LOS ANGELES -- The Phillies rolled into Dodger Stadium on Friday with the second-best record in the National League and an opportunity to make a statement against the two-time defending NL champion Dodgers.
They left Los Angeles winless instead. Philadelphia suffered its first sweep of the season, extended its season-high losing streak to four games and watched its lead over the Braves in the NL East dwindle to one game following a late-inning meltdown in Sunday afternoon’s 8-0 loss to the Dodgers. Sunday’s loss not only spoiled one of the best starts of Nick Pivetta's career but called into question if the talent gap between the Phillies and Dodgers is as wide as it seemed during the series or if the Phillies simply played poorly against MLB’s best team.
The Phillies can recover from this, but until they play this team again there will be questions. They get another crack at LA in July, when they host the Dodgers for a four-game series at Citizens Bank Park.
“My guess is that it will be a different series,” Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins said. “It’s a tough place to play. They’re really good here. They feed off this crowd. But it was three bad days of baseball for us. Sometimes you have those stretches. I think it’s a pretty good sign that our first three-game bad stretch of baseball is June 1.”
The Dodgers showed almost no weakness against the Phillies. They proved they have a potent lineup, particularly from the left side of the plate. Phillies right-hander Jake Arrieta allowed five runs and three home runs in five innings in a 6-3 loss on Friday. The Phillies employed left-hander Jose Alvarez as an opener on Saturday, forcing the Dodgers to tweak their lineup. It proved effective, but the Dodgers won on a ninth-inning walk-off home run.
The Dodgers hit eight home runs in the series. The Phillies hit two. They scored six runs.
“Talent-wise, I know we can compete with this team,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “I don't think that it's just compete. I think we're as good as any team in the league. I think we're going to demonstrate that.
“I think we bumped up against a red-hot team. They outplayed us. I think I said from the beginning of the series, if we're going to beat teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, we have to play our best baseball. We didn't play our best baseball in this series -- pretty much from any angle. We have better baseball in us.”
Pivetta pitched brilliantly Sunday, which is encouraging. He allowed three hits and struck out nine in six scoreless innings. He got 16 swings and misses on just 82 pitches (19.5 percent), the second-highest whiff rate of any start in his career. His four-seam fastball averaged 94.7 mph.
“It’s nice to get back to the pitcher that I am,” Pivetta said. “I think there’s still room for improvement. There’s always more. Yes, I had a good outing today but it’s the consistency of the baseball game that I need to prove to everybody -- to my teammates, this coaching staff, to the fans -- and that’s what it’s going to take to move forward.”
The Dodgers intentionally walked Maikel Franco to put runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh. The Phillies pinch-hit Phil Gosselin for Pivetta and Gosselin struck out looking.
“You could see today Pivetta was on a mission, was throwing the ball really well, and we really couldn’t figure him out,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I knew that I was going to walk [Franco], and at that point in time for me, we just weren’t really seeing Pivetta well, and so I think that they wanted to kind of extend him and keep him going, but for the base to be open, for me to force their hand to go with a bat right there and get them to go to their ‘pen.”
“You get runners on first and second, it was basically the best run-scoring opportunity we had and we took a shot at it understanding that we would then have to go to the bullpen, but also trusting the work the bullpen has done this season,” Kapler said.
Pivetta said he supported Kapler’s decision.
Vince Velasquez replaced Pivetta in the seventh and allowed a two-out, go-ahead home run to David Freese. The Phillies’ pitching and defense were then hit hard in the eighth as the Dodgers scored seven runs in the frame.
It was an ugly end to a disappointing and frustrating series. The Phillies could have made their mark out West. Instead, they must try to salvage the six-game road trip with their next series against Manny Machado and the Padres, which kicks off Monday.
“I know that we have a better level of play in us and I think we’re going to bring that level of play to San Diego,” Kapler said.