Phillies seeking spark down the stretch

Vargas takes loss in second start for new club

August 8th, 2019

PHOENIX -- Gabe Kapler is a scoreboard watcher, but he said he does not study the standings closely.

Not yet, anyway. But he knows the chase for the two National League Wild Card spots is a close one. It grew tighter following the Phillies’ 6-1 loss Wednesday night to the D-backs at Chase Field.

The Phillies lost the series and are just 5-7 since they completed a two-game sweep of the Tigers on July 24. The latest loss dropped them into a tie with the Brewers for the second NL Wild Card spot. The Nationals own the top spot. The Cardinals and hard-charging Mets are just a half-game behind the Phillies and Brewers.

“If the season ends today, then we’re in the playoffs,” Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper said. “I’ll take it.”

But the Phillies will need to start playing better to stay there. Much better. The Mets are 13-1 since July 24. Then there are all those other teams in pursuit.

“Every team in our division, sans the Braves, has gone through stretches where things weren’t clicking on all cylinders,” Kapler said. “As competitors, we never count anybody else out in the division because we know how talented everybody in this division is. We knew that about the Nationals at the beginning of the season. We knew that about the Mets the last time we went to play them, that they’re an especially talented club and we were going to have to play our best baseball to beat them.

“When our club is playing our best baseball, we are going to be unbeatable.”

The Phillies have only 48 more games to make that happen.

Phillies left-hander allowed four runs in five innings Wednesday. He played for the Mets when they started their scintillating run late last month. Then the Mets acquired Marcus Stroman from the Blue Jays and dealt Vargas to the Phillies on July 29.

Do the Phillies have a surprising run in them like the Mets? The Phillies have not won more than four consecutive games this season. Ironically, the Phillies’ last four-game winning streak came in late June in a sweep against the Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“I don’t think comparing one team to another, trying to make a judgment if there’s a winning streak ahead is how you really want to look at things,” Vargas said.

The Phillies managed five hits Wednesday against the D-backs. Harper’s solo homer to left-center field with one out in the ninth inning allowed the Phillies to avoid their seventh shutout. Vargas allowed two runs in the third, hitting Carson Kelly with a pitch and walking Ketel Marte with one out. David Peralta’s single to right scored Kelly. Eduardo Escobar’s sacrifice fly scored Marte.

The D-backs scored two more runs in the fourth. The fourth run scored on Zac Gallen’s sacrifice bunt up the third-base line. Scott Kingery had played up and D-backs shortstop Nick Ahmed moved with Kingery down the line as he inched toward home plate. Kingery fielded the bunt, briefly looked back Ahmed and threw to first. Ahmed immediately ran home as soon as Kingery threw. He scored easily.

The Phillies opened the series Monday with a 7-3 victory. Kapler called it one of the team’s best games of the season. But then they went 2-for-17 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners on base in Tuesday’s 8-4 loss. Everything just felt flat Wednesday.

A lack of offense does that. could rejoin the team from the injured list sometime this weekend against the Giants in San Francisco. He should help the offense. But the Phillies will need everybody else to start performing as expected, too.

“I think we’re all pretty frustrated,” Kapler said. “Certainly we’re a much better offensive club than we’re showing. I think when we do play the type of baseball that we’re capable of playing we’re going to score more runs than we are right now.”