PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies could change the way that the front office views and manages the July 31 Trade Deadline if they show something significant coming out of the All-Star break.
If the club plays well against the Nationals and Dodgers in their seven-game homestand at Citizens Bank Park, they could press the front office into more aggressive pursuits to help them catch the Braves in the National League East. Friday night’s 4-0 loss to the Nationals is not the start that they wanted.
“It’s our job to play good baseball and make them push their hand a little bit, if we can do that,” Phillies right fielder Bryce Harper said. “We’ve got to keep playing ball. We’ve got a great group in here. If we can be in a place to add some pieces, then I think we will.”
Since the Phillies had a 33-22 record with a 3 1/2-game lead over the Braves on May 29, they are 14-22. If the season ended Friday, they would play the Brewers in a play-in game to earn the second National League Wild Card.
“Certainly not the way we wanted to start the second half,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “I also recognize that it’s one game.”
But the pressure is building. Fans booed as the game ended. It has been a frustrating stretch.
“I think there’s always pressure playing in Philadelphia, and that’s a great thing,” Kapler said. “The bar is always raised high for us. It’s our responsibility to step up and meet that bar. And that’s independent of around the Trade Deadline, past the Trade Deadline, the beginning of the season, there’s always pressure to perform and we love that.”
Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta allowed six hits, three runs and two walks in five innings. He struck out two. All things considered, three runs by a Phillies’ starter is not the worst thing in the world. But Pivetta has a 6.99 ERA in his last five starts as the Phillies’ pitching remains an issue.
“I just didn’t think he was able to execute enough pitches to go deep in the game for us,” Kapler said.
But why? A lot of people expected Pivetta to take a big step forward this season. It has not happened.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Kapler said. “I think it’s sometimes his inability to execute the game plan. And I think other times, it’s an inability to get to his best fastball. Sometimes, he’s not able to throw his curveball for a strike. And sometimes, it’s a combination of all those things.”
Said Pivetta, who is 1-7 with a 10.06 ERA in 10 career appearances (nine starts) against Washington: “There’s a lot of ups and downs to this game. I think I could just be a lot more consistent than I am. … I’ve struggled against them a lot. Even though I gave up three runs, I mean, it’s a ton less than what I’ve given up this year. There’s a lot of positives I can take away from that. It could have turned into a much worse baseball game.”
Of course, three runs should be enough to win most nights, but Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg pitched six scoreless innings before Washington’s bullpen pitched the final three. It will not get any easier Saturday, when the Phillies face left-hander Patrick Corbin. The Phillies considered signing Corbin in the offseason, but he signed a six-year, $140 million contract with Washington instead.
“We tried pretty hard to add a starting pitcher in the offseason, but it got to six years,” Phillies president Andy MacPhail said before the game. “We determined that that was just one too many.”
The price for quality pitching might not be any easier to swallow before July 31, if the Phillies decide to aggressively pursue it. They will have plenty of competition, too. But first, the Phillies need to start winning.
“We’ve got to play our game,” Harper said. “If we lose, then it’s not a good thing. If we win, it is. We’ve got a lot of baseball left, but a little sense of urgency as well.”