The Phillies are 17-52 when allowing four or more runs, and they are 12-49 when they fail to score more than three themselves, which happened for the 61st time yesterday. Both of those numbers need to be addressed before the Phillies can have a legitimate shot of climbing out of last place in the division.
On the pitching side of things, they should be heartened by another solid outing turned in by rookie righthander David Buchanan, who held the Mets to three runs in six innings with five strikeouts and one walk. He allowed a leadoff double to Daniel Murphy in the fourth inning, which led to a run, then walked Juan Lagares and allowed an RBI double to Matt den Dekker to start the seventh. That prompted Ryne Sandberg to call on Justin De Fratus despite Buchanan sitting at 93 pitches. De Fratus allowed a single to Wilmer Flores, then a three-run homer to Anthony Recker.
"That late in the ballgame, can't be walking guys, first hitter of the inning, can't happen," Buchanan said.
De Fratus was charged with two of the runs, pushing his ERA up to 2.90. Buchanan's ERA now sits at 4.40.
It was the eighth straight game in which he held an opponent to three or fewer runs. He has a 3.58 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 14 walks in 47 innings during that stretch. Six of those starts came in June and July when Buchanan was filling in for injured starter Cliff Lee. When Lee returned from the disabled list, Buchanan headed back to Triple A Lehigh Valley. He was resummoned on Aug. 6, when he held the Astros to three runs in 6 1/3 innings with five strikeouts and no walks.
Buchanan should enter spring training with a good shot at a spot in the Phillies' 2015 Opening Day rotation. In fact, at this point, he might be a stronger bet than anybody except Cole Hamels. Kyle Kendrick will hit free agency this season and seems likely to depart after a rough season. Roberto Hernandez has already been traded. A.J. Burnett has a player option for 2015, but the 37-year-old righty contemplated retirement last offseason, and it remains to be seen if he wants to return and play for a team that figures to have little shot of contending. Of course, declining to do so would mean declining something north of $10 million. Burnett also could decline the option and sign somewhere else where he has a better shot of pitching for a contender.
The biggest wild card is Lee, who is out for the season with a flexor-tendon injury that has hampered him since mid-May. While the Phillies have expressed hope that he will be ready for spring training, "ready" is a relative word when it comes to 36-year-old pitchers, particularly those with elbow problems that were not fixed by 2 months of rest. Penciling him in for 200 innings and a 3.25 ERA probably isn't grounded in reality.
Sandberg shrugged off concerns about his bullpen. Their 69 percent save percentage ranks in the middle of the pack in the National League. They have allowed 32 percent of inherited runners to score, fifth-most in the NL. They have allowed 4.46 runs per game, third most in the NL.
For about a month, De Fratus was as effective as anybody in the Phillies' bullpen, running off a stretch of 17 consecutive scoreless innings between May 26 and June 29, a run that included 18 strikeouts and four walks. Since the end of that streak, he has allowed at least one run in seven of his 19 outings, and multiple runs in six of them.
Chase Utley was momentarily awarded a two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning before a replay review showed a fan reaching over the fence in rightfield with his hat and helping the ball out of play. Instead of a 5-4 deficit with nobody on, the Phillies trailed 5-3 with Utley at second and Ben Revere at the plate. Revere flied out to end the game.
Domonic Brown had a pinch-hit double but was thrown out by Lagares trying to score from second with two outs in the seventh.
"There's two outs and I was going to hold him up, but with two outs, I decided to take the chance," third-base coach Pete Mackanin said. "The guy has got a good arm."
On Twitter: @ByDavidMurphy