Papelbon blows save, debates Phils' fundamentals

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Papelbon blows save, debates Phils' fundamentals

BOX SCORE

Every time you think the Phillies are about to turn the corner and put something together they trip over their own feet.

They were one out away from completing a three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night when Jonathan Papelbon blew his second save of the series. Unlike Monday night, the boys with the bats couldn’t bail out Papelbon. The Nats went on to win, 6-2, on a grand slam by Ian Desmond against Mike Stutes in the top of 11th inning (see Instant Replay).

There were a lot of reasons the Phillies lost this game -- afterward Papelbon spoke at length about the team’s poor fundamental play -- and Charlie Manuel’s decision to go to his bullpen after Kyle Kendrick delivered 7 2/3 innings of one-run ball was not one of them. Antonio Bastardo got the out Manuel was looking for in the eighth, and Manuel did the right thing in going to his $50 million closer for the ninth. Yeah, Papelbon had pitched the previous two nights but he’d thrown just 24 pitches. With an off day Thursday, he belonged in this game.

He just didn’t get the job done. He allowed a pair of baserunners before Jayson Werth tied the game on a first-pitch single with two outs in the ninth.

“That’s a tough one to swallow,” Papelbon said. “As a closer, it’s important for me to be able to finish off those wins for our starters. Unfortunately, the bullpen wasn’t able to do it tonight. I’ve got to be able to make a pitch to Werth there. I have to get into more of a battle with him.”

While the bullpen took ultimate blame for the loss, there were other culprits.

The offense was a big one.

The Phils’ first two batters of the game -- Ben Revere (single) and Michael Young (homer) -- got hits off Gio Gonzalez and scored runs. After that, the Phillies went 32 plate appearances waiting for their next hit, a single by Carlos Ruiz with two outs in the 10th. That’s the equivalent of being no-hit -- and then some.

The defense was another culprit.

The Nationals got the tying run on base in the top of the ninth on a ball that was flubbed around the infield by the Phillies’ defense and ultimately ruled an infield hit. Denard Span, Washington’s leadoff man, hit the ball to the right of first baseman Ryan Howard. Howard, playing even with the bag because Span was a drag-bunt threat, dove and got a glove on the ball, but couldn’t come up with it. The ball ricocheted to second baseman Freddy Galvis, who had entered the game for defense, but his throw to Papelbon at first, though catchable, was low and Papelbon couldn’t make a play.

Paplebon then got two outs before allowing a walk to Adam LaRoche and the game-tying single to Werth.

After the game, Papelbon talked about fundamentals and how the Phillies are coming up short in that department.

In particular, he talked about Howard’s positioning on Span’s infield hit and that led to a broader discussion of the topic.

“I was thinking on a 3-1 count our infield would be back and I was expecting to turn around and run to first base and catch a underhand throw,” Papelbon said.

So he was surprised Howard was even with the bag?

“Yeah,” he said.

Howard declined to speak with a reporter after the game. Regardless of his positioning, if he had managed to snag Span’s ball, the inning could have been different.

Then again, the same thing could be said for Galvis’ feed or Papelbon’s attempted catch.

Papelbon kept coming back to fundamentals.

“This is a game of fundamentals and we’ve got to do fundamentals right and keep grinding,” he said. “It’s a game of who grinds the most and who plays the best fundamental baseball. That’s pretty much it.”

Papelbon said the Phillies needed to do everything better.

“Everything from the pitchers making the correct pitches, to pitchers backing up the right bases, to the outfield moving on counts, to the infield moving on counts. Everything that goes into every pre-pitch. We’ve got to do better.

“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. It’s a team effort here. To be able to win and be in the forefront of the playoff race, you have to play good fundamental baseball and do the little things, and the little things are before the pitches are thrown. There’s 150 pitches thrown by our pitchers and before every one of those we have to make sure we’re putting ourselves in a position to be the best we can before each pitch.

“I’m seeing some of the same mistakes. I think for us we have to make the fundamental plays were supposed to make.”

Despite the Phillies’ treating the .500 mark as if it were a disease -- the Phils are three games under -- Papelbon believes this team can put a run together.

“Yeah, I do,” he said. “With that being said, playing less than .500 baseball and not doing the little things right is not going to get it done. I blew this game, but it takes everybody involved to lose a ballgame, and it takes everyone involved to win a ballgame.”

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: With only RHPs left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies (70-86) at Braves (63-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After losing by three possessions on Sunday and getting an off day Monday to think about it, the Phillies are back in action Tuesday night to begin their final road series of 2016.

