CINCINNATI – It's one of those annoying clichés in sports, but it seems to fit here. The Phillies have reached a little gut check in their surprising season. After losing three in a row to the Cincinnati Reds -- punctuated by Sunday's 4-0 defeat (see first take) -- they head into Boston on Monday night to play a Red Sox team that is on a rampage at 41 games over .500 and leading the world in offense.
It's up to Aaron Nola to be a stopper.
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And it would be nice if the offense could shake itself out of a slumber that saw it produce just six runs while striking out 31 times and going 4 for 19 with runners in scoring position the last three games in Cincinnati.
"We know we perform very good against some of the best teams in baseball," perpetually positive skipper Gabe Kapler said. "We've shown that, so we're excited to get to Boston and compete.
"Adding to that, we've got Noles on the mound tomorrow which gives us a ton of confidence and Jake (Arrieta) behind him. So we've got the horses on the mound and feel confident going into this series. It's not daunting."
The Phillies will face a pair of lefties in David Price and Drew Pomeranz in the series.
The trip to Boston will coincide with the non-waiver trade deadline, which arrives on Tuesday afternoon. The team added infielder Asdrubal Cabrera on Friday -- he is hitless in two games -- and is waiting to hear if outfielder Adam Jones would waive his no-trade rights to join the fight. Kapler continues to say he has full confidence in the men in his clubhouse, the group that forged its way into first place in the NL East to begin with. Nonetheless, this team has reached a big test in its season. It leads the NL East by 1 ½ games over Atlanta. The Phils need to take at least a game in Boston before coming home to play Miami four times.
"We just have to flush this," Nick Williams said of the three losses in Cincinnati. "We have to go in there and grind out ABs, pitch by pitch, for our defense and our pitchers. Just play the game like we know how. This has happened before in San Francisco. Tough times happen, but it's how you bounce back. It will be a sold-out crowd, a new place for a lot of guys, and it will be high adrenaline. We'll be ready to go."
The Phillies were swept three games in San Francisco at the start of June and came back to go 13-14 in that month. Their ability to stay afloat in that month was the reason they were eventually able to get into first place in early July.
Pitcher Zach Eflin was a big reason for the Phillies' success in June. He went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five starts then was outstanding in beating Baltimore in his first start in July. Eflin's next three have not been nearly as a good. He gave up four runs in 5 1/3 innings Sunday and took the loss.
"I didn't do my job today," he said. "I wasn't able to stop them."
Most of the damage was inflicted upon Eflin in the third inning when he allowed back-to-back doubles and a two-out, two-run homer to Scooter Gennett on a 1-0 changeup.
The Phillies tied a club record with seven home runs in winning the first game of the series on Thursday night. They got seven hits (six singles) on Friday night, four hits (two singles) on Saturday night and eight hits (seven singles) on Sunday. They had just four singles against Reds starter Luis Castillo in seven innings Sunday. He struck out nine.
Before the game was over, the Phillies' strikeout total jumped to 14. The Phils loaded the bases with one out in the ninth but Reds closer Raisel Iglesias struck out Scott Kingery and Andrew Knapp to end the game.
"It's not the way we wanted to end this series, certainly, but we fought all the way to the end to the last pitch," Kapler said. "I think (the last three games) are more the waves and the ebbs and flows of a baseball season. You can click on some days. You don't click on others. I don't think there's one thing to point to. Castillo was certainly excellent today. Tip your cap to the opposition. They played well in this series."