Phillies fall to 3rd place for 1st time in 2019

July 5th, 2019

ATLANTA -- The Phillies believe that they will solve their pitching problems with further adjustments to their processes and practices.

There will be no other changes.

“We just don't scapegoat people,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said, when asked about potential changes to the coaching staff or pitching staff following Thursday night’s 12-6 loss to the Braves at SunTrust Park. “It's not who we are. We get back to work, and we make adjustments.”

The Phillies allowed five more home runs Thursday as they fell into third place in the National League East for the first time this season. Since the Phillies had a 33-22 record and a 3 1/2-game lead over the Braves in the division on May 29, they are tied with the Mets for the worst record in the National League at 12-20. They have lost 10 games in the standings to both the Braves and Nationals, who have moved into second place.

“At the end of the day, we have to get control of the home run ball,” Kapler said. “It's not something that is acceptable to us. This level of play, we can't keep it going. We have to do a better job than this. The first thing we have to get a handle on is keeping the ball in the ballpark.”

The Phillies took a 4-0 lead in the first inning against Braves right-hander Mike Soroka, stringing together six hits -- all singles.

But Phillies right-hander Zach Eflin found himself in a 13-pitch at-bat with Ronald Acuna Jr. to start the bottom of the inning. Acuna struck out swinging.

Kapler said Eflin never recovered.

“I think Acuna wore him down pretty good,” Kapler said. “He wasn't able to execute his pitches after that. We did see him begin to lose a little velocity. We saw him begin to lose a little life. We saw him begin to lose some command.”

Eflin’s fastball averaged 95.1 mph in the first inning, but just 93.6 mph in the second and third innings. Entering the game, Eflin’s fastball averaged 93.7 mph for the season.

“It definitely kind of knocked me back a little bit,” Eflin said. “I think it was like 15 pitches or something. So it was just consistently one after another, one after another. But, at the end of the day, I didn’t make the pitches that I needed to make. My two-strike pitches were pretty horrible. The fastball leaked when it shouldn’t have. That's pretty much it on that.”

Eflin allowed two runs in the first inning, including a solo home run to Dansby Swanson, and two runs in the second inning to tie the game. His night imploded in the third. He allowed a one-out double to Nick Markakis, then walked Brian McCann on four pitches with two outs. Ozzie Albies crushed a 1-1 fastball up in the zone for a three-run home run to right field to hand the Braves a 7-4 lead.

“To be able to go [13] pitches like that to start the game kind of set the tone for us, offensively," Swanson said of Acuna's at-bat.

Eflin has a 5.14 ERA in his last eight starts, another concern for the Phillies’ starting rotation. Phillies starters entered the night 10th in the league in ERA (4.48) and last in FIP (5.07). Last season, they had a 4.12 ERA, which ranked 11th, but a 3.72 FIP, which ranked third.

Edgar Garcia allowed back-to-back homers to Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson to make it 9-4 in the fourth. Freeman homered on a fastball up in the zone. Reliever Austin Davis later allowed a three-run homer to Swanson in the eighth on an 0-2 fastball up in the zone. The Phillies have asked their pitchers to throw fastballs at the top of the zone, but too often this season they have not elevated those pitches enough and have been hurt. They continue to try.

“It’s worked in the right situations,” Eflin said about elevating the fastball. “When we start pitching up, hitters are going to adjust. So you’ve got to find that common line of pitching up and pitching down, pitching in, pitching out. Once you put the puzzle pieces together, it’s going to be a good game.”

The Phillies have allowed 150 home runs in 87 games this season, putting them on pace to allow 279. They allowed 171 last year. The Reds allowed a big league record 258 homers in 2016.

“We win as a team. We lose as a team,” Kapler said. “This is never something where we scapegoat any one particular department, one particular individual. We're in this together. We fight as a team.”

The Phillies face reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom on Friday night at Citi Field. It is their final series before the All-Star break.

“Nobody is holding their head down,” Eflin said.