelphia this week with a 67-34 record and on pace to win 108 games, six more than their franchise record. The Astros have a relentless offense that has scored six-plus runs in 52 of 101 games, and they have power, speed and plate selection up and down the lineup.

Pete Mackanin, Matt Klentak and some Phillies players can't be blamed if they looked longingly at the visiting clubhouse this week and fantasized about the future. 

But replicating Houston's model isn't as simple as finishing with the worst record in the league several years in a row. It would also require making the right picks after the first round and finding under-appreciated role players along the way.

All the right moves
Jose Altuve, the AL's leading MVP candidate who's hitting .365, was an undrafted free agent signed out of Venezuela in 2007 for the grand total of $15,000.

Dallas Keuchel, on the DL but 9-0 with a 1.67 ERA, was a seventh-round pick. 

Lance McCullers Jr. and Vince Velasquez were both second-round picks; McCullers is the Astros' No. 2 starter and Velasquez was the trade bait that landed them a closer, Ken Giles.

Ten other teams could have drafted George Springer. 

Marwin Gonzalez, who plays all over the diamond and is hitting .321 with a .984 OPS, was acquired for a pitcher who's now in the Mexican League. 

Brad Peacock, 8-1 with a 2.51 ERA, was traded to Houston for well-traveled infielder Jed Lowrie. 

These guys didn't make it to the Astros' organization with the pedigree of a Carlos Correa.

Houston built this juggernaut piece by piece and brought in veterans like Brian McCann, Josh Reddick, Evan Gattis, Carlos Beltran and Nori Aoki once the timing was appropriate. 

That would be the Phillies' final piece of the rebuild. But first, they'd need to somehow develop or obtain game-changers like Altuve, Correa, Springer and Keuchel — an extremely difficult task that also involves luck — and swing a few under-the-radar trades themselves.

"Players come from everywhere," Hinch told CSNPhilly this week. "And we've got a lot of different stories on our team. It's one of the more interesting teams I've been around just because guys have gotten here in different ways, guys have experienced different things in the big leagues. 

"We certainly have some high-profile guys that were high picks, but we've also got pretty good players that were signed for $15,000 or less. That blend of everything has turned a really good team over the last couple of seasons into an even better one."

Luhnow and Hinkie
Back in 2014, Sports Illustrated projected that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series given their collection of young talent. At the time it seemed a bit far-fetched, but Houston has exploded this season from an 85-win team to a 100-plus win team.

General manager Jeff Luhnow enacted The Process in a similar way to the Sixers and just like the Sixers, his club is now reaping the rewards. 

"The plan was to collect as much young talent as possible, become relevant and stay relevant," Luhnow told CSNPhilly this week. "This was about the timeframe that we thought we'd be competing for a division title.

"It's similar in a lot of ways (to the Sixers' process) and I know [Sam Hinkie], he used to be in Houston. He and I have talked a lot about what he was doing here and what I was doing there — there are a lot of analogies. You have to be patient to wait for the results to manifest themselves. Sometimes you get a good roll of the dice, sometimes you don't."

Luhnow has also made his own luck by pulling a lot of the right strings with transactions in recent years. Even when the 'Stros have given up talented young pieces like Domingo Santana and Brett Phillips, they've brought back players like Mike Fiers who have aided their cause. Fiers wasn't some huge name on the trade market two summers ago, but he's been very good with the Astros this season (excluding last night), posting a 3.71 ERA in 20 starts with a strikeout per inning.

The final stage
Let's not misunderstand what Houston has been able to do. Bottoming out allowed them to bring in top young talent in the draft, but without the secondary moves, they're not in a position to run away with the American League West. 

"We thought we had a good team and were positioned well to not only add guys like Josh Reddick, Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann but to grow our own guys like Altuve and Springer," Hinch said. "The emergence of Keuchel and McCullers, the additions of Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel. We were built towards having a complete team and then we add the right veterans on and off the field and it's really taken off. 

"It's hard to predict how seasons are going to go, but the left-handedness we needed was answered, the veteran presence in the clubhouse was answered, the lineup configuration, how tough we are to strike out, how good we are at hitting the ball out of the ballpark. All things that you hope for but I don't think you ever anticipate winning how many games we have within the first 100 games."

The Phillies are still a few years away from sprinkling the right veterans into a young clubhouse. That's the finishing touch, the cherry on top of the player development sundae. 

Unlike the Astros, the Phillies don't have transformative players like Altuve, Springer and Correa. Instead, they have a bunch of young players at various positions who have a chance to all grow and hit the next level simultaneously. In that way, these Phillies are closer to the Royals teams with Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy and others than they are the Astros.

"I think in the future there will be changes made," Mackanin said this week. "We've got the trade deadline coming up and I'm interested to see how that goes. 

"There are some players here that I think have a chance to be part of the future. We've seen a lot of good things from a lot of the pitchers, (Aaron) Nola primarily, and Luis Garcia has stepped it up. He's shown that he can be more consistent. Not just those two in particular, but there are two examples of guys. 

"Make the right trades, make the right moves, sign the right people, trade the right people and get something back for it. And develop the people here."

Reasons for optimism
The Phillies' win-loss total obviously doesn't show any kind of progress being made, but there are several pretty clear positive individual developments. Nola looks better than ever. Odubel Herrera is hitting .331 since June 1 and well on his way to finishing between .290 and .300 again. Aaron Altherr has grown from a fourth outfielder to starting outfielder. Nick Williams looks like a keeper. Scott Kingery and Sixto Sanchez have high ceilings; Rhys Hoskins, Adam Haseley and Mickey Moniak have high floors. J.P. Crawford's bat has heated up and maybe he'll be an impact player after all. We'll get an extended look next season at Jorge Alfaro.

The 2017 Astros are a near-best-case scenario of how a rebuild can turn out and it would be silly now to say the 2020 Phillies could reach that level. Matt Klentak has a ton of work still to do. 

But keep in mind that these days, teams don't necessarily follow a linear path. The Astros are going to have a 20-plus win jump between last season and this season. The Rays won 97 games in 2008 after winning 66 the year before. The Pirates leaped from 79 wins to 94 between 2013 and '14. The Cubs went from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 in '15. 

"It's a matter of time," Mackanin said. "It's not going to go on like this forever."