Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown

Phillies on pace for 111 losses after bizarre late-game bullpen meltdown

BOX SCORE

In the big picture — and that's what has really mattered right from the beginning of this season — something quite positive happened for the Phillies on Wednesday night: A young, promising pitcher took a nice step forward and for the second straight start offered hope that he might just be a reliable piece of the rotation when this rebuilding club is ready to be relevant again.

But in the narrow view, it was easy to look right past Nick Pivetta's six innings of three-run, 10-strikeout ball. That's how bad the losing has been. Every night offers a gaper delay on the highway to 100 losses.

Did we say 100?

How about 111? That's the Phillies' current pace after an ugly 7-6 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals (see Instant Replay) — and 111 losses would match a franchise high set in 1941 when Doc Prothro's club went 43-111.

It's bad, folks.

But you already knew that.

This one was especially unsightly for how the Phillies lost it. They blew a five-run lead under the weight of a barrage of home runs — two against the bullpen in the eighth and ninth innings — had the potential winning run cut down at the plate by 20 feet in the bottom of the ninth then lost it in the 10th after a troubling meltdown by reliever Edubray Ramos.

You almost had to see it to believe it. And if you didn't see it, don't bother looking for a replay. It will only hurt your eyes.

"We let that five-run lead get away from us," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Real disappointing night. Pivetta did a really good job for us, gave us six good innings. And we had 16 hits; you have to win a game when you get 16 hits. We couldn't push any more runs across until that 10th inning. Very disappointing."

Pivetta — 19 strikeouts in his last two starts — took a 5-0 lead to the mound in the fifth and was tagged for a home run on a 3-2 fastball in that inning. No problem. He issued a two-out walk in the sixth then served up a first-pitch, two-run homer to Jedd Gyorko. Little problem, but not fatal.

Things started to turn bad in the eighth when reliever Joaquin Benoit served up a first-pitch homer to Jose Martinez to make it a one-run game and they got worse when Hector Neris blew his second save in three games when he gave up a game-tying homer to Tommy Pham (his second of the game) on a 1-1 fastball in the ninth.

In the 10th, Ramos gave up a leadoff double to Martinez. The reliever then balked Martinez to third and gifted him home plate on an errant pickoff throw to first base. (It sailed way over Tommy Joseph's head.) The Cards ended up scoring two runs in the frame. The second one came in handy when the Phils pushed across one in the bottom of the inning.

Ramos looks like a pitcher who needs to go to the minors to clear his head. In his last three outings, he has faced eight batters and allowed three hits, three walks and seven runs. He has also committed a costly balk and a costly error, signs that's he becoming a little overwhelmed.

"I don't know what to tell you," Mackanin said. "It looks like he's mixed up or something. He's not the same guy."

Ramos declined to speak with reporters after the game.

But Odubel Herrera and Pat Neshek did agree to chat.

Neshek, the Phillies' best reliever, was conspicuously absent from a close game. He threw 28 pitches Sunday, had a day off Monday and threw 11 on Tuesday. He was not available. What was curious was that Mackanin said Neshek had told him he was sore. Neshek said he never said such a thing, that he showed up to the ballpark and was told he was getting a day off, which he actually thought was a good idea. But sore? Not so, he said.

As for Herrera, he drew attention for running through third base coach Juan Samuel's stop sign in the bottom of the ninth inning and getting nailed at the plate for the final out. Samuel said it was the first time a player had ever run through one of his stop signs. In this case, Herrera almost ran him over.

"It's just bad timing for it," Samuel said.

There was some question as to whether Samuel's stop sign went up too late, but Herrera dismissed that. He said he was simply running with his head down.

"I was playing aggressive," he said. "I wanted to win the game. So when I was rounding third, I put my head down. I kept going to home plate. I saw [the stop sign]. But I saw it late. I put my head down. That's my mistake."

Making a mistake didn't make Herrera unique Wednesday night.

"The mistakes we're making are giving the other team too many pitches to hit," Mackanin said. "Those are our mistakes. Especially late in the game."

Instant Replay: Cardinals 7, Phillies 6 (10 innings)

Instant Replay: Cardinals 7, Phillies 6 (10 innings)

BOX SCORE

The Phillies blew a five-run lead and lost, 7-6, to the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday night.