Let's take a look:

1. The finish line nears
Forty-nine down, two to go. The Phillies have just two series left this season, a three-gamer in Atlanta and then a set with the Mets at home to close it out. 

The Phils have a series record of 18-25-6. They have just six series wins in 21 tries since the All-Star break (6-12-3). 

The Phillies and Braves have played seven times in the second half and the Phils are 2-5 — they split a four-game series July 28-31 in Atlanta and were swept at home Sept. 2-4.

With 70 wins, the Phillies have already beaten their over-under by four victories. If they manage to split these final six games, they'll finish 10 games better than they did in 2015.

The Braves, meanwhile, will avoid 100 losses. That didn't look possible when they were 33-66 and on pace for 109 losses. But Atlanta has been much better the last six weeks, especially offensively.

2. Freeman's monstrous year
Whether it was the addition of Matt Kemp or just regression to his true talent level, Freddie Freeman has been a force of nature this summer.

Freeman started slowly. Through June 12, he was hitting .242 with a .750 OPS in 61 games. Since then? He's hit .347/.445/.673 with 33 doubles, five triples, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 91 games. The Braves are just three games under .500 over that span at 44-47.

It's pretty amazing that Freeman has had an MVP-caliber season in a lineup that offers so little protection. This has been the best year of his seven-year career. In 669 plate appearances, he's hit .305/.402/.570 with 43 doubles, six triples, 32 homers and 87 RBIs. He's also walked 86 times. 

Freeman's best work this year has come against the Phillies. In 16 games, he's gone 22 for 60 (.367) with a .449 OBP, five doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs.

3. The push toward 200
Jerad Eickhoff makes his 32nd start of the season tonight and will likely have one more on the final day. He enters tonight's game with 187⅓ innings pitched, 12⅔ shy of the 200-inning benchmark every pitcher seeks.

Eickhoff said early in the summer that 200 innings would be meaningful to him and acknowledged it just sounds different than 195. It's taken health, stamina and consistency for Eickhoff to get to this point at age 26 in his first full big-league season.

Eickhoff (11-14, 3.75 ERA) has made six consecutive quality starts. He's steadied the Phillies' rotation for four months now. Since May 22, Eickhoff is 10-8 with a 3.52 ERA, but if you remove the one dreadful outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, his ERA over that span is 3.13. He very well could be the opening day starter in 2017.

Eickhoff has faced the Braves five times in his career and gone 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. 

Freeman is 5 for 14 against him with a double and a homer, but all other active Braves have hit a combined .209 with no extra-base hits in more than 75 plate appearances.

Eickhoff won't have to deal with Kemp, who has been hot lately but is out of Tuesday's lineup.

4. Last look at Teheran
The Phillies take on talented Braves right-hander Julio Teheran for the third time this season and 15th time in his six-year career.

Could it be their last time seeing him in an Atlanta uniform? That's always a possibility for the rebuilding Braves with Teheran, who has long been an intriguing trade candidate. A 25-year-old with a 3.37 career ERA and one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball, Teheran figures to have immense trade value this offseason. He's due $31 million over the next three seasons in a sport where pitchers half as talented now earn similar average annual salaries.

If Teheran is eventually dealt for a package of prospects, the Phillies won't be sad to see him go. He's 7-4 with a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just five home runs to them in 89⅔ career innings. His starts against the Phillies the last three years have been even better: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 13 walks, one homer allowed in 71 innings.

His last time out, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings to the Mets but struck out only one batter. He hasn't missed many bats lately, generating just three swings-and-misses in his last start and six two outings before that.

Teheran has five pitches but mostly uses a four-seam fastball/slider combination. When he last faced the Phillies on Sept. 4, 90 of his 119 pitches were four-seamers or sliders.

Current Phillies have hit .219 collectively against Teheran in 169 at-bats. Freddy Galvis has seen him the best, going 7 for 18 (all singles) with three walks. Ryan Howard has two doubles and two solo homers off Teheran in 26 ABs.

5. This and that
• File this one under stats nobody would have predicted: The Braves have the highest on-base percentage in the majors since the All-Star break at .346. The Phillies are fifth-worst at .306.

• In 50 games with Atlanta, Kemp has hit .287/.341/.508 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. He had 16 walks in 100 games with the Padres and has 18 in half as many games with the Braves. His poor defense has still made him a net negative player this season (if you believe in WAR), but the Braves are 26-24 since acquiring him.

• If the season ended today, the Phillies would have the ninth pick in next June's draft. Based on the records of the teams around them, they are a near lock to pick either 8th, 9th or 10th.

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