Plenty of blame to go around in Phillies' latest loss

RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carlos Ruiz taps Roberto Hernandez on the arm as they await manager Ryne Sandberg.
RON CORTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Carlos Ruiz taps Roberto Hernandez on the arm as they await manager Ryne Sandberg.
Posted: June 04, 2014

THE ONLY starting pitching acquisition of the winter, at least up until a day before the team reported to camp, failed to pitch six innings for the sixth time in 10 starts this season.

Last year's All-Star leftfielder didn't collect an extra-base hit for the 43rd time in 53 games this season. He didn't reach base at all, until a one-out single in the ninth when his team was down by nine runs.

The sturdy second baseman and unofficial team leader got gobbled up by a ground ball, leading the way to an inning when the New York Mets batted around and scored four runs.

Roberto Hernandez threw four perfect innings, but also mixed in two mediocre ones, Domonic Brown's bat continued to be a memory, and second baseman Chase Utley's ill-timed gaffe opened the floodgates for the Phillies' latest loss at Citizens Bank Park: a 11-2 drubbing to the Mets last night.

"End of a tough series for us," manager Ryne Sandberg said after the fourth of five losses to the Mets. "Grueling games, long games. We had our chances in the series, basically came up short on the offensive side of things. It's tough."

Catcher Carlos Ruiz was a little more blunt.

"We can't make any excuses," Ruiz said. "It was embarrassing."

Eleven days ago, the Phillies returned from a brief, three-game trip to Miami hopeful to get their season turned around with 11 straight games at home. But the longest homestand of the season ended with four losses in five games to a divisional rival the Phils once unseated from the top a half-dozen years ago. Those days are a distant memory.

The Phillies went 4-7 on the homestand.

"We didn't play that well on this homestand," Utley said. "I think it's pretty obvious. But there's nothing we can do about it now, but try to improve."

Two months into the 2014 season, the Phillies are a dreadful 12-19 at Citizens Bank Park.

Only two teams in the National League - the Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs - have fewer wins at home. Fittingly, they are also the only two teams with worse records overall than the woeful Phillies.

Fifty-five games into the 2014 season, the Phillies (24-31) are a season-worst seven games under .500. Last year, when they went on to lose 89 games, the Phils didn't reach seven games under until July 28, the end of a forgettable, pretrade deadline road trip through St. Louis and Detroit.

The just-completed homestand might have been equally as bad, with equals parts of ineffective pitching, a lack of timely hitting, and a struggle at corralling even the basic baseball fundamentals.

"I think we can get better at everything," Utley said. "That's the whole goal. There's not one thing missing. I think we can pitch better, I think we can play better defense, and I think we can swing the bats better. We have to want to do that."

But isn't there a fear that they are what their record says they are?

"I'm not a negative person," Utley said, "So, no."

"We've showed better baseball before this series," Sandberg said. "We've showed better baseball than we've played overall, and I believe that the core group is there. Once again, we go on the road and try and bounce back on the road."

The Phils' futile offense has been held to two runs or fewer in nine of their 21 games at home since the beginning of May. That run has included ace-caliber pitchers (Clayton Kershaw, Josh Beckett) and run-of-the-mill starters alike (J.A. Happ, Alfredo Simon).

Last night's nemesis was the only player on the Mets' roster older than Bobby Abreu. The ageless Bartolo Colon (he just turned 41, actually) limited the Phillies to two runs over seven innings.

Colon, a former Cy Young Award winner who was sent from Cleveland to Montreal for a package of prospects that included 23-year-old lefthander Cliff Lee 12 years ago this month, struck out five and allowed only one extra-base hit. The Phillies had only one runner reach scoring position in the first five innings against Colon.

That baserunner, the not-so-fleetfooted Reid Brignac, was thrown out by a couple of feet on a play at the plate when Ben Revere hit a one-out single to center in the third inning. The out prevented Utley from coming to the plate in the inning.

The offense was mostly offensive. The starting pitching, once again, gave way to the bullpen far too early.

Hernandez, who was signed to a 1-year, $4.5 million contract at the winter meetings to replace Roy Halladay in the rotation, set the Mets down in order in four of his first five innings. But he allowed back-to-back doubles in the second, including one to the 40-year-old Abreu, and watched four of the first five Mets batters reach base on a hit or a walk to begin the forgettable sixth inning.

The Mets sent 10 batters to the plate in the sixth, with Utley's error (on a would-be doubleplay) and a pair of two-run doubles, from David Wright and Wilmer Flores, highlighting the inning.

Flores and the Mets weren't through with adding more crooked numbers to the Citizens Bank Park scoreboard. The 22-year-old Mets shortstop launched a mammoth grand slam off Phillippe Aumont as the Mets scored a half- dozen more runs in the ninth before heading on to Chicago.

The Mets entered Citizens Bank Park four games under .500 on Thursday. They exited one game away from a winning record and with the Phillies in their rearview mirror in the National League East standings.

"We have to grind it out," Utley said. "It's a long season. We have to continue to try to improve. That's the goal."


On Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

Blog: ph.ly/HighCheese

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