There are many reasons why the Phillies have the worst record in the major leagues.
Their inability to consistently produce hits with runners in scoring position is a big one — and it has been glaring during the first three games of the current homestand.
The Phils lost, 5-2, to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay). For the second night in a row, the Phillies had trouble getting base runners home.
They were 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position in Tuesday night's 3-0 loss to the Pirates and 1 for 8 in those situations on Wednesday night.
The Phils jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning on the strength of a two-run home run by Maikel Franco, but got nothing the rest of the game.
"We just can't string together enough hits to score some crooked numbers," lamented manager Pete Mackanin.
Just four days before the All-Star break arrives, the Phillies are baseball's only sub-30-win team — and it's not even close. The Phils are 28-55. The San Francisco Giants have the next lowest win total and they won their 34th game on Wednesday night.
The Phils beat Pittsburgh, 4-0, on the back of Aaron Nola in the first game of this series. In the three games, the Phillies are just 1 for 20 with runners in scoring position. For the season, they are hitting just .235 with runners in scoring position. That ranks in the bottom four of major league baseball. The major-league average is .260.
On Wednesday night, the Phils got a one-out triple from Tommy Joseph in the third inning. He died on third. They got a one-out double from Daniel Nava in the seventh. He was gunned down at the plate — with ease — by Pirates rightfielder Gregory Polanco as he tried to tag and score on a fly ball by Franco. With a poor offensive team that struggles to score, Mackanin has instructed third base coach Juan Samuel to take chances. Samuel did. Polanco responded with a perfect throw. Dead duck.
"I'm glad Sammy sent him," Mackanin said. "It was just a perfect throw."
Nava reached base four times on two singles, a double and a walk. Mackanin has an obligation to play the kids, the guys that might be part of the future, but he also has to keep finding at-bats for Nava, for a couple of reasons. One, the team could end up getting something for Nava at the trade deadline if he keeps hitting. The return would probably be modest, but it's worth letting Nava play more to see what he could bring. And, two, Nava has one of this team's best bats at the moment.
"He gives us the best at-bats on the team, quality at-bats," Mackanin said. "I'm going to try to keep him in there as much as I can."
Nava will likely join Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera in the outfield on Thursday. It appears that rookie Nick Williams, three times a strikeout victim Wednesday night, will get a day off Thursday.
After giving up the two-run homer (on a hanging curveball) to Franco in the first inning, Pirates starter Gerrit Cole was tough. He did not allow a run the remainder of his six innings and struck out eight.
Cole got all the run support he needed in the fourth inning when rookie Ben Lively was tagged for four runs. Two of them were unearned after he made a throwing error with two outs. The next batter, Cole, then stroked a 1-1 fastball up the middle to score a pair of unearned runs and give Pittsburgh the lead.
"Lively was pretty good tonight until that fourth inning when the wheels kind of came off and he made some bad pitches in the zone," Mackanin said. "He rushed on that [throwing error] then he gave up the hit to the pitcher. I would have let him go back out there but he had too many pitches, 84 pitches in four innings, and I didn't want to send him back out there."
Lively said, "I left too many pitches over the plate in the [fourth] inning."
And the Pirates did something with them.
As for the Phillies ... 1 for 20 with runners in scoring position the last three nights says a lot.