"I think we've seen stranger things happen toward the end of a baseball season, and we've seen it come down to the last game," Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta said after Tuesday night's crushing 7-6 loss in 10 innings to the Nationals in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. "We obviously don't want that to happen. It's not over until we're eliminated."
The Nationals swept Tuesday's doubleheader because the Phillies blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning in Game 2. Seranthony Dominguez and Luis Garcia combined to allow three runs to tie the game. The Phillies wasted a scoring opportunity in the bottom of the ninth, and Nationals rookie Juan Soto crushed a homer against Yacksel Rios in the 10th to win it.
The loss left the Phillies 6 1/2 games behind the Braves in the National League East. The Phillies have 18 games to play, including seven games against the Braves. But those games against Atlanta will not matter unless they make up significant ground in the next several days.
"Yes, I think there's a shot," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. "Absolutely. That's not going to change based on one loss. As long as we are still in the race, as long as we still have games left with Atlanta, and as long as we can mathematically catch them, I will believe in this club. That will not waver."
Mathematically, the Phillies are alive, but the arithmetic is unforgiving. If the Braves play just 8-9 the rest of the way, the Phillies need to finish 15-3 to tie them. The Phillies have not had a 15-3 stretch since 2011, when they ran Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt at opponents four out of every five days. And again, they still would need the Braves to cooperate.
It is hard to imagine the Phillies playing their best baseball in seven years after playing the way they have played since early August. The Phillies had the second-best record in the National League (63-48) on Aug. 5. They have the worst record (11-22) in the NL since.
The Phillies have tried to keep it cool as the losses piled up. They have said they will not panic. They have avoided cliches like "must-win games."
"Urgency is kind of a ridiculous thing to say honestly," Arrieta said. "It's accountability and responsibility. Take care of your end of the bargain, pick up your teammates. We've needed to be urgent for a long time, and that just means win ballgames. We haven't done that."
"We care deeply about winning," Kapler said. "Every single day is a push to win the baseball game. From an urgency perspective, sure, there's urgency in every game that we play. I understand why you're asking, because we have fewer and fewer games every single day. But it doesn't change our approach to the game. Our approach is to prepare, prepare, prepare, be ready for anything and execute. It takes a lot of work, and we're prepared to get better."
But with 18 games to play and a significant deficit to overcome, the Phillies need more than proper preparation. They just need to win.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Opportunity wasted: The Phillies had runners on first and second and no outs in the ninth, but Rhys Hoskins popped out to first baseman Mark Reynolds and J.P. Crawford hit into a fielder's choice for the second out. Carlos Santana was intentionally walked to load the bases, but Jose Bautista flied out to center field to end the inning.
Arrieta lasts only five: Kapler pinch-hit Justin Bour for Arrieta with runners on second and third and one out in the fifth inning. Bour fouled out on the first pitch, but the Phillies followed his at-bat with four consecutive hits to take a two-run lead.
Arrieta allowed three hits, three runs and two walks and struck out seven in five innings. He has a 3.66 ERA in 28 starts this season, but a 5.85 ERA in his past six. He has allowed three or more runs in five of those six outings.
SOUND SMART There is a reason why Kapler asked Garcia to pitch the ninth inning -- he also pitched in Game 1 -- rather than Victor Arano. Arano has some soreness in his right elbow. He does not think it is serious and hopes to be available Wednesday.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS Wilson Ramos has the second-slowest sprint speed (23.1 ft/sec) out of 266 players (minimum 100 opportunities) in baseball, according to Statcast™. But he reached first on an infield single in the seventh inning when he hit a ball that deflected off Nationals pitcher Austen Williams' glove.
HE SAID IT "I would hope so. I mean, you don't play 162 games or 200 including Spring Training and not learn anything. If you don't learn anything, that's on you. Everybody is a big boy in this room. Young or not, you need to learn something and move forward." -- Arrieta, on any lessons to be learned from the past few weeks
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY The Nationals won a challenge in the seventh inning, when they thought pinch-runner Dylan Cozens did not slide appropriately on a play at second base. The replay official determined that Cozens' slide hindered and impeded the fielder, Trea Turner, resulting in an inning-ending double play.
UP NEXT Phillies ace Aaron Nola (16-4, 2.29 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg (7-7, 4.04) in Wednesday's 7:05 p.m. ET series finale at Citizens Bank Park. Nola remains a National League Cy Young Award candidate in a three-pitcher race along with the Nationals' Max Scherzer and the Mets' Jacob deGrom.