The Phillies played two games on Monday night. One lasted eight innings and resulted in no runs and just four singles against a dominant Jon Lester. The other involved a ninth-inning rally against the Cubs' bullpen, one that fell just short because of all the offensive futility that preceded it.
The Phillies were headed for their third shutout loss of the season, but came up with five hits and two home runs in the ninth inning of a 6-4 loss (see Instant Replay). Freddy Galvis got them on the board with a three-run shot and Tommy Joseph followed with a solo homer, his fifth, to dead-center off Cubs closer Hector Rondon.
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Problem was, at-bats like the ones Galvis gave his team prior to that ninth-inning home run played a major role in the size of the deficit.
Galvis struck out swinging three times against Lester, all on pitches in the dirt. As manager Pete Mackanin said after the game, the Phillies just continue to make the same kind of outs in the same ways, failing to learn from their mistakes and adjust within games.
"Our hitters, they make the same outs the same way over and over," Mackanin said. "Freddy struck out three times on the same pitch. He's got to learn how to not expand the zone that way."
Mackanin had an interesting analogy for the lack of offensive adjustments from his hitters.
"When you're walking to school, every time you take the one road to school and there's a big tough guy who beats you up and takes your lunch money, after a while I think you're going to take a different route," he said. "Likewise, the hitters have got to figure out, 'I'm not gonna keep doing what I'm doing, that guy's not gonna beat me up and take my money anymore, I'm gonna go around him.' That's the kind of thing they have to do, figure out a way to eliminate those mistakes."
The Phils have been bullied lately, losing 13 of their last 17 games to fall to 28-30 on the season. Losing to the Cubs (40-16) or to Lester (7-3, 2.06 ERA) are not events that should cause great shame. Chicago's the best team in baseball right now and Lester is one of the best pitchers in either league. But it was the Phillies' second time seeing him in 11 days and they looked just as confused as they've ever been against him.
One thing they could have done to counteract Lester's rhythm and aggressiveness in the strike zone was bunt more against him. Lester has a long history of issues throwing to the bases, and at this point he wants no part of fielding bunts. In the second inning, Peter Bourjos bunted a ball directly back to Lester, who sidestepped it and let catcher David Ross make the play. Ross couldn't, because it was a much tougher play for a catcher.
The Cubs try to protect Lester at all costs, but it was still confusing that the Phils didn't try to keep bunting after that. Cesar Hernandez was out bunting for a hit to lead off the game, Bourjos had the bunt single, and Hernandez later showed bunt again, but that was it. What's the harm in trying that strategy against someone like Lester, who was rolling on Monday and has a 1.46 ERA in eight career starts against the Phillies?
"Guys who can bunt gave it a shot. I don't know if Freddy did," Mackanin said. "It's tough, those two corners, third baseman [Kris Bryant] and first baseman [Anthony Rizzo], they attack when they see a guy bunt. They're protecting Lester because they know he doesn't want to field the ball. Perhaps we could have bunted more, but not everybody is a very good bunter."
One guy who shouldn't be laying one down any time soon is Joseph, who right now is the Phillies' best hitter. He went 2 for 4 Monday with a solo homer and is hitting .311 with a .590 slugging percentage in 64 plate appearances. One of the outs he made Monday was a deep flyball to left field that Jorge Soler had to leap to catch at the wall.
Joseph will be out of the Phils' lineup on Tuesday as Mackanin gives Ryan Howard another shot — perhaps his last — to prove he's worth starting more than once in a while.
It will be tough for Mackanin to keep his best offensive player out of the lineup Tuesday, which is one of the reasons he doesn't like the awkward situation playing out at first base (see story).
"It's very tough," Mackanin said. "I said I'm going to play Howie tomorrow. Even if I do stay with Joseph more often, I still have to keep Howie sharp and give him an opportunity to do something for us."
Left-hander Adam Morgan should have another opportunity to prove he belongs in the Phillies' rotation. His spot on the staff is shaky, but Morgan recovered after a long first inning to give the Phillies a quality start Monday (six innings, three runs). He threw 30 pitches and allowed four hits (two doubles) in the first, but gave up just one run by striking out Javier Baez and Addison Russell with the bases loaded.
Morgan's biggest mistake came against Lester, a career .048 hitter. He fell behind the pitcher and allowed a double that extended the fourth inning, eventually leading to Jason Heyward's two-out, two-run homer.
Pitching for his job, Morgan showed some guts and resolve keeping the game close against an offense as dynamic as the Cubs'.
"You could see the determination in his eyes, he really wanted to have a good outing," Mackanin said. "When you throw 30 pitches in the first inning, it's a true indication that you don't have your command, obviously. ... But he did pitch well.
"I think he knows he has to pitch better and he did tonight, which is good to see. He battled, but you have to make good pitches every inning."