ATLANTA – The Phillies failed to complete a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves on Thursday afternoon. Aaron Nola was roughed up for the third time in his last four outings and the Phillies suffered a 5-4 loss.
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The Phillies are winless in Nola's last six starts, a stretch coinciding with the team's decision to pitch him every fifth day regardless of the schedule.
Freddie Freeman had a game-changing two-run single against Nola after the Phils passed on walking him to set up a potential double play in the fifth inning. An inning later, Nola gave up a homer to rookie Austin Riley as the Braves built a 5-3 lead. The Phils pushed home a run in the eighth to make it a one run game, but Freeman, the Braves' first baseman, made a play on Haseley's line drive to stop the damage as the Phils left two men on base.
The loss was a blow to the Phillies' already faint postseason hopes. They immediately fell 3 ½ games back in the wild-card race with a chance to be four back by the end of the day.
There are just 11 games left.
The Phillies are 78-73. They need four wins to have their first winning season since 2011.
Atlanta's magic number for winning the NL East is one.
He was not sharp. He gave up nine hits, including two homers, in just five innings of work. He walked two and struck out four.
Nola has struggled in three of four starts this month. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball in a loss against Boston last weekend, but has been tagged for 20 hits and 14 runs over 15 innings in his other three starts this month. Two of those starts have been against the Braves.
If the Phillies stay on turn in their rotation, Nola would start one of the two games in Tuesday's doubleheader at Washington.
On Wednesday, general manager Matt Klentak praised the team's defensive improvement this season. Then the club went out and made three errors, two by second baseman Cesar Hernandez.
Hernandez did not make an error in this one but he did have a costly misplay that led to a Braves' run in the fifth inning. Hernandez could not immediately get the handle on a ground ball by Ozzie Albies and that prevented him from getting the lead runner at second and possibly starting a double play. He had to settle for the out at first base.
The misplay put runners at second and third with one out in a tie game and Freeman quickly untied it with a two-run single.
Hernandez has one more year of salary arbitration before free agency. He is making $7.75 million this season and could be in line to make about $10 million in 2020. Scott Kingery is projected to be the full-time second baseman at some point. Will the Phillies deal Hernandez this winter to open the spot for Kingery? It's complicated. Hernandez could be difficult to move at that salary, especially when teams know he could become a free agent if the Phillies don't offer him a contract.
This is one of the many questions the Phils must deal with in the offseason.
Freeman makes ‘em pay
After Hernandez' misplay in the fifth, Nola had to face Freeman with one out and runners on second and third in a tie game. The situation seemed ripe for walking Freeman to set up a double play with Adam Duvall coming to the plate. The Phils had, in fact, walked Freeman five times previously in the series. But Nola pitched to Freeman and the Braves slugger, previously 0 for 6 in the series, lined a two-run single to right field to score two runs as the Braves took a 4-2 lead that they never relinquished.
The Phillies move on to Cleveland for a three-game interleague series. The Indians are right in the thick of the American League wild-card race and need the series as badly as the Phillies do.
Friday night – LHP Drew Smyly (4-6, 6.22) vs. RHP Shane Bieber (14-7, 3.26)
Saturday night – LHP Jason Vargas (6-8, 4.48) vs. RHP Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.64)
Sunday night – RHP Vince Velasquez (7-7, 4.89) vs. RHP Adam Plutko (7-4, 4.34)
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