For most teams in Major League Baseball, September call-ups typically add a little excitement to the roster. Even when a top prospect doesn't get the call, deeper benches open space for more specialists who may have one elite or near-elite tool in an entire chest of rusted wrenches and hammers. Want to see a player who can steal bases at an elite level while doing literally nothing else well? The September gods gift you Terrance Gore in the fall harvest. Want pitchers with electric stuff but nothing at all in the way of command? Every bullpen has a couple versions of Nefi Ogando hanging around beyond the outfield wall.
The Phillies are a different story. Here's the lineup they trotted out tonight:
Is there anyone there, besides Carlos Ruiz and Odubel Herrera, who you can definitively say is a major league caliber baseball player? I mean, sure, most of those guys--Blanco, Galvis, Asche, and Ruf--probably have a place somewhere on some major league teams besides the Phillies. But, that's "probably." I don't think "definitely" is quite in play for them.
On the other side were the Nationals, who, despite being the most disappointing team since the Dream Team Eagles, are loaded with talent. Chief among that talent are former consecutive number one picks Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Bryce Harper has blossomed into, in my correct opinion, the clear National League MVP while Stephen Strasburg has looked fantastic while on the field, but has battled major and minor injuries throughout his career.
At the end of the day, talent plays, and this game represented the end of the day. Before the Phillies even had a chance to bat, Bryce Harper had given the Nationals the lead with a solo home run to center field. Bryce Harper will probably hurt you no matter who is pitching, but when you send David Buchanan out there, it's death and taxes. He added an RBI single in the third and a two-run dinger in the 8th to drill in the point that he is better than anyone the Phillies could send to the mound to pitch to him.
On the other side, Nationals starter Stephen Strasburg was dealing. Aside from a first inning walk to Freddy Galvis and a single to lead off the 5th inning from Cody Asche, the AAA Lehigh Valley Iron Phillies had nothing on Strasburg. The Phillies struck out more against Strasburg even than I strike out at a bar on a Friday night. Strasburg's 14 strikeouts were somehow not the most impressive thing about his start. This was:
The Phillies missed on 30 of 55 swings against Stephen Strasburg tonight. 55% miss rate is highest in a 100-pitch start in last 10 seasons— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 16, 2015
That's insane and is why I (stupidly, as it turned out) picked Strasburg to win NL Cy Young in my preseason award predictions. And while the Phillies trotted out a lineup that might be able to win the International League championship, a 55% whiff-rate is just unbelievable in any context. It is impressive even though this context was likely as conducive to such a feat as any in the last 10 seasons--premium strikeout pitcher v. crap hitters.
Not beating a team as unlikeable as the Nationals must be regarded as a failure, but, as with any Phillies failure in the next three weeks, there is a silver lining in their improved odds at securing the first overall pick next June. As of this writing, the Phillies have a 1.5 game cushion on the Braves and five games on the third-place Rockies. Maybe with more losses like these, the Phillies can draft a Strasburg or Harper of their own.