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April 03, 2019

Five reasons the Phillies just missed out on a 5-0 start

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Aaron-Nola-Phillies-Nationals-040319_USAT Tommy Gilligan/USA Today Sports

Aaron Nola was not his usual self Wednesday.

Aaron Nola is human, and so are the Phillies.

After an epic run of four straight wins to start the season — becoming the first Phils team to reach that mark in over 100 years and the only remaining unbeaten in MLB — Philadelphia sort of looked like the weakness-laden team from a year ago against the Nationals on Wednesday.

A pair of critical errors early in the game (albeit the first of the season) paired with three surrendered long balls from ace Nola put the Phillies in a four-run hole.

One would think eight runs in support of Nola, like the eight the offense mustered in Wednesday's 8-9 loss, would be enough for the Cy Young runner-up to earn win No. 2 on the year, but it was not to be.

A rally to put the Phils ahead 8-6, after trailing 6-2, was all for naught as the Nationals fought back against the shaky back of Philly's bullpen. The game had the makings of something epic. In the end, the Phillies lost in the most boring and painstaking fashion — a walk off walk.

Here are five reasons why the Phillies were not able to stretch their record to 5-0:

Not our Nola

Wednesday's setback was Nola's first outing of four or more allowed runs since 2017. He can't be expected to be perfect, but he was especially not perfect with his control, falling behind in counts and leaving the Nats with hittable pitches in hitter-friendly counts.

Anthony Rendon's solo blast kicked off a three-run response, with a second blast from Ryan Zimmerman a few hitters later netting two more runs. In the third a three run bomb from Juan Soto padded Washington's lead.

And that was it: six runs on five hits in just three innings.

It's worth mentioning that the Phillies one-two back of the 'pen punch was dreadful, as Seranthony Dominguez and David Robertson surrendered three key runs (one of them unearned) in the final two frames. Robertson's issues are particularly troubling, as he walked three batters (three!) in the bottom of the ninth. He has an ERA of 18.0 this season.

Pitching will be a weakness this year. Expect many more 9-8 decisions than 2-1 ones,.

Error operator

The Phils defense was flawless through four games. It was only a matter of time before they let it fly a little, as J.T. Realmuto and and Jean Segura each did early in the loss — forcing Nola to work harder and giving the Nats new life.

A third, even worse error came from Rhys Hoskins, as he mishandled a critical throw to first on a slow roller that would have helped the Phillies hold an 8-7 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Had that mistake not taken place, the Phils would have had the lead heading to the final stanza.

Errors will happen, and if the Phils can keep them to a minimum, something they did not do last year, they should be fine.

Stranded RISP

The Phillies had base-runners in nearly every inning. The finely oiled machine that has been the Phillies offense these past five games — with five identical line ups (for the first time in Gabe Kapler's managing career) providing the firepower — burst through the gate with a pair of runs in the first. A Rhys Hoskins RBI single plated Jean Segura after he hit a single, and an RBI ground out that scored a sprinting Harper one hitter later spotted Nola a pair of runs.

Philly faced its first real deficit of the season, but a Cesar Hernandez RBI double lessened the hope to three runs in the fourth and another run followed as Nick Williams added a pinch hit RBI single.

Then there was the rally that got the Phillies back on top, with McCutchen coming through in the clutch with a three-run double and a Segura RBI following that. 

It's hard to blame the offense for the loss — but it did strand nine, yes nine runners in scoring position over the course of the game. There were more runs to be had and the Phils wasted 11 base-runners.

The Nats are still good

The Phillies sort of looked poised to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat after a bases-clearing double got the Phillies back in the lead in the eighth. But the Nationals' offense, if not equal to the Phillies, is pretty darn close.

Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto had monster games, and two walks and a base knock surrendered by Robertson gave Washington a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the ninth inning of an 8-8 game. Robertson has issues, major ones, as a walk-off-walk gave the Nats an anti-climatic win.

Rule of large numbers

Nothing lasts forever. Baseball seasons are absolute marathons, with 162 games, not 16 or even 82 determining who goes to the postseason. The Phillies, at 4-1, still made quite the stir to start the season and have firmly placed a target on their backs thanks to dynamic play, postgame celebrations and of course, every single thing Bryce Harper does.

Philly has a day off Thursday before hosting the AL's Minnesota Twins for a three-game set this weekend.


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