Phillies Stumble Way to Another Loss Vs. Reds, Fail to Pad NL East Lead Over Braves

CINCINNATI - For the second night in a row, the Phillies failed to put some distance between themselves and the teams on their heels Saturday. The Phillies' offense came up small in a 6-2 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, but the offense wasn't the only culprit (see First Take). The pitching, despite a couple of impressive escape moves from Vince Velasquez, was suspect and the defense was wobbly once again.

In other words, the loss was a total team effort.

"At the end of the day, I think (the Reds) turned a couple of really important double plays on us," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We had some opportunities, as well, that we weren't able to capitalize on defense. The other thing that's obvious is that we gave up some two-strike hits tonight and balls in the gap with two strikes after we had gotten ahead. That's not a great recipe for success. We had difficulty scoring runs. We had just four hits. It's not easy to win baseball games under those circumstances."

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At 58-46, the Phillies remain a dozen games over .500 and 2 ½ games up on the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. But the Phillies have missed a chance to increase their lead over the Braves the last two nights. Atlanta has lost three in a row to the Dodgers.

The Phillies now need a win Sunday afternoon to earn a split of the four-game series with the Reds, who are no slouch at 25-15 since June 10.

The Phillies will need to clean up a few things to beat the Reds on Sunday.

First, they need more offense than just a two-run home run by Rhys Hoskins in the fourth inning. (Hoskins has seven homers in the last eight games.) They need to capitalize on leadoff doubles like the one Maikel Franco delivered in the fifth. The Phils got nothing after that.

Next, they need to scrub up the pitching. Yes, Velasquez was quite impressive in getting two big, fastball-fueled strikeouts to pitch out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam to preserve a 2-2 tie in the bottom of the fifth inning, but he played with a lot of fire by allowing 11 baserunners (six hits, five walks) in five innings. He also missed a spot badly on an 0-2 fastball to weak-hitting Billy Hamilton with two outs in the fourth. Hamilton turned the pitch into a game-tying single, bringing home Adam Duvall, who had walked.

"I honestly missed the pitch," Velasquez said. "I kind of yanked it. I wanted to elevate on the guy in. I kind of just yanked it a little bit. It's right in the zone. You put yourselves in those situations, you've got to get out of them. Whether you're a good hitter or you're a bad hitter, they're going to recognize it, they're going to time it, they're going to hit it. I just had to execute better pitches."

Velasquez' escape job in the fifth allowed him to leave with the game tied. Tommy Hunter gave up two runs in the sixth and Austin Davis two in the eighth.

Hunter took the loss and his ERA climbed to 4.66. He gave up two hits and hit a batter. It was not a good performance. However, Hunter was not supported by stellar defense. Both of the hits that he gave up hit off the glove of a Phillies' infielder. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez might have had a shot at an inning-ending double play if he could have handled Joey Votto's hot smash one-hopper. It went for a hit that scored the tying run. Later, third baseman Maikel Franco double-pumped on a throw to second on a potential double-play ball and another run was able to score. Hunter did not help himself in the inning by hitting Scooter Gennett with a pitch. He later scored.

"That's baseball," Hunter said of the fickle inning. "The ball took a couple of bad bounces. Sometimes in baseball, that's the way it works out. It just sucks because Vince had a pretty sick end of that fifth inning and you just try to keep that rolling and unfortunately it took a couple of hops and went against us right there. It sucks. It's frustrating."

The Phillies are not a good defensive team. They entered the game tied for third in the majors with 77 errors and, according to Fangraphs, they ranked 28th in the majors in defensive runs saved at minus-73.

As the games get more important down the stretch ...

"It's really important for us to defend the baseball," Kapler said. "Over the course of the season, we've seen ebbs and flows in various departments. We've seen it in the bullpen. We've definitely seen it with our offense. We're quiet for a little while and then we have stretches where we really dominate. On the defensive side of the ball, we haven't been perfect. But at the same time, we've had stretches where we played really good baseball. For me, all this says is we had a game where we didn't defend the baseball like we could. We're going to have more games where we defend the baseball like we can and we believe in that conceptually."

Sunday would be a good time for the Phillies to put it all together because Monday will take them to Boston for a two-game set against the best team in the majors. The Red Sox are 40 games over .500. Forty.

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