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August 31, 2016

Morgan delivers but offense remains comatose as Phillies are swept by Nats

As his 12th pitch was assaulted, launched 453-feet away, over the batter’s eye and into the camera well just in front of Ashburn Alley, you thought about what Adam Morgan had said five nights earlier.

The embattled 26-year-old left-hander had been beaten down mentally after the New York Mets ripped three home runs off of him in five innings. Morgan kept his postgame comments brief, but buried under his anger was a hint of resolve.

Morgan was asked how frustrating 2016 had been, since he had made 15 starts but had failed to put together back-to-back quality starts with the season winding down.

“It’ll happen,” Morgan said at Citi Field on Saturday night. “I’m definitely not giving up on myself or this team. I just know that I’m learning. I see improvements. Sure the home runs and the numbers will tell you different, but I see improvements.”

Jayson Werth, the second batter of Wednesday night’s game against Washington, greeted Morgan with another home run. It was the eighth Morgan had allowed in his last 20 innings in the Phillies rotation.

But Morgan shook it off and found his resolve again. He retired 19 of the next 20 batters he faced, and the only batter to reach during that span did so on an error.

"The performance he had tonight was outstanding," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He did a great job with his off-speed stuff. He located extremely well. The best I've seen him – probably ever. A fine job."

The Washington Nationals finally got to Morgan again in the seventh, when Anthony Rendon and Wilson Ramos put together back-to-back two-out hits, as the Phillies were swept by the soon-to-be National League East champions by way of a 2-1 defeat.

Morgan was given a much-deserved round of applause as he exited the mound following Ramos’s go-ahead single, the culmination of an at-bat when the Washington All-Star catcher began buried 0-2 and battled back to a full count before lacing a base hit to right. Morgan gave the Phillies a fighting chance, and the 16,503 fans at Citizens Bank Park on Zombie Night, showed their appreciation.

Since this is a family website, we will not print what they were thinking about the Phillies offense. 

If it wasn't for Freddy Galvis's 15th home run of the season, it may have been their worst night of a 2016 season full of uninspiring offensive performances, including two times earlier this week. Two nights after coming up with a whopping four hits against Tanner Roark and company, and one night after scrapping together three hits off Max Scherzer, the Phillies all but handed the brooms over to the guys in the visiting dugout before they departed town. 

The Phillies collected a grand total of two hits in Wednesday night’s defeat.

"Nine hits in a three-game series isn't going to cut it," Mackanin said. "We're just not hitting the ball. We need more offense, obviously."

With the way his bats have been trending, Mackanin should be thankful his team has the night off Thursday, or else they would easily be in line to tie their season-low total of one hit (six weeks ago against Jacob deGrom and the Mets).

Even when the offense showed a pulse – Cesar Hernandez leading off the ninth with a walk – it was only followed by a sign of a team with serious deficiencies in the department of playing smart baseball. Following Hernandez's walk, Odubel Herrera swatted at the first pitch he saw from Nats lefty Marc Rzepczynski and grounded into an easy 6-4-3 double play.

One batter later, the game was over.

The Phillies (60-73) enter the final full month of the 2016 season having lost seven of their last nine games and 10 of 14 since August 15. They rank last in the big leagues in runs (492) and OBP (.297).

"We need to improve," Mackanin said.

While the Phillies still have a fair amount of hitters who have yet to rack up two seasons worth of big league at-bats, is worth wondering if they have the personnel to field a competent lineup or enough pieces that they hope can help form one in the near future.

"Well, we’re going to continue looking," Mackanin said. "You take a guy like Cesar – he’s really made strides. You look at Freddy – 15 home runs and going on 60 RBI, plays an outstanding shortstop. (Maikel) Franco needs to get back to where he needs to be. There’s enough guys. Herrera is hitting .280, even though he’s not having a good second half he’s still hitting .280-something. (Aaron) Altherr looks like he’s got a good-looking future ahead of him. So we have enough here to get excited about, but they have to start producing."

The good news for anyone itching to go to a ballgame in South Philly over Labor Day weekend: the one team that can rival the Phils in offensive ineptitude, the Atlanta Braves, arrive at Citizens Bank Park on Friday.

 Odubel Herrera's aforementioned ninth-inning double play brought his batting average down to .258 since the All-Star break. Entering Wednesday, Herrera had a .294/.378/.427 slash line in 89 games before the break and a .258/.317/.377 in 41 games since the All-Star game .... which he happened to play in, of course, as the Phillies lone representative.

 "He’s got a lot of things to figure out, but perhaps the All-Star game changed him a little bit and made him a little more comfortable," Mackanin said. "It’s hard to say."

The theory was presented to Herrera.

"No, no, no," Herrera said through a translator. "Actually, now I’m hungrier. I want to go back there. I know that it takes a lot of work to be there with all those star guys. I know why you would think that it made me feel comfortable, because I’m not doing what I was doing before, but no, no, I’m hungry. I want to get better."

Herrera hit into a double play for just the second time this season, and first since April 13. He entered the night as the second toughest hitter in the National League to double up. The hardest? Chase Utley, who has grounded into zero double plays in 424 at-bats. 

 • Freddy Galvis is just the third shortstop in Phillies history to hit at least 15 home runs and 20 doubles in a season. Jimmy Rollins did it six times (2006, '07, '09, '11, '12, '14)  and Granny Hamner twice (1952, '53). Since August 9, Galvis leads all MBL shortstops with a .646 slugging percentage. 

 Adam Morgan has given the Phillies two quality starts in two of his last three games, but he still hasn't won a game since May 10 in Atlanta. Morgan is the first Phillies pitcher to lose nine consecutive decisions since Kyle Abbott in 1992 (April 10-July 6, 12 games). 

 Morgan's losing streak is the longest in MLB in 2016.

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