Phillies walked off by Nationals in demoralizing doubleheader sweep and fall out of NL playoff spot

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This will be difficult to fathom for anyone who watched the Phillies melt like fondue in each of the last two Septembers. But what happened Tuesday in a doubleheader in Washington was as bad as it gets for a team that fancies itself a postseason contender.

Get ready because this is ugly.

By day, with Aaron Nola, after getting called out for their sloppiness by manager Joe Girardi less than 24 hours earlier, the Phillies laid an egg in a 5-1 loss to the Nationals. They mustered six hits against a pitcher who entered with a 7.17 ERA and made two errors, Bryce Harper kicking a ball around the right-field corner like he spent most of the last decade playing for D.C. United.

By night, they at least showed grit, tying the game in the sixth inning when J.T. Realmuto – banged-up hip, and all – beat out a bases-loaded infield single. They even took a lead in the eighth inning only to lose it, 8-7, in the eighth on Yadiel Hernandez’s walk-off home run against reliever Brandon Workman.

Told you it was ugly.

In getting swept, and stretching their losing streak to five straight games, the Phillies dropped to 27-29 and out of the eight-team playoff field in the National League. The Milwaukee Brewers moved a half-game ahead of them; the Gabe Kapler-led San Francisco Giants had the chance to do the same if they were able to win a game on the West Coast.

The Phillies are 12-14 in September after going 12-16 in the final month last season and 8-20 in 2018. Each year is different. The previous collapses occurred on Kapler’s watch. Their struggles this year have coincided with a deluge of injuries and an unforgiving schedule. Tuesday marked the team’s fifth doubleheader in 15 days.

But it sure looks like the same old Phillies late in the season.

“We’re not pressing,” Nola said. “We’re still going to go out and compete.”

The first game was particularly damaging.

Every loss counts equally, but losing a Nola start – less than 24 hours after falling with Zack Wheeler on the mound – felt more consequential, especially with the bullpen on tap to pitch the second game. The Phillies are 5-6 in Nola’s starts, 6-4 in Wheeler’s, not nearly good enough considering Nola’s 3.06 ERA and Wheeler’s 2.67 mark.

Nola gave up five runs in a second consecutive start for the first time since his final two starts of last season. But only three of the runs were earned.

After committing three errors for Wheeler on Monday night, the Phillies made a pair of miscues behind Nola. The first, when rookie left fielder Mickey Moniak twisted himself into a pretzel while backtracking on Soto’s two-out fly ball that clanked off his mitt, led to a first-inning run when Harper didn’t come up throwing to the plate on Asdrubal Cabrera’s soft single to right field.

Nola gave up three doubles in the ugly third inning. Brock Holt’s went under first baseman Jay Bruce’s glove and rattled around the right-field corner, where Harper had difficulty picking it up before a second run was able to score.

It was unclear if Harper was hampered on either play by the stiff lower back that caused him to pull himself out of Sunday’s game after seven innings at Citizens Bank Park.

Nola is scheduled to start once more, in Sunday’s season finale at Tampa Bay. The Phillies hoped to clinch a playoff spot before that and rest Nola for Game 1 of a wild-card playoff series. It seems more likely that they will need Nola to win Sunday.

“Every game,” Nola said, “from right now to the end of the regular season is huge.”

It just didn’t have to be this hard.


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