SAN FRANCISCO - Corey Dickerson belted a solo home run against Jeff Samardzija in the first inning Saturday and Bryce Harper immediately filled with optimism.
"Dickerson got us ahead, 1-0, and I thought as a group we were going to have a big day," Harper said. "Samardzija had different plans and did his job."
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Welcome to the latest chapter of why it's difficult to believe the Phillies can make a serious run at the National League wild card: The offense is just too damn inconsistent.
Dickerson's first-inning homer was the only run that the Phillies scored on Saturday.
Less than 24 hours after their offense exploded for 10 hits and nine runs on Friday night, the Phillies were held to just three hits in a 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants (see observations).
The loss was the Phillies' fourth in six games on this trip. They have scored one or zero runs in three of those games.
They have been held to one hit through five innings in three of the last four games and one hit through six in two of the last three. They were one-hit by the Giants on Thursday night.
After Dickerson's feel-good homer with two outs in the first inning, the Phillies managed just a bloop single from Cesar Hernandez in the eighth inning and a broken-bat hit from Sean Rodriguez in the ninth.
Samardzija worked over Phillies hitters with a fastball-cutter combo. After Dickerson's homer, he retired 20 straight batters.
Why is this Phillies offense so inconsistent?
"I don't know," Harper said. "We prepare every day the same. We come in here and want to hit the ball, we want to score runs and get those runs on the board, so I'm not sure."
Samardzija has beaten the Phils twice in his last three starts. He's allowed just five hits and a run in 14 innings in those starts.
One might think Phillies hitters would have made some adjustments and handled Samardzija better seeing him for the second time in 11 days. But they didn't.
"I thought he came at us pretty well," Harper said. "He threw backdoor cutters, mixed well. I think as a team we just missed some pitches. I think we hit some balls hard and they made some plays on us. I thought he threw the ball well."
Samardzija did not walk a batter. He struck out five.
"He's got a fastball-cutter combination and it's difficult to pick up which is which," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He does a really good job of changing eye levels. He commands all his pitches. He throws it where he wants to throw it. That makes it very difficult.
"At the same time, we're just not a team that's built to shut out the opposition on a regular basis. In some form or fashion, we have to scratch out runs. We've all read the four-run stat. We have to find a way to get to that magic number more frequently."
The Phillies are 52-15 when they score four or more runs. They have done that just five times in the last 11 games.
Vince Velasquez did not pitch badly over five innings, but he allowed three runs, all on a pair of homers. One was preceded by a hit batsman. Kapler did not show a lot of patience with Velasquez. The right-hander teetered in the fifth inning and was gone.
"I thought his command was not his best, and I thought his stuff was also not his best either," Kapler said. "Specifically, when his stuff is really good and his fastball has life, he gets foul balls and swings and misses. When it's not his best, you see fly balls. That was sort of an indication.
"One of the adjustments that Vince is making is when things aren't going well for him, he's been pretty consistent at grinding through and giving us a chance to win baseball games. I thought today he did just that. It just wasn't his best outing. At the same time, when he came out of the game, we were still in it."
The Phillies were in it until the end. They put two runners on base in the ninth inning, but Giants closer Will Smith survived the top of the Phillies' order and got strikeouts of Harper and Dickerson (sandwiched around a walk to Hoskins) to end the game.
The umpiring behind the plate has not been standout in this series. CB Bucknor did not have a good night Friday and Nic Lentz missed a 1-1 pitch on Harper, the potential tying run, calling it a strike.
The Phillies limp into the final game of the trip Sunday night.
"What makes sense for us is to quickly turn the page and get ready to put up numbers tomorrow," Kapler said. "My mind's already there, and I know our guys are going to turn the page quickly."
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