It’s a pennant race, as John Kruk kept reminding us. Yes, it is. It is. There’s a pennant to be won, and the Phillies could still win it, so there is one. And these two teams playing each other is actually a big part of it right now. But that ended around the time Luis Garcia entered the game.
So, the Phillies opened a crucial four-game set with the Braves tonight at SunTrust Park, with each match-up likely being their biggest game of the season.
Both offenses swapped singles through the first three innings, resulting in a 3-3 tie. The Phillies made Braves starter Kevin Gausman pitch, and they hit with runners in scoring position without having to rely on home runs. It was calm.
But a couple of little moments dictated the Braves entry and reentry into the game: Rhys Hoskins stepping on first on a double play ball instead of going to second, allowing Nick Markakis to get in a rundown until a run was able to score. Carlos Santana, a first baseman playing third base and shifted over to shortstop, was only able to ole at a spinning grounder as it sped past him and into the outfield. Jorge Alfaro was unable to block a blockable pitch and allowing two runners to move into scoring position. The Phillies’ lack of confidence was quite apparent, very early.
Five of the first eight Braves reached base, but Vince Velasquez got himself out of too much trouble. He once more threw lots of pitches in the first three innings, which was, as some suspected, all he got to see. Gabe Kapler put Justin Bour in the on-deck circle for Velasquez in the third as the Phillies were rallying, hinting at his plans, but the inning ended before Bour could get to the plate. So Velasquez was gifted one more frame before Kapler yanked him to start the fourth in favor of pinch hitter J.P. Crawford.
Though the Phillies and Braves mirrored each other offensively and worked each other’s pitchers early, Brian Snitker kept his starter in the game, and Gausman stayed into the seventh, retiring the last 11 batters he faced. And the Phillies did themselves few favors as the hiccups continued; Aaron Altherr missed a catch in foul territory, Cesar Hernandez slid past the bag on a steal, Altherr didn’t move quickly on a Dansby Swanson base hit, allowing him to stretch it into a double.
You can root for the Phillies to make the playoffs. But at this point, there’s no denying that they do not look like a playoff team. Even so, they managed to stay even with the Braves for six innings, with Kapler throwing bullpen arms at Atlanta until they got to Tommy Hunter, who gave up back-to-back doubles in the seventh to Swanson and pinch hitter Lucas Duda. The Braves grabbed a 4-3 lead, and then Kapler went to Luis Garcia.
, and the Braves won 8-3. In a fun little twist, former Phillies first round draft pick Jesse Biddle got the win.
We could talk about the many, many mistakes that allowed the Braves to trim their magic number down to four. We could talk about Luis Garcia’s nightmare of an appearance, in which he recorded no outs and allowed four runs—one of them walked in—for Atlanta to blow the game open. We could discuss Gabe Kapler’s decision to go to Garcia, and not Seranthony Dominguez or Hector Neris, to protect a one-run lead against a vicious lineup.
Look, you know this team. They have nothing left to show you. Did you see them go down in order in the ninth? Their last three hitters struck out so fast, you’d think they were just trying to get back to the clubhouse quick enough to make sure they’d get one of the PlayStation controllers. This was just another bad loss for a team that simply isn’t good enough, doesn’t come to life when they have to, hasn’t come through in the clutch, and has too many questions about the way it is managed to move forward.
If they have another gear, it doesn’t matter; they’ve run out of highway.