Road 'funk' continues as Phils drop finale
SAN FRANCISCO – Bad things continue to happen to the Phillies on the road.
They even shuffled their rotation last week to try to change it. They skipped Spencer Howard’s start Sunday at Oracle Park, replacing him with Zach Eflin. It allowed them to not only start Eflin in the series finale against the Giants, but Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler and Eflin next weekend against the Mets at Citi Field. But Eflin allowed a career-high four home runs and Howard struggled in relief in Sunday afternoon’s 11-2 loss.
“To get that last one would have been huge,” Eflin said about the final game of a six-game road trip.
The Phillies finished 2-4 on the trip through Los Angeles and San Francisco. They have not played .500 or better on a two- or three-city trip since Sept. 2-8, 2019, when they went 4-3 against the Reds and Mets.
They are 25-50 (.333) on the road since then. They are 44-30 (.595) at home.
“I keep saying it, man,” Eflin said. “It’s just the game we play. We’re looking forward to getting home and playing in front of our fans. But, you know, it’s just the sport we play. Right now, it’s just the funk we’re in. We’re not doing too well on the road, but 162 games – there’s a lot of stuff that happens in 162.”
A lot of different things happened in the first inning. Rhys Hoskins’ error put leadoff batter LaMonte Wade Jr. on first base. Mike Yastrzemski ripped a 1-2 fastball for a two-run homer to right to make it 2-0. Wilmer Flores followed with a solo homer to left, hitting a 2-2 slider, to make it 3-0. They were the fourth and fifth two-strike homers the Phillies allowed in the series. The Phillies have allowed 35 two-strike homers this year, which is third in baseball behind only Baltimore (37) and Toronto (36).
It is more than just two-strike homers, though. They entered Sunday with the eighth-highest opponent’s batting average (.174) with two strikes.
“We talk about it all the time,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “We’ve given up way too many two-strike hits overall with just mistakes. It’s something that if we’re going to get to the next level, we have to better at that.
“Bad execution is really what it comes down to.”
J.T. Realmuto hit a two-run homer in the third to make it 3-2, but Brandon Crawford hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning to make it 5-2. Flores’ solo homer in the fifth made it 6-2. Eflin allowed another run in the sixth before Girardi removed him from the game. Eflin had a 3.84 ERA in his first 10 starts this season, pitching six or more innings in each one. He has a 6.10 ERA in his last four, pitching six or more innings once.
“I might be a little off mechanically,” Eflin said. “But it’s funny because the last four outings have been the best I’ve felt all year. It’s a crazy game. Sometimes you feel great and you don’t pitch well. Sometimes you feel horrible and you pitch great.”
Howard replaced Eflin in the sixth. He did not finish the seventh. He allowed two hits, two runs, three walks and one wild pitch to make it 9-2.
Girardi said they have not decided if Howard will pitch in Friday’s doubleheader in New York, but he also said “we just skipped him through this time. We know that we’re going to use him in the next turn.”
If it is not Howard on Friday, it could be left-hander Bailey Falter.
But then, it seems it doesn’t matter who pitches when the Phillies are on the road. They play 12 of their final 19 games on the road before the All-Star break. Their performance in that stretch could determine Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s aggressiveness before the Trade Deadline on July 30.
If they play well, maybe they add. If they hover around .500 or play poorly, maybe they stand pat or sell.
“We’re all grown men, we all know what we need to do,” Eflin said. “We’ve got to show up every day, prepared and ready to go. There’s not a guy in the clubhouse that’s not doing that. We play 162 games, man. Stuff like this is going to happen. It happened earlier in the year, too. We’ve just got to keep fighting and charge forward. Good things are going to happen.”