MIAMI - How does this happen? How do the Phillies manage to sweep formidable clubs like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox (in Fenway Park, no less) and stumble against teams like the Chicago White Sox, San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins in recent weeks?
Obviously, it's lack of performance, lack of execution, but are there other factors, like, possibly, a lack of concentration that has led the Phillies to play down to the competition so often?
While you ponder this rhetorical question, keep this in mind: The Phillies open a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at home on Monday night.
The Pirates are another bad team.
That's good for the Phillies, who desperately need wins over the final 33 games.
It's also bad for the Phillies, who in recent weeks have lost series to the White Sox, Padres and Marlins.
The latest fall-on-your face performance was capped Sunday in a 3-2 loss to the Marlins, who are 47-82, last in the NL East.
The Marlins mugged Aaron Nola for three runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to take the lead moments after Rhys Hoskins had belted a two-run homer to put the Phillies on top. Nola had retired 11 straight batters before giving up a one-out double, a walk, an RBI single and a two-run double in the sixth. It was a shocking implosion by the Phillies' ace and his mates, playing without Bryce Harper (paternity leave) for a third straight day, produced just four hits on the day so there was no bailing him out.
"He was cruising," manager Gabe Kapler said. "He lost a little command in the sixth. Sometimes even the best pitchers lose command and that's enough."
Nola, who had held Boston's thundering offense to two runs in seven innings in his previous start, did not have his best fastball.
"I didn't really feel like I had my fastball early in the game," he said. "I was pulling it a lot. My changeup was working today. It was the only thing really working today."
The Phillies won two in Boston on this trip then lost two of three in Miami. They scored 11 runs on Friday night and still lost. That's because they blew a 7-0 lead.
If the Phils fail to make the playoffs, they will look back to their performance against the Marlins as the reason why. The Phils are 7-9 against Miami. Atlanta is 15-4 against the Marlins. The Mets are 11-4. Washington is 10-3.
Sunday's loss left the Phils 1½ games back in the wild-card race.
"It's very frustrating," Hoskins said. "You often hear you're playing against yourself, right? If we play our game, we obviously can beat any team. We swept the Cubs, we swept the Red Sox on the road. Yeah, it's tough. This is just a different place to play here. Credit to those guys. They came up with some big hits in some big situations off Noles and they … I don't really have much more to say."
"Whatever the reason, we have to find a way to win these baseball games," he said.
So, how do the Phillies avoid a similar letdown against the Pirates, who are 11-30 since the All-Star break? How do they do it without having Nola go to the mound in the series? Surely, Harper's return should help.
"We remind them how good they are, how much they're capable of, how much confidence we have in them," Kapler said. "Everybody in the clubhouse knows that it's all of our responsibilities to step up to the plate and be stronger and be better."
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