As the lights went out at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night, the grounds crew pulled the tarp over the infield in preparation for what figures to be a rainy Saturday morning.
It rained a little Friday night, come to think of it.
Rained home runs.
The Atlanta Braves hit three of them – a remarkable feat considering they entered the game with a major-league low 15 – on their way to hanging a 7-1 defeat on the Phillies and Aaron Nola in the first of three games at Citizens Bank Park (see Instant Replay).
“Not a good way to start off against Atlanta,” manager Pete Mackanin lamented afterward.
The Phillies are 24-18 but just 2-2 against the Braves, who have the worst record in the National League at 11-30.
It would benefit the Phillies to right themselves quickly and have a good weekend against the Braves because the schedule toughens up starting next week as the Phils visit Detroit and Chicago. The Tigers can hit and score runs and the Cubs are the best team in the game. After that, the Phils have the NL East-leading Nationals, a brief respite with the Brewers, then three more with the Cubs.
In other words, we're about to find a few things out about this club.
“We’ve got to tighten up if we play Saturday,” Mackanin said. “It’s supposed to rain.
“The Braves have a good lineup. They’re not a pushover by any means and on a given day they can beat anybody, so we can’t take them for granted. We have to go out there and battle to win and that’s what we have to do the next two games, the rest of the year actually.”
There’s one other thing the Phillies need to do in the short term.
“We’ve got to figure out how to pitch Freeman,” Mackanin said.
Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman, the last man standing in the rebuild-related purge of the Braves, smacked two home runs in Friday night’s game. Nick Markakis had the other. All were two-run shots.
The Braves have just 18 homers on the season. Freeman has eight of them – and four have come against Phillies pitching.
Nola entered Friday night’s start riding a high. He was 3-0 with a 1.22 ERA in his previous five starts, all Phillies’ wins. He did not give up a homer in any of those starts.
Freeman touched Nola for a two-run homer with two outs in the third inning.
In the seventh, Nola gave up another two-out, two-run homer, this one to Markakis.
“With two outs, I have to limit the damage and really focus on getting that third out,” Nola said. “I made a couple of mistakes with two outs and paid for them.”
Mistakes were a theme for the night, at least for the Phillies.
Maikel Franco made two errors and nearly had a third. One of them came in the seventh inning and led to Nola’s giving up three unearned runs, two on the Markakis homer.
The poor night in the field came as Franco has struggled to find consistency at the plate. He is hitting .212 (14 for 66) in May.
“Usually everybody goes through a stretch where they’re not playing their best and Maikel is going through that lull,” Mackanin said. “I think he’s letting his at-bats carry over to his defense a little bit. He’s been working extra. He just needs to get out of the funk he’s in, put together a good game or two in a row and get back on track.”
First baseman Ryan Howard did not help Nola in the third. Had Howard executed a better stretch at first base the Phils might have nipped Mallex Smith before he was ruled safe on a bunt hit. Three batters later, Freeman homered off Nola to give Atlanta a 2-0 lead.
“I would have liked to see him stretch out a little,” Mackanin said of Howard. Mackanin later acknowledged that it was a tough play.
Howard went 0 for 3 to drop to .164 on the season and .095 (4 for 42) in May. He did draw a walk in the eighth, the 694th of his career, tying him with Willie Jones for seventh on the Phillies’ all-time list.