The Phillies continue to implode under the weight of their own mistakes.
It happened again Tuesday night in a damaging 5-4 loss to the Washington Nationals that included two more errors for baseball's worst defensive team and an almost surreal game-ending base-running gaffe (see first take).
The latest rash of sloppiness turned another Aaron Nola pitching gem - he outshined Max Scherzer for the second time in a week - into a footnote and left the Phillies 4½ games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East with 30 games to play.
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The Phillies carried a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning but kicked it away. That's nothing new. Over the last week, they have lost two games in which they led 4-1 and one which they led 5-0. The losses have been particularly demoralizing because they have come late in games.
"Especially late in the game," Nola said. "It's always painful. Right now, every loss is painful, to be honest with you."
Nola gave up two runs in the seventh, but one was unearned after an error by first baseman Carlos Santana. Tommy Hunter pitched a scoreless eighth inning then walked Bryce Harper to open the ninth. Anthony Rendon followed with a two-run homer against Pat Neshek to give the Nats a lead they never relinquished.
"Good hitter, missed location," Neshek said afterward.
The Phillies have lost eight of their last 10 and 14 of their last 21 to give up the lead in the NL East. They are approaching free fall.
"We're in a rough stretch," Neshek said. "We've had some really tough losses. I don't know what it is. It's got to be over 10.
"I know you always say this is the worst one every night, but which one is really the worst when you have 12 of them? It's tough. I don't think anybody's really, 'Oh man, it's over.' It's not like that in here at all. If anything, it's the opposite. People are putting it behind them and we're going to come out tomorrow."
Hunter acknowledged the obvious: The Phillies are beating themselves. They made two costly defensive miscues in Monday night's loss. The two errors that they made Tuesday both led to runs. The Phils have made 102 errors, tied with St. Louis for most in the majors.
"Baseball's not easy, man," Hunter said. "The thing about it is we're losing in weird ways. Like, we're not getting beat. I mean, we're losing. But if you get beat, you get beat. We're beating ourselves a little bit. More times than not."
After Rendon's two-run homer gave them a lead in the ninth, the Nats scored another run in the inning on a throwing error by catcher Jorge Alfaro. Giving away that extra run proved costly for the Phillies because they rallied to make it a one-game in the bottom of the ninth and had the potential tying run on second base with one out. Any chance the Phils had of tying the game died when Alfaro hit into the most bizarre game-ending double play you'll ever see. Pitcher Vince Velasquez was on second base as a pinch runner for Wilson Ramos. Velasquez tried to move to third on a fly ball to center by Alfaro. He was ruled out to end the game after leaving second base too soon.
"It was a ball that was hit deep and I just thought I had the opportunity to go into third base," Velasquez said. "I just left a little bit early. It sucks because I took the bat out of (Maikel) Franco's hands."
With two outs, it would have taken a hit to score Velasquez. He would have been better off staying anchored at second.
"I wasn't nervous at all," Velasquez said. "I just thought I wanted to put pressure on the outfield and I knew I had the base. I left early. I guess it was a simple base-running mistake, but what can I do now?"
Manager Gabe Kapler absolved Velasquez.
"He's an inexperienced base runner who gave us a very valiant effort just to go out there and be ready to run right there," Kapler said. "He was prepared for that moment, he was anxious for that moment, ready for that moment and he just got a little overzealous."
Kapler is always upbeat and never admits frustration. But even he conceded that the defeat was "super difficult to swallow."
Indeed it was - like so many other of this team's self-inflicted losses recently.
With all the errors, blown leads and base-running mistakes, it's getting more and more difficult to believe this team can get to where it wants to go.
How does Kapler do it?
"I believe in our players," he said. "I'm going to continue to believe in our players no matter what. Their talent level has shown that we are going to win a lot of baseball games. We have won a lot of baseball games. We go through rough stretches. I maintain that's just part of baseball. You're going to get your butt kicked on some nights and you can't let it spill into the next day."