SAN FRANCISCO -- The Phillies’ 5-0 loss Thursday night to the Giants, who limited the losers to one hit, can be explained in one of two ways.
They might be trying too hard, an affliction common to postseason contenders who feel their ability to compete slipping away.
Or, the Phillies simply got Bumgarnered -- as in Madison Bumgarner, the Giants’ iconic left-hander who allowed Philadelphia’s lone hit in seven innings.
Facing San Francisco in the opener of a four-game series, the Phillies at least privately should have expected to take advantage of the Giants, who had lost four games in a row and six of their previous seven. But the Phillies, who have dropped three consecutive games and four of their last five, instead sank closer to the Giants, who are on the fringes of the National League Wild Card race. The Phillies (59-56) dropped a half-game behind Milwaukee (60-56) in the pursuit of the second Wild Card spot, a status shared by the Cardinals (58-55) and Mets (59-56). The Giants (57-59) trail Milwaukee by three games.
Phillies manager Gabe Kapler maintained utmost faith in his club.
“You make a conscious effort to continue to instill confidence in the players,” Kapler said, detailing his methods for reinforcing a team’s will to win. “Remind them of how good they are, how long they’ve been doing this well. Remind them of the times when things were clicking and we were able to scratch runs out. These guys know how good they are and we know that their true talent is going to rise to the top.”
Phillies ace Aaron Nola (10-3), who was outclassed by Bumgarner (7-7), took solace in the knowledge that “there’s a lot of baseball left.” And second baseman Scott Kingery offered advice regarding how not to try too hard: “It’s tough to not press. When you’re in a little funk and you try to get hits, sometimes you get away from your plan a little bit. The only thing you can do is come in and stick to your routine.”
However, Bumgarner tends to upset routines when he’s at his best. The 2014 postseason hero no-hit Philadelphia for 5 1/3 innings until Cesar Hernandez lined a pinch-hit single.
"It wasn’t a high-velocity fastball, but it certainly was heavy,” Kapler said. “He was able to put the ball where he wanted to put it, keeping our hitters off-balance. On the flip side, we didn’t make him work hard enough. It’s just as simple as that. To make good pitchers work hard and fight for every inch, we weren’t able to run his pitch count up at all. He stayed efficient, never stopped attacking the zone."
Bumgarner threw 21 called strikes, a total that Kapler regarded as both understandable and regrettable.
“Guys were prepared to attack the fastball. They were prepared for the cutter and Bumgarner was putting them where he wanted to put it,” Kapler said. “At the same time, we have to find ways to scratch and claw to reach base and we weren’t able to do that tonight. That’s not acceptable.”
The Phillies seemed to have a lot going for them. Besides owning a 7-1 record in Nola’s last eight starts overall, they also were 6-1 behind him in his last seven road starts.
None of that seemed to matter. Nola, who lasted five innings, allowed four consecutive hits in San Francisco’s three-run fourth. Hoskins and Harper each went 0-for-3.