ATLANTA - The Phillies' bid to make the postseason is almost over and they have no one to blame for that but themselves.
They were in control of the National League East, up 1½ games in the division on Aug. 5 then proceeded to lose 25 of their next 40. That put them on life support when they arrived at SunTrust Park on Thursday night to take on the first-place Atlanta Braves in the first of four games.
The Phillies' pulse is even weaker after an 8-3 loss to the Braves (see first take).
"I think disappointing is the word," Rhys Hoskins said after the Braves reduced their magic number to four.
Hoskins went on to express hope and confidence. But the Phillies trail the Braves by 6½ games with 10 to play. There are still three games to play in this series. The Braves can close it out by winning two of them.
A consistent weakness
All season long the Phillies have beaten themselves with poor defense and it happened again in the most important game of the season.
A non-play by third baseman Carlos Santana – shifted way to his left – and a questionable decision by Hoskins at first base prevented the Phils from getting out of the first inning with a 1-0 lead. The Braves capitalized on the sloppiness and scored two runs. A wild pitch by Vince Velasquez set up another run in the third. Aaron Altherr wasn't exactly swift in making a play on a killer double in the seventh, and everything completely fell apart in the eighth as the Braves scored four times, following a hard-hit ball that second baseman Cesar Hernandez could not handle.
The defense let the Phillies down.
"I think that's a fair assessment of the situation," manager Gabe Kapler said. "There were a number of plays that we could have executed more successfully, for sure."
Kapler started Altherr in left field for his defense. In the seventh, Dansby Swanson doubled to left against Tommy Hunter and scored the tie-breaking run on a double by Lucas Duda. Could Altherr have held Swanson to a single?
"I think Aaron can be more aggressive getting to that ball," Kapler said. "It's something I want to talk to him about before I could really assess the situation. I'd like to hear what was on his mind."
Altherr said he took a cautious route to the ball because he did not want it to get by him.
Hunter blamed no one.
"I made the pitch and he hit it," the reliever and losing pitcher said.
Bullpen usage in question
Luis Garcia got torched for four runs in the eighth turning a one-run deficit into a five-run deficit.
Why not go to Seranthony Dominguez or Hector Neris to keep the game close in a high-leverage spot?
"We really liked that pocket of the lineup, the bottom of the lineup, for Luis," Kapler said. "We knew we had to cover potentially more innings and probably most critically, we had planned on using Seranthony and Neris with a tie ballgame or with a lead, given how much they've worked and given how much we may be leaning on them in the next couple of days. That's not to say we weren't doing anything but trying to win tonight's game. Luis, a sinkerball pitcher with right-handed guys at the bottom of the lineup, profiled well. Coming into this year, he was the guy who was going to handle that part of the lineup. Nothing has changed as it relates to our confidence in Luis Garcia. We demonstrated that confidence and it didn't work out."
And now it's almost over.