PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies experimented with their 111th lineup of the season Saturday night in a 7-1 loss to the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park.
It sounds excessive, but the reality is National League postseason contenders like the Dodgers, Cubs, D-backs and Brewers have used more lineups (not including pitchers) than the Phillies. Still, it is quite clear manager Gabe Kapler is searching for any advantage that will help an offense that sees a lot of pitches, walks plenty, but still has trouble scoring runs.
Kapler's lineups will continue to change, but if the Phillies are going to catch the first-place Braves in the NL East in the season's final 27 games -- the Braves beat the Pirates to take a three-game lead in the division -- they will need to pitch better to make up for a below-average offense and arguably the worst defense in baseball. Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin allowed seven hits and four runs (three earned) in five innings against the Cubs to fall to 9-6 with a 4.05 ERA.
Eflin is a big reason why the Phillies have a chance to make the postseason for the first time since 2011. He went 7-2 with a 2.97 ERA in his first 11 starts this season.
But Eflin is 2-4 with a 5.51 ERA in his past nine starts. He is 1-2 with a 6.20 ERA in four starts since the Phillies optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley last month to add another bat to the bench for a few days.
"I think chasing down the National League East title is not going to be based on whether our starting pitchers are sharp down the stretch," Kapler said. "I think it's going to be our entire club playing together as a unit, as a team. And everybody continuing to take those small steps forward that we talked about in Spring Training. We've seen that to date. I have no doubt in my mind, I have a tremendous amount of confidence that we'll continue to take those small steps forward. But I don't think you can isolate it to one bucket of our team, like starting pitching or bullpen or offense. It's the unit working together to take those small steps forward."
What's been the difference with Eflin? Two things jump out.
Eflin's expected batting average against (.264) in his previous eight starts (not including Saturday) was 29 points lower than his actual batting average allowed (.293). It suggests Eflin has run into some bad luck, although his expected batting average in those starts is much higher than the .235 he posted over his first 11.
Eflin is missing fewer bats, too. His whiff/swing rate was 23.9 percent through his first 11 starts. It regressed to 19.7 percent in his previous eight. Eflin got whiffs on only 15.7 percent of swings against him last season, which was an issue. He got only six swings and misses against the Cubs, tied for his third-fewest whiffs in a start this season.
"I would say fastball command," Eflin said. "It's just kind of been off for the past three, four outings. It was pretty good until the last three outings. My fastball has been on all year. I know once I get back into that and back spinning my four-seam and get back to locating it well, the swing and misses are going to come."
Does he think his rhythm or routine got thrown off by being optioned last month in San Diego?
"No, I wouldn't say it was thrown off at all," he said. "It was a little different, but at the end of the day, I did what I had to do every single day to prepare myself to be ready every fifth day. No, it's not an excuse."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Another miscue, another run: Phillies shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera hit a walk-off home run Friday night, but his throwing error in the first inning helped the Cubs take a 2-0 lead. After Daniel Murphy hit a leadoff double, Javier Baez hit a ground ball to short. Cabrera threw low and the ball flew past Phillies first baseman Carlos Santana, allowing Murphy to score. Baez later scored on Benjamin Zobrist's double to left field.
Maikel Franco hit .336 with eight doubles, nine home runs, 21 RBIs and a .972 OPS in 38 games from June 23 through Aug. 6. He is hitting .219 with three doubles, four home runs, nine RBIs and a .684 OPS in 22 games since.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Phillies left-hander Austin Davis had an interesting encounter with third-base umpire Joe West in the eighth inning. After Davis pulled a scouting report from his back pocket and reviewed it before he faced Addison Russell, West approached him, asked for the sheet of paper and confiscated it. More >>
HE SAID IT
"There's no shortage of stuff. Obviously we saw that the velocity was there. We saw a really sharp slider at times. Demonstrated the use of a really good changeup a couple times. No, I don't think there's any correlation there. I wouldn't make that correlation." -- Kapler, on Eflin's struggles since being optioned last month