MLB Wild Card: Phillies swept by Cubs, playoff chances hurt

CHICAGO — Can’t hit. Can’t catch. Can’t keep track of the count. Can’t win.

Can’t see this team making the playoffs.

Not with the way it’s playing right now.

The Phillies completed three torturous days at Wrigley Field with another loss Thursday afternoon. The 2-0 defeat was the Phillies’ fifth in a row and it dropped them into a tie with Milwaukee for the final National League wild-card playoff spot.

The Brewers were set to play the Miami Marlins later Thursday. A Milwaukee win would knock the Phillies off the playoff grid and turn them into chasers with seven games to play in the regular season, rather incredible considering the Phils led the Brewers by 4½ games entering play on September 15.

Since then, the Phillies are 3-10.

The Cubs, despite being 16 games under .500, tormented the Phils this season, winning all six games between the two teams. The Cubs swept the Phils at Citizens Bank Park to open the second half of the season then pushed them toward the cliff these last three days. The Cubs won the last two behind a pair of rookie starting pitchers and some clutch bullpen work.

Offense was a major problem for the Phillies. They scored just three runs in the series and were 2 for 22 with runners in scoring position. They did not hit a home run. In fact, they had just two extra-base hits.

“I thought we’d swing the bats a little better than we did,” manager Rob Thomson said. “Especially with runners in scoring position.”

It’s tough to hit when you’re tight and these Phillies, who haven’t been to the postseason since 2011, are tight.

“I think we’re putting too much pressure on ourselves,” veteran second baseman Jean Segura said. “Thinking too much. When we get guys in scoring position, we’re trying to do too much, including myself. I feel like everybody here is trying so hard to get the job done and sometimes when you try too hard the result is not going to happen. We have to relax, enjoy the game, have fun — I know that’s hard when you’re losing.

“I don’t think that’s a team where we’d score three runs in three games. That’s bad. We’ve got way too many good hitters here to score three runs against this team.

“To be honest, it’s embarrassing.”

Rookie right-hander Javier Assad pitched five shutout innings for the Cubs, duplicating the work of rookie Hayden Wesneski from the night before.

The Cubs beat the Phillies’ three best starters — Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola and Ranger Suarez — in the series. Combined, Wheeler and Suarez gave up just three runs in 12 innings.

As if the poor offense wasn’t enough, the Phils played sloppy baseball in the series. They failed to turn a double play behind Nola on Wednesday night and that contributed to a four-run inning. On Thursday, center fielder Brandon Marsh lost a ball in the sun (even though he had sunglasses on) and that cost the Phils a run in the fifth. It was the second time in four games that Marsh lost a ball in the sun. The two misplays have cost the Phils three runs in a pair of losses.

Earlier in Thursday’s game, Jean Segura got picked off first base when there was confusion about the count. Segura thought Nick Maton had taken ball four when it was ball three.

“I just saw on the scoreboard, 3-1, and when I looked it was actually number 4 on the board so I thought it was ball four,” Segura said. “It was my mistake.”

Even the bat boy thought it was ball four. He ran out of the dugout to collect Maton’s bat after ball three. The bat boy got everybody confused, as well. Maybe he was Chico Ruiz’ nephew.

“It didn’t help,” Segura said.

The Phillies now move on to Washington for the second-to-last series of the regular season. The Phils and Nationals will play a doubleheader Friday and single games Saturday and Sunday, weather permitting. Will the Nats be the Phillies’ salve? The Phils are 13-2 against them this season, but the way this team is playing, who knows. The Cubs just beat the Phillies’ three best starters. Bailey Falter and Noah Syndergaard, the back end of the Phillies’ rotation, will get the call in Friday’s crucial doubleheader.

The Phils are 10-14 in September, continuing a painful recent tradition.

Last season, they lost six of their final seven.

In 2020, they lost seven of their final eight.

In 2019, they lost nine of their final 12.

In 2018, they lost nine of their final 11.

They haven’t won in September since 2017, four managers ago.

Are bad thoughts of Septembers past creeping into this team’s collective head?

“Not for me, personally,” Bryce Harper said. “I don’t think any guy on this team has that mindset of, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ Different group of guys. Different team. We’re ready to just get on with this series and get going into DC and play the best baseball we can.

“We need to be better in all facets of the game. I think our starting pitching has been great. Our hitting, we just haven’t been hitting on any cylinders right now. We’ve had guys on base. We just haven’t t been able to cash them in. That needs to change, especially in the next couple of days.

“(Dave) Dombrowski put this team together to win games and to get into the playoffs. We need to do that. (John) Middleton’s done his job to put the best team on the field that he can. We need to show up and do our job.”

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