A season of high expectations for the Philadelphia Phillies has bottomed out in appalling fashion.
The Phillies (79-80) are under .500 for the first time all season and aim to halt a six-game losing streak when they host the Miami Marlins on Friday in the opener of a three-game series.
All but one of the defeats during the slide came against the Washington Nationals as Thursday’s 6-3 loss left the Phillies victims of a five-game sweep for the first time since being swept in five by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.
The feelings of joy over the offseason signing of outfielder Bryce Harper have been replaced by the notorious Philadelphia boo-birds.
“I can fully understand disappointment right now,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler told reporters after the latest setback. “Everybody in that room is disappointed. I’m extremely frustrated and disappointed myself. We’re all feeling this together.”
Now the Phillies need to sweep the Marlins to record a winning season. The club is just 7-15 since Sept. 3, and the current skid is one shy of the longest this season — a seven-game slide from June 16-23.
The players are devoid of answers for the downturn — the second straight season in which Philadelphia collapsed. The Phillies were 64-49 last season before losing 33 of their next 47 games. They finished with an 80-82 record.
“It’s definitely not due to lack of effort,” Philadelphia catcher Andrew Knapp told reporters. “It’s just kind of the way it’s gone for us. Everyone’s out there really grinding towards the end of the year, and it’s just the ball hasn’t gone our way.”
The Phillies have clinched a fourth-place finish in the National League East with only the Marlins (56-103) behind them.
Miami rallied to a 4-2 win over the New York Mets on Thursday as Tyler Heineman hit a tying two-run homer in the eighth and Curtis Granderson followed with a pinch-hit, go-ahead blast. Austin Dean added a homer in the ninth inning.
Granderson’s blast was his fourth of the season as a pinch hitter.
“He’s pretty good at it,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said of Granderson in his postgame press conference. “He gets on base. He walks a lot out of that slot, doesn’t swing at anything that’s bad. I think it’s easier for older guys to pinch hit. Four homers is four homers. That’s pretty impressive.”
Heineman’s homer was the first of his career and came in his fourth career appearance and first start.
“It was a blur, it came so fast for me,” Heineman, a catcher, said in a postgame television interview.
Mattingly is impressed with the 28-year-old UCLA product.
“He’s on fire. We’re going to ride that wave,” Mattingly said. “He’s a California guy, so we’re going to surf with him and keep rolling with him. He did a nice job. He was well prepared behind the plate.”
Right-hander Pablo Lopez (5-8, 4.96) draws the start for the Marlins in the opener.
The 23-year-old has struggled on the road, going 2-5 with a 7.27 ERA.
Lopez lost to the host Phillies on April 28, when he gave up four runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings. Overall, he has a 3.86 ERA in two career starts versus Philadelphia.
The Phillies counter with right-hander Vince Velasquez (7-8, 4.76 ERA), who lost to the Cleveland Indians on Sunday after winning his previous three decisions.
The 27-year-old Velasquez allowed four runs — one earned – on five hits over 4 2/3 innings against the Indians.
Velasquez was torched by the host Marlins for seven runs and five hits in 2 1/3 innings on Aug. 23 but wasn’t involved in the decision in a contest Miami won 19-11.
He is 0-1 with a 6.62 ERA in four starts against the Marlins this season, and is 4-3 with a 4.06 ERA in 14 career outings.
–Field Level Media