Phils dealt third straight loss by MLB-best Cards

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Phils dealt third straight loss by MLB-best Cards

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ST. LOUIS — Opportunity keeps knocking for the Phillies. And they keep shooing it away like an unwelcome visitor.

The Phils blew another chance to pick up ground on NL East-leader Atlanta when they suffered a 4-1 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on Tuesday night (see Instant Replay).

With the trade deadline a week away and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. trying to decide whether to keep the team together or sell off players, the Phils have lost three games in a row to fall to 49-51. They are seven games behind the Braves, who lost for the third time in four games on Tuesday night. The Braves lost two of three over the weekend to the White Sox. Alas, the Phillies also lost two of three over the weekend.

“We’re two games under .500 and the team ahead of us keeps losing and we can’t gain no ground,” manager Charlie Manuel lamented after Tuesday night’s loss. “That’s tough.”

Manuel was quite downcast after the game.

His flawed team has scored one run in its last two games and it still has two left against the Cardinals, whose 60-37 record is the best in baseball. It gets no easier later in the week when the Phils travel to Detroit for three against the AL Central-leading Tigers.

“Yeah, we’re playing a good team and we’re getting ready to play another good team,” Manuel said. “But we’ve got to play good enough to win some games. We didn’t play good enough tonight. The Cardinals outplayed us.”

It’s no secret in the clubhouse that the clock is ticking on this club. The players see the scoreboard. They know Atlanta has struggled. They know the door has been left ajar. They know they have not taken advantage and that might make things easy on management as it ponders whether to buy or sell.

“It would be nice every time [the Braves] lose that we throw some wins up there to cut the deficit down,” Delmon Young said. “But we’ve got two and a half months, and if we could just cut a game a week, we’d be in first place by the end of the year.

“Unfortunately, we don’t know as players in the clubhouse how much time we have together, so we’re trying to win as many games as possible right now. Guys are busting their butts. Guys are getting here early and getting extra work in. We’ve just got to find a way from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. to have all the hard work pay off.”

Nothing paid off Tuesday night.

Rookie Cardinals right-hander Shelby Miller entered the game ranked 10th in the NL with a 2.92 ERA. He lowered that mark to 2.77 with six shutout innings. He allowed just three hits and a walk and struck out six. Miller would have gone deeper into the game had he not been bothered by a cramp in his calf.

Manuel was not happy with the approach of Phillies’ hitters against Miller. The Phillies’ hacking ways stood in stark contrast to the patient Cardinals, who racked up excellent at-bats with a lineup loaded with .300-plus hitters.

“He’s got a good arm,” Manuel said of Miller. “He’s got a big fastball. He gave us pitches to hit. He challenged us at times with his fastball.

“I think when we get against a guy like this we get a little anxious and we want to hit him so bad we chase balls out of the strike zone up and that gets us in trouble. If we make him bring the ball down and get a good ball to hit, that’s how you adjust to pitchers like that because they will give you some fastballs to hit. If you swing at the high ones and they have command, more than likely they’ll keep feeding them and walk you up the ladder.

“We just chased a lot of balls up.”

By contrast, the Cardinals’ hitters worked rookie Jonathan Pettibone for 10 baserunners in five innings.

The Cards scored a single run in the first inning and two in the fourth (on four hits) against Pettibone.

“They worked him,” Manuel said. “They had a lot of baserunners. He wiggled out of some trouble and hung in there. They made him pitch and were able to score three runs off him. He did a good job holding them to three runs, I thought. At the same time, we didn’t get him any runs.”

Pete Mackanin: Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was 'a helluva pitcher'

Pete Mackanin: Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez was 'a helluva pitcher'

NEW YORK — The clubhouse mood following the Phillies17-0 loss to the Mets Sunday was somber, in part because of the disastrous game that had just wrapped up, but also because of the tragic news of Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez’s death in a boating accident early Sunday morning.

