LOS ANGELES - Are the Los Angeles Dodgers that much better than the Phillies, or did the Phillies simply play some bad baseball against the best team in the National League over the weekend?
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That was the question the Phillies were left to ponder as the team buses pulled out of Dodger Stadium and headed south to San Diego on Sunday night.
The Phils had a miserable weekend in Chavez Ravine, swept for the first time this season after an 8-0 loss to the Dodgers in a series finale that started off well and ended horribly.
"We bumped up against a red-hot team," manager Gabe Kapler said. "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. 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."
Sunday's loss was the Phillies' season-high fourth in a row. They arrived in Los Angeles with the second-best record in the NL and left with the third best. Their lead in the NL East is down to a game over the Atlanta Braves.
The Phillies suffered a painful walkoff loss Saturday night and an ugly loss in the finale. They got an excellent start from Nick Pivetta - six shutout innings, nine strikeouts - but everything went haywire after he left for a pinch-hitter in a scoreless game. Vince Velasquez gave up a solo homer to David Freese with two outs in the bottom of the seventh as the Dodgers took a 1-0 lead. An inning later, the Phillies' defense fell apart and the Dodgers mauled two young relievers for seven runs.
The Dodgers, super-talented and owners of the best record in the NL at 41-19, got three quality starts in the series and outscored the Phils, 18-6. They out-homered the Phils, 8-2.
The Phils hit just .158 (15 for 95) in the series with 27 strikeouts. They had just five extra-base hits and were 3 for 20 with runners in scoring position.
Jay Bruce arrives Monday, but he's coming as a complementary player and can only do so much.
"I think (the Dodgers) pitched well and we can always swing the bats better and work better at-bats," Kapler said. "I think the responsibility is always on us to play better baseball and we intend to go to San Diego and do a whole lot better."
Velasquez has struggled in his early transition to the bullpen. He has allowed five earned runs and nine hits, including three homers, in just 4 1/3 innings.
Is his heart into this new bullpen role?
He says it is.
"I'm fully committed," he said. "I appreciate Kap really trusting me in that (tie game) situation. I was fully convicted and ready to close the door and it kind of backfired on me a little bit."
The Phils played poor defense in the series. They made two miscues that led to runs Saturday night and two more that led to runs in the eighth inning Sunday.
So back to that earlier question: Are the Dodgers that much better than the Phillies, or did the Phillies simply play a poor series against a very good team?
"They played well and I think we didn't play well," Rhys Hoskins said. "Obviously we're not as healthy as I think they are. My guess is that I think they come pretty late to (Philadelphia to play) us. My guess is that it will be a different series. This a tough place to play. They're really good here. They feed off this crowd. But 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 came on June 1."
The Dodgers visit Philadelphia for four games July 15-18. The Phillies have some work to do to measure up.
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