The Phillies gave up the go-ahead run in bizarre fashion in the 10th inning.

Reliever Edubray Ramos gave up a leadoff double to Jose Martinez then committed a balk to move the runner to third. After striking out Matt Carpenter, Ramos walked Dexter Fowler intentionally to put runners on the corners. Ramos then made an errant pickoff throw way over first baseman Tommy Joseph's head, allowing Martinez to trot home with the go-ahead run.

Ramos' nightmarish inning capped a brutal performance for the bullpen. Relievers Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris each allowed a solo homer in the eighth and ninth, respectively, as the Cardinals tied the game at 5-5.

The Phillies had the potential winning run thrown out at the plate in the bottom of the ninth when Odubel Herrera ran through third base coach Juan Samuel's stop sign on a two-out double by Freddy Galvis.

Rookie Nick Pivetta had his second straight strong start, but came away with a no-decision.

St. Louis played poor defense and the Phils capitalized with three unearned runs.

The Phillies are a majors-worst 22-48. They have lost 13 of their last 14.

Starting pitching report
Pivetta pitched six innings of three-run ball. All of the runs he gave up came on a pair of homers. The right-hander continued to harness his power stuff. He walked just one and struck out 10. Pivetta, who pitched seven shutout innings against Boston in his last outing, has 19 strikeouts in his last two starts. He has walked just three in his last two starts and that's been a big reason for his improvement. He issued 16 walks in his first six starts.

St. Louis starter Michael Wacha allowed nine hits and five runs in four innings. Three of the runs were unearned.

Bullpen report
Luis Garcia held the Cardinals off in the seventh. Benoit allowed a homer in the eighth as the Cards cut the lead to one. Neris allowed a game-tying homer in the ninth to blow the save.

Ramos looks like a pitcher who needs to go to the minors to clear his head. In his last three outings, he has faced eight batters and allowed three hits, three walks and seven runs. He has also committed a costly balk and a costly error.

Brett Cecil got the win.

At the plate
Howie Kendrick had three hits and a walk. It was his second straight three-hit game. He has 10 hits in his last four games.

Herrera doubled home two runs in the first inning.

After falling behind by two runs in the top of the 10th, the Phillies rallied for a run on hits by Andrew Knapp and Cameron Perkins to make it a one-run game. Closer Seung-Hwan Oh then got Kendrick to hit into a fielder's choice and struck out Aaron Altherr to end it. 

The Cardinals hit four homers, two by Tommy Pham and one each by Jedd Gyorko and Martinez.

In the field
Rightfielder Altherr made a terrific leaping catch in foul territory to end the top of the third inning.

The Cardinals made three errors.

Ready to go
Outfielder Adam Haseley, the Phillies' top pick in last week's draft, signed his contract and is ready to begin his pro career. What kind of player are the Phillies getting (see story)?

Up next
The series concludes on Thursday afternoon. Aaron Nola (3-5, 4.76) pitches against St. Louis right-hander Carlos Martinez (6-5, 2.86). Martinez pitched a four-hit, one-walk, 11-strikeout shutout against the Phillies two weeks ago in St. Louis.

Phillies-Cardinals 5 things: Running out of time to reestablish Hellickson's trade value

Phillies-Cardinals 5 things: Running out of time to reestablish Hellickson's trade value

Phillies (22-46) vs. Cardinals (31-37)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After being swept for the eighth time this season and the fourth time in their last seven series, the Phillies were off Monday before opening a three-gamer tonight against the Cardinals.

Things have gotten out of hand for the Phils, who are on pace to lose 110 games. 

Could this week provide any sort of reprieve from the constant losing?

1. Just how bad is it?
No National League team has had a worse record than the 2017 Phillies through its first 68 games since the 2013 Marlins. 

It's rare to see the wheels fall off this dramatically and this fast in a season. 

Remember those Astros teams that lost 100-plus games three seasons in a row? 

They were three games better than the Phillies at this point in 2011, when they lost 106 games.

They were six games better than the Phillies at this point in 2012, when they lost 107.

