The Phillies are desperately trying to stay in the National League wild-card race and to do so they must rack up some quick wins against the Atlanta Braves.
Based on what happened Monday night, that could be a problem.
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The Phillies and ace Aaron Nola were manhandled in a 7-2 loss to the Braves on Monday night.
That was the bad news.
Now, the really bad news:
Six of the Phillies' next eight games are against the Braves, who have won 21 of their last 26 games and are up to 90 wins as they roll to their second straight NL East title.
That does not bode well for the Phillies' playoff chances.
Monday night's loss came in the first game of a four-game series against the Braves. It dropped the Phillies to 2 ½ games back in the wild-card chase with 19 to play.
"Tomorrow we've got to compete again," Nola said. "Anything can happen."
Nothing good happened for the Phillies in this one. Actually, they didn't make anything good happen. Nola allowed a homer, two doubles, two walks and four runs in the first two innings and Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz made it all stand up with seven dominant innings. He gave up just three hits (one was an infield hit) and a run, walked none and struck out six.
"I thought he was definitely different," Bryce Harper said. "It wasn't really that hard-throwing 98, 99 (mph). I thought he ‘pitched' tonight and I thought he pitched pretty well. I thought we had some pitches that we could've drove and I especially did. That's not good, missing pitches especially when they're over the plate.
"I thought they came out swinging the bats well, especially against Nola. Not too many teams can do that against him. They scored four in the first couple innings and I thought we could've scratched and clawed the best we could and I thought we could've been a lot better tonight."
The Phils have lost four straight times with Nola on the mound and that can't happen in a playoff race.
Despite Nola's struggling in two straight outings, manager Gabe Kapler said the right-hander would likely stay on a five-day rotation, meaning he'd pitch again on Saturday night against Boston.
"We probably want to get every start out of him that we possibly can," Kapler said. "He maintained his stuff throughout that outing and actually got stronger as the game went on. We have him lined up to make as many starts as possible because he's always our best option."
After adding Harper, J.T. Realmuto and others in the off-season, the Phillies were projected to compete with the Braves and Washington Nationals for the NL East title in 2019. Instead, those two teams are playoff bound (Washington is the NL wild-card leader) and the Phillies will need a miracle to avoid an eighth-straight season of missing the postseason. Heck, the Phillies need to go at least 8-11 to have their first winning season since 2011 and that won't be easy with lots of Atlanta, Boston, Washington and Cleveland on the remaining schedule.
Over the last two seasons, the Braves are 25 games better than the Phillies.
The Braves are loaded with young talent - 21-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. led off Monday night's game with his 38th homer - and that does not bode well for the Phillies even beyond this season.
"The young enthusiasm that they do have, the way they play the game, they take the extra bag, they work hard, they play hard, they play really good defense," said Harper, rattling off some of the things that impress him about the Braves. "Their pitching is pretty dang good out of that bullpen. Now with (Tuesday night's pitcher Max) Fried and Folty and a couple other guys on that staff, they're pretty dang good. As a group, they come to play every single day and I think you can learn from a group like that.
"As a team, they're the best in our division. They go out and play their game every single night. One through four right there, their gauntlet is pretty tough. I think they're hitting on all cylinders right now and I think they have all year. We just have to go out there tomorrow, turn the page from today and try to go get Fried."
The Phillies have been hit hard by injuries this season, particularly in the bullpen and at the top of the batting order where Andrew McCutchen has been a huge loss. But Harper would not use that as an excuse for the gulf that exists between the Braves and Phillies.
"You can talk about injuries or anything like that," he said. "Or you can talk about our bullpen or timely hitting or things like that, not coming up big with a couple hits, especially myself. But all around, I think we have to play better baseball. There's teams at this level who have had injuries and performed at a great level this year and there's some teams who don't have good pitching that are still there as well, and hitting.
"I think as a club we just have to play better, be better as a team, and just keep going. If we get into that wild-card game, after that, nothing else matters."
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