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September 30, 2016

Mets move closer to clinching as Phils lose fifth straight

On Wednesday, the Phillies veterans called a meeting to make sure no one had quit on 2016 a week early. The team had allowed 55 runs in their last five losses and it wasn’t getting any prettier when they left the playoff-hopeful New York Mets in Citi Field for the woeful Braves in Atlanta.

“A lot can happen in four days,” catcher Cameron Rupp told reporters afterward. “We can ruin somebody else’s season.”

Or they can watch as the season continues to fly out of control, as they did Friday, with infielders barely holding onto routine pop-ups (Cesar Hernandez) or letting them drop directly in the middle of a base (Ryan Howard, in the same inning, allowing a run to score), a play that proved you really could show up to the ballpark and see something you've never seen before in a baseball game.

Alec Asher was mostly fine on Friday. Other than that? More ugliness at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phillies became the eighth major league team to reach 90 losses in 2016 on Friday, when their end-of-the-season free fall continued with a 5-1 defeat to the Mets. New York can clinch its second consecutive playoff berth with a loss by the St. Louis Cardinals (who were up 7-0 late in their game against the Pirate on Friday), or with another win over the Phillies on Saturday afternoon.

The latter seems probable.

"We're certainly limping home," manager Pete Mackanin said. "Not playing well, not swinging the bats real well."

The Phillies (70-90) have lost five straight and seven of their last eight games. Since sweeping the Colorado Rockies seven weeks ago (August 14), the Phils have lost 26 of their last 40 games to drop 20 games below .500 on the season.

The Phillies haven’t had a winning record in five seasons, since winning a franchise-record 102 games in 2011. They have lost at least 90 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997 and have lost 89 or more games for the fourth straight season, the longest such streak since they lost 89 or more in 13 straight seasons from 1933 to 1945.

Asher, dreadful in his seven starts in the big leagues a year ago, held New York to three runs on five hits in six innings. It was the first time in five major league starts this season that Asher had allowed more than two earned runs.

"The main thing was just to come up here with a second chance and pitch like I know I should," said Asher, who turns 25 next week. "To come back and do this it feels great.

Asher had a 9.31 ERA (30 earned runs in 29 innings) last year; he had a 2.28 ERA (7 ER in 27 2/3 innings) this year.

"Certainly he's made an adjustment," Mackanin said. "He's added a two-seam fastball and had a plus changeup. ... He's pitched well since he's been back. He's done a good job."

The third run Asher allowed on Friday brought Mackanin out of the dugout to replace him: Jay Bruce led off the seventh inning with a solo homer run that pushed the Mets lead from 2-1 to 3-1. As teams have been prone to do in the last week, the Mets cashed in with two more runs when Asher exited and the Phillies relief corps took over.

• It took 160 games, but Pete Mackanin collected his first ejection as a Phillies manager in the eighth inning. Mackanin apparently wanted to contest that Yoenis Cespedes had swung at a two-strike pitch and first base umpire Will Little wasn't having it. 
"I had to get thrown out there," Mackanin said. "As I told the umpire, I can't believe, when the bat goes forward like that, that he didn't swing. ... I thought he made the wrong call. I felt like I had to get thrown out. Knowing I would be when I went out there. It was just frustrating."

Freddy Galvis left Friday's game in the seventh inning with right hamstring tightness. Galvis has started 48 straight games at shortstop for the Phillies. Andres Blanco pinch hit for him in the seventh inning and stayed in the game to play shortstop.

After the game, Mackanin was asked if Galvis had solidified himself as the team's starting shortstop heading into 2017.

"Without question," Mackanin said. "The way he’s played defense, he’s established himself as our shortstop for next year. He hit 20 homers, drove in basically 70 runs, which is a bonus to get that from a defender that good. 

"On the other hand, he needs to work on his plate discipline and he can become a better hitter if he concentrates on situational hitting and two-strike hitting. Things like that. He can become a .280 hitter if he focuses on those things. I think he’s capable of doing it. He’s the most fun player to watch on the team. Just a lot of fun to watch."

 • Right-hander Zach Eflin had successful surgery on Friday to repair his left patella tendon. Eflin, who had surgery on his right knee last month, will be immobilized for the next six weeks but is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for spring training. 

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