“It was rough. People are devastated. I didn’t even know him and I was crushed,” Phillies starter Jake Thompson said. “I can only imagine how that clubhouse feels. That’s something that I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, to deal with something of that magnitude.”

Both teams paused for a moment of silence before Sunday’s game and the Mets taped a jersey bearing Fernandez’s name and number onto their dugout wall.

“This morning, that was quite a surprise,” manager Pete Mackanin said of the atmosphere of the day. “I don’t think it affected the players once the game started. It was such bad news this morning that everybody was kind of melancholy.”

Fernandez had built a strong track record against the Phillies in his young career, amassing a 2.88 ERA in six starts.

“It’s kind of cliché to say but you look at the start of his career and he could have been a Hall of Famer,” Thompson said.

Asked how he would remember facing Fernandez, Mackanin was succinct.

“He was a helluva pitcher,” he said.

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Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

Phillies suffer worst shutout loss in modern era to Mets

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NEW YORK -- Jake Thompson faced the issues that a 22-year old starter in his 10th career appearance usually does Sunday against the Mets.
 
Thompson struggled with his command at times, walking the bases loaded in the fourth inning before escaping his self-induced jam with a flyout. He hit a batter and surrendered a home run to Curtis Granderson on a pitch that caught too much of the plate.
 
The righty departed after four innings in what manager Pete Mackanin declared postgame to be Thompson’s last start of the season.
 
But perhaps neither he nor the rest of the Phillies expected the extent to which his struggles would ripple through the bullpen. The Phillies’ relievers surrendered 14 runs, hit three batters and gave up a grand slam in a 17-0 loss, the franchise's worst shutout defeat in the modern era (see Instant Replay).
 
“Obviously the bullpen has scuffled for a while now,” Mackanin said. “That shows you how much the game is about pitching. It keeps you in games, gives you an opportunity to win like it did the first couple of months of the season for us. Now, the last month, it’s not keeping us in games or it’s losing games.”
 
The Phillies’ relievers were charged with 28 runs over the course of their four-game swing in New York. Their collective 4.69 ERA is the fourth-worst in the National League.
 
Sunday, Phil Klein — who hadn’t pitched since he was recalled from Lehigh Valley on Sept. 10 — and little-used Colton Murray and Patrick Schuster — who had combined for three appearances in the past two weeks — took the brunt of the damage.
 
Klein walked two batters, surrendered two singles and hit Mets catcher Rene Rivera in the left hand to force in a run. He left the bases loaded for Murray, who allowed an inherited runner to score on a wild pitch. Murray was pulled in the seventh having gotten into a bases-loaded jam of his own. His replacement, Frank Herrmann, allowed all three runs to score on a walk and a grand slam by Asdrubal Cabrera.
 
Schuster was assigned five runs in the eighth after he was tagged for three hits, walked a batter and hit Gavin Cecchini.
 
Which pitchers — if any — out of the Phillies’ cadre of middle relivers will return next year is an open question and Mackanin made it clear that he will use the remaining six games in the season to evaluate his team’s arms.
 
“It’s another audition.” Mackanin said. “We want to see who might fit in.”
 
Thompson can clearly stake a claim to his role in the Phillies’ rebuilding effort. Despite the hiccup in his final outing, he has come a long way in just two months from being the pitcher that surrendered six runs to the light-hitting Padres in his Aug. 6 debut.

His changeup — a pitch that hitters had connected on for six home runs this year, according to data from Fangraphs — was particularly lively Sunday. Cabrera chased it out of the zone in the first inning for Thompson’s only strikeout.
 
“I think the changeup’s probably been my best pitch up here,” Thompson said. “I’ve given up a lot of homers on it, too. That just shows whenever you don’t execute it, it’s a tough pitch to throw in the zone. As far as the swing-and-misses that I was getting with it, it’s kind of night and day.
 
“At this point last year I pretty much had no changeup, so that’s a big thing for me.”
 
Only 23 on Opening Day next year, Thompson has plenty of room to improve.
 
The Phillies’ bullpen does, too.

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