And they were two games better than the Phillies at this point in 2013, when they lost 111.

The scary thing, at least record-wise, is that things could get even worse after the trade deadline if/when Pat Neshek and Howie Kendrick are moved. Neshek has been the Phils' best reliever and Kendrick's been their second-best position player after Aaron Altherr.

2. Hellickson's fading value
Jeremy Hellickson makes his 15th start tonight. He's 5-5 with a 4.91 ERA on the season and has already allowed 15 home runs in 77 innings.

Hellickson hasn't been able to command his changeup or fastball lately. For a pitcher who lacks strikeout stuff, that's a major problem. 

Over his last five starts, Helly is 0-4 with a 7.57 ERA. Over his last nine starts since May 1, he has a 6.89 ERA and his opponents have hit .310 with a .991 OPS.

All the good things he did in April are now a distant memory, as Hellickson's 2017 season is beginning to feel like Aaron Harang's 2015 with the Phils.

Hellickson's only quality start in his last five tries was June 9 in St. Louis when he allowed three runs on 10 hits over six innings with a season-high five strikeouts. That was also one of only two starts this season Hellickson reached 100 pitches.

Hellickson admitted after his last start that when a team is losing as often as the Phillies are, the starting pitchers inevitably take it upon themselves to try to be perfect. And we all know what usually happens when a pitcher tries to be too fine.

Current Cardinals have hit .258 off Hellickson in 62 at-bats. Shortstop Aledmys Diaz is 3 for 5 with a double and two homers. Matt Carpenter is 3 for 7 with a double and three walks. All other Cards are 10 for 50.

3. Who closes?
It hasn't mattered much lately who the Phillies' closer is. Hector Neris' blown save Sunday against Arizona was just his third save opportunity in the Phillies' last 46 games.

The Phils have cycled through four closers already this season in Jeanmar Gomez, Joaquin Benoit, Neris and for a few days Neshek. But Neshek feels most comfortable setting up and he'll likely be here only another five weeks. Neris is theoretically a part of the Phillies' future so it does make sense to continue running him out there in the ninth inning.

But it's clear that Neris just is not the same pitcher he was in 2016. His opponents have hit .246 against his splitter after hitting .158 last season. 

"His splitter is hot and cold," manager Pete Mackanin said. "For every two good ones he throws, he throws two bad ones. It's hard to figure out what he's doing."

It doesn't matter much in 2017, but it matters for the future because in Neris, the Phillies thought they had a shutdown reliever with a chance to be a closer. Now they don't know what they have.

4. Leake's best year
The Phillies face Cardinals right-hander Mike Leake, who is enjoying the best season of his eight-year career (time flies). Through 13 starts, Leake is 5-6 with a 3.14 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

It's a far cry from what he gave St. Louis last season in the first year of his five-year, $80 million contract. He had a 4.69 ERA and 1.32 WHIP last season and his opponents hit .288, 46 points higher than they've hit this season.

Leake doesn't do anything fancy. He's a sinker-cutter pitcher who also incorporates a slider, curveball and changeup. Nothing is much harder than 91 mph. 

He likes to jam hitters with the cutter, a pitch that's held his opponents to a .143 batting average in 98 at-bats this season. 

Leake's groundball rate of 54.9 percent is the highest of his career and fifth-highest in the National League.

The Phillies did not face Leake in St. Louis earlier this month but they've seen plenty of him over the years. In 10 starts against them, he's 3-3 with a 5.40 ERA. 

Maikel Franco has hit him the best, going 5 for 9 with a double and two walks. Kendrick is 3 for 5. Michael Saunders is 1 for 1 with a two-run homer. Odubel Herrera is 3 for 12 with a double and a long ball himself.

5. This and that
• Neshek has allowed two runs in 27 innings. The only other pitcher in the majors this season to allow two runs or less in 20-plus innings is the Yankees' Dellin Betances (two runs in 21 2/3 innings).

• Aside from their three-game sweep of the Phillies June 9-11, the Cardinals have lost 12 of 14.

• St. Louis is 13-19 on the road; the Phillies are 13-18 at home.

• The Phillies' 27 one-run games are four more than any other team has played. They're 10-17 in them.