Phillies vs. Braves: Phils a loss away from playoff elimination

Phillies on death's doorstep as Braves put the champagne on ice originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The showdown in Atlanta has turned into a mow down of Phillies hitters.

For the second night in a row, Atlanta Braves pitching was just too tough for the Phillies to handle.

And for the second night in a row, this withering ballclub moved closer to having the lights go out on its season.

The Phils suffered a 7-2 loss to the Braves on Wednesday night. It was their third loss in a row and second straight to the first-place Braves, who lowered their magic number for clinching a fourth straight National League East title to one.

The Braves can wrap up the division and eliminate the Phillies from contention by winning the series finale Thursday night.

It all seems likely given the way the Phillies are swinging the bats. They've scored just three runs the last three games and two of them have been unearned.

The Phils have produced just eight hits in the two games in Atlanta. Odubel Herrera has four of them. MVP candidate Bryce Harper has none. He has five strikeouts in the first two games of the series and popped out with men on second and third in the eighth inning Wednesday night.

The burden of carrying the team throughout the second half might be catching up with Harper.

"I think Bryce has probably had a weight on his shoulders for a long, long time," manager Joe Girardi said. "He's been so good for so long, he's bound to run into a day or two. He's been carrying a lot of weight for a long time."

The Phillies have not been to the postseason since 2011. It's the longest drought in the NL. They also have not had a winning season since 2011. With four games left, they are 81-77. They need one more win to ensure a winning season.

But a winning season was a minimal expectation for this team, which has a $205 million payroll and features legitimate candidates for the Cy Young and MVP awards, and it will be little consolation, if any, for seeing the postseason drought reach a decade.

The Phillies won eight in a row to take a two-game lead in the NL East on August 8. They proceeded to lose 11 of 15 and squander the lead to the Braves, who now lead the division by 4½ games

"We have to win every game and we need a lot of help," Girardi said.

Sweeping this series in Atlanta then finishing strong in Miami figured to be the Phillies' only hope in the final week of the season. But they have gone to Atlanta and watched their offense stumble. The Phils had just three singles in a 2-1 loss in the series opener Tuesday night. Wednesday night, they scored just two runs and one was unearned.

Lefty Max Fried followed up Charlie Morton's seven shutout innings Tuesday night with a strong outing Wednesday night. He held the Phils to four hits over seven innings. He walked none and struck out six, including Harper three times. 

Jean Segura, Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Andrew McCutchen, the Phils' No. 2 through 5 hitters, were 0 for 12 against Fried.

"We just didn't do much against him," Girardi said. 

Aaron Nola struggled early but ended up delivering six innings of three-run ball to keep his club in the game. He labored in the first inning, throwing 25 pitches, and gave up three hits and two runs. He allowed another run in the third on a two-out double by Eddie Rosario.

All of the seven hits that Nola allowed came with two strikes on the batter and two were on 0-2 counts. He has allowed 83 hits with two strikes, the most in the majors. As a team, the Phillies have allowed 511 two-strike hits, second-most in the majors to Arizona.

Putting away hitters is a big problem for this team

"We have to be better," Girardi said. "We just have to be better."

The Phils eked out a run in the sixth to make it a 3-2 game, but the Braves tagged the Phillies' bullpen for four runs in the seventh. In that inning, relievers Jose Alvarado, Hector Neris and Sam Coonrod combined to allow four hits and three walks. Herrera also made a costly error in center field.

So, in a lot of ways, this loss was a microcosm of the Phillies' season: One rough inning for Nola, poor defense, poor bullpen work and spotty offense.

Nola took the loss. He is not scheduled to start again this season. He will finish an overall disappointing season 9-9 with a 4.63 ERA in 32 starts. The Phils were just 15-17 in his starts.

"Not that great, honestly," was Nola's assessment of his season. 

Kyle Gibson will start against Ian Anderson in Thursday night's series finale.

The lights are almost out on the Phillies and the Braves have the champagne on ice.

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