From the Ballpark: Phillies Unravel Again in 6-4 Loss to Pirates
PHILADELPHIA—He’s shaken up his lineup times over. He’s toyed with different management strategies. He’s given guys days to clear their heads, and left others sort out issues themselves.
But Charlie Manuel’s reach has its limits.
The manager knows this. But if he didn’t, he’d be shown again in his Phillies 6-4 loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates at Citizens Bank Park today.
“I’m trying to do everything I possibly can,” Manuel said. “Everybody’s been getting a chance to play. Like we said the other night, We’ll see.”
And we have seen.
We've seen the Phillies drop three straight for the second time in two weeks, lose 8 of 11 games and six of seven series this year, the other being a split with St. Louis.
It’s still early.
But it's getting to the point where you ought to begin to wonder about this team’s ceiling, about where it is and whether it’s been overstated.
Ask yourself: Do playoff teams blow back-to-back two-run leads in the seventh inning against .500-caliber teams? Do they score three runs of fewer in 17 of 24 games?
Do championship organizations have so few alternatives?
This is bigger than singular managerial decisions, like the one that faced Manuel in the seventh inning with two outs. Bigger than the players at the center of it, too.
Lee had served hits to back-to-back batters, the latter being Gaby Sanchez, who belted an RBI single back at him to trim the lead to 3-2.
Lee was nearing 122 pitches, his most since last June 22, his 2012 season-high.
But Antonio Bastardo and Mike Adams had both been worked in three of four days.
So, after a brief mound visit to run it by Lee, Manuel opted for his $20 million a year starter over a few league-minimum middle relievers.
The next batter, Michael McKendrick, smeared another RBI single to tie it, 3-3.
“I just walked out there to kind of give him a breather,” Manuel said.
“That was a situation where he could have (taken me out of the game),” Lee said. “Obviously I never want to come out of the game, but I didn’t know (if he would).”
Manuel asked if he felt fine. Lee concurred.
"And that was it,” Lee said.
“Looking back in hindsight you never know.”
What matters is where Manuel likely looked then: forward. And for good reason.
Phillippe Aumont opened the eighth with a strikeout. But he plunked his next batter, Clint Barmes, on a first-pitch fastball that got away from him.
Aumont’s next three batters tagged him for hits, the last being a two RBI double from Garrett Jones that clears the bases if Starling Marte doesn’t take a spill rounding third.
“I look at it, I had one bad pitch,” Aumont said. “Got a little over the plate. He got a hold of it. Had a couple of ground balls, and they found a hole. That’s just the way it goes.”
Aumont and Jeremy Horst, 25th man types, have served seven earned in 7 2/3 innings these last two games, after the Phillie ‘pen had gone 13 2/3 scoreless over five prior.
The team entered yesterday’s game 6-0 after a seventh-inning lead. They’re 0-2 since.
Aumont (1-3, 4.05 ERA) has three of the relief staff’s six losses.
With a deeper farm system, there’d be alternatives. Clearly not the case here.
Lee (2-1, 3.03 ERA) surrendered three runs on 10 hits in seven innings, for his fourth quality start in five this year. He fanned a season-high seven Pirates.
The lineup has kept margin for error is at a minimum. Maybe it’s become tiresome for all of the club's arms. But twice in 18 hours, the bats mustered a two-run lead.
Still, they squandered too many chances to win.
They went 2 for 16 with men in scoring position. Ezequiel Carrera and Kevin Frandsen, starting in place of Ben Revere and Michael Young, stranded four of five RISP total.
Frandsen went 1 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored. Carrera went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts. Revere has dealt with groin issues. Young hadn’t sat for 13 days.
Ryan Howard and Domonic Brown each went 2 for 4 with two RBI.
Howard knocked one in the eighth to cut the lead to two, and one in the sixth to score Frandsen, take a 2-1 lead and put Utley on third.
But Utley was thrown out at home running on contact from third in the sixth on a John Mayberry Jr., dribbler to short with men on first and third and no outs.
The scenario had been brought up after two straight games.
“If he’s going to run there, he’s got to score,” Manuel said on the third.
Three pitches later, Pirates reliever Justin Wilson uncorked a wild pitch. Brown rocketed an RBI sac fly to score Howard from third later in the at-bat.
Brown dropped a double into shallow center in the fourth with two outs beyond Andrew McCutchen’s range to score Utley from second.
Howard had reached third in the second with a leadoff double and Laynce Nix fielder’s choice. But Brown and Carrera each went down on strikes.
The problem is layered, but the takeaway is beginning to look simple.
This team may not be as good as once thought, or good enough for October.