June 16, 2016
Aaron Nola walked off the mound and stared off into the distance. For the second time in six days, he was pulled out of a start before he could complete four innings.
There wasn't any answer up in the cloud-filled South Philly skies for Nola, other than one every major league pitcher figures out before long.
To quote the great Henry Hill, "Every once in a while I'd have to take a beating. ... The way I saw it, everybody takes a beating sometimes."
On Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies were whitewashed by the Toronto Blue Jays thunderous lineup for the third time in less than 60 hours. Toronto chased Nola out of the game before he could record an out in the fourth, in the worst start of his young career, in an ugly 13-2 defeat for the Phillies.
The night was a forgettable one for Nola, who served up a pair of home runs in the first inning (to Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders), walked the first two batters of the third inning, and exited the game in the fourth after issuing another walk and walking Josh Donaldson for the second straight inning to load the bases with no one out and the Phillies trailing 4-0.
Nola needed just those three-plus innings to tie a season-high in walks, with three. And in home runs, with two.
Nola was charged with eight runs (six earned) on eight hits in three innings (plus four batters). After enduring a similarly brief and unsuccessful outing on Saturday in Washington, Nola has seen his ERA jump from 2.65 to 3.51 in his last two starts.
"It's tough for the team when I can't get out of the fourth inning," Nola said. "It's unacceptable for my part. I felt like it's a letdown for the team. It's unacceptable for me to go that short in a game."
But Thursday night's beating wasn't limited to the second-year starting pitcher. After Colton Murray pitched two scoreless innings, veteran relievers Andrew Bailey and David Hernandez entered and the Blue Jays home run barrage was back on: Toronto hit three more long balls in the seventh and eighth innings to turn a blow-out into a white flag waving embarrassment that included one outfielder (Tyler Goeddel) losing a routine fly ball in left (ballpark lights, possibly?) and another (Odubel Herrera) flipping a ball into the crowd when there were just two outs, and not three in the inning (concentration lapsing in a lopsided game?).
On the one-year anniversary of the game when a white flag (or towel) was actually waved by a uniformed member of the Phillies, a 19-3 loss at Baltimore when the bullpen phone was off the hook, Thursday's game came close to matching it in both the game's final scoreboard and in the mental errors that won't show up in a box score.
The fact that Herrera was smiling in the outfield after his aforementioned eighth-inning miscue, for example, probably wasn't the kind of thing Pete Mackanin wanted to see in a one-sided defeat. All together, it was enough for the first-year manager to call his team together for a post-game meeting to "let them know I was not pleased."
"I didn’t like what I saw today," Mackanin said. "We’ve gone from seven (games) over (.500) to seven under within about a two-week span. I don’t want to get what we did in the first two months, I don’t want to let that get away from us. I think we’re better than we’ve played in the last two weeks. And I don’t want that to slip away. I want the players to regroup and start all over."
Did Herrera's play push him over the edge?
"Obviously nobody liked to see that," Mackanin said. "There were a few things that I’d been thinking about and I wanted to have a meeting and mention, today was the culmination of those thoughts. A lot of it was positive, a lot of it was positive. ...
Mackanin's math is a bit off – the Phils haven't been seven games over since May 18 – but his point still stands. The Phillies (30-37) are a season-high seven games under .500. Suddenly they only have nine fewer losses than the lowly, last-place Atlanta Braves.
Every team goes through losing streaks over the course of a six-month, 162-game season – even contending teams – but Mackanin wanted to make sure his young and impressionable clubhouse didn't become accustomed to losing, either.
Phillies shouldn't play on June 16th any more. Last year: debacle in BAL. This yr down: 8-0 in 4th/blinded by lights pic.twitter.com/DzGRGkug8l— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) June 17, 2016
"Maybe a couple of guys all hitting a lull all at the exact same time," said Cody Asche, one of the more veteran players in the clubhouse. "You know, I think when you get a large number of guys that are inexperienced you’re going to take your lumps. But that’s why you play 162 so you can overcome them and get through them.
"We have five fully capable pitchers to stop a losing streak at any time. And even though the lineup may not have shown it up to this point, I’m a believer that there’s a lot more in the tank. We just have to get a couple of pieces rolling at the same time and we can take off."
The Blue Jays seem to take off each time they have a home-and-home with their interleague "rivals." Six different players accounted for the 11 home runs the Jays hit in the last three games, when they outscored the Phils 31-7.
The Phillies, meanwhile, have lost seven of their last eight games in their most recent in a string of skids in the last month. And maybe when you consider the opponents during that span – the Jays, Nationals, and Cubs – the following stat won't come off quite as shocking or surprising. In those seven losses since June 8, the Phillies have been outscored 61-19.
Thursday night's drubbing (Toronto out-hit the Phils 17-5) obviously helped inflate that number some. But the Phillies pitching staff has allowed seven runs or more in six of the team's last eight games.
"They have a good lineup but when you get behind in the count to a lot of guys they're even a better lineup," Nola said of getting beat up by the home run-happy Jays. "It's tough for the team when I can't get out of the fourth inning."
From Nola's start to the finish of a game when the Jays seemingly couldn't stop scoring and the Phillies couldn't stop helping them (four errors), Thursday's game may have felt like one that could set a tone for what's left of the 3 1/2 months that remains on the schedule. If they're at a crossroads, Mackanin wants to make sure the Phillies respond by going in the right direction, together.
"The guys are upbeat," he said. "It's just that it's hard when you keep getting your rear ends beat day in and day out in going through this tough stretch. But there's a choice to be made. You either cave in or you fight your way back out. I don't want to see guys pouting or feel sorry for themselves. If you want to prove you belong here you've got to fight."
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