Schwarber and Nola shine, but Phillies fall under the weight of 16 Ks and shaky outfield defense

There it was, all night long, a big, fat goose egg on the out-of-town scoreboard.

For the Phillies, it represented an opportunity, the chance to stretch their lead over the St. Louis Cardinals, who were on their way to being shut out by the Braves, 3-0 in Atlanta.

Aaron Nola did all he could to cash in on the opportunity.

Ditto for Kyle Schwarber.

In the end, the Phillies could not capitalize on a golden chance to go up a full game on the Cardinals in the NL wild-card race Wednesday night. The offense – 16 bleeping strikeouts – just wasn’t there. Neither was the outfield defense.

The Phils let a one-run lead get away in the seventh inning and lost, 3-2, to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park.

“One of those nights,” manager Rob Thomson shrugged when asked about the missed opportunity.

With 80 games remaining, it’s way too early to be fretting too much over one loss. The Phils control the third and final wild-card spot over the Cardinals based on head-to-head record, but this playoff race hasn’t even begun to simmer yet. The Phils close out their series with Washington on Thursday before a big, four-gamer with the Cardinals starts Friday night in St. louis

“There’s a lot of baseball still to be played,” Schwarber said. “We can probably start talking about (the playoff race) once we get into September.

“We want to get there. It’s been the 10-year thing and we want to get there. We just have to take it day by day, take care of business on the field and see what happens after that.”

Schwarber took care of business on the field Wednesday night. He’s been doing it since June 1. For the second night in a row and sixth time this season, he homered twice to account for both the Phillies’ runs. He has 27 homers on the season, tops in the NL and two behind MLB leader Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees.

“Kyle is like a robot right now,” Nola said. “It’s crazy. It’s fun to watch.”

Nola spun a beauty and allowed just one run through six innings. He took a 2-1 lead into the seventh and lost it under the weight of two softly hit balls and one hard-hit ball that center fielder Odubel Herrera could not make a play on.

The Nats’ two-run rally in the seventh started with a check-swing single by Yadier Hernandez to a shift-vacated hole at third base. Keibert Ruiz then blooped a single that fell in front of Schwarber in left. That brought up lefty-hitting Luis Garcia. He scorched a 2-1 fastball from Nola to dead center. The play was not easy for Herrera but it became impossible when he took a circuitous path to the ball. It fell in on the warning track for a two-run double and the Nats took a 3-2 lead.

There was much debate over whether Herrera could have made a catch on Garcia’s ball and preserved the lead.

Nola absolved Herrera.

“I feel like I made my pitches to (Hernandez and Ruiz),” he said. “I missed pretty bad to Garcia. Honestly, I thought he got it all for a home run. He put a good swing on it.”

Thomson also absolved Herrera.

“It looked to me like the ball really faded on him,” Thomson said. “That was a tough play. I think he had the ball over his head and it sliced ​​like a golf ball while it was in the air. I haven’t seen the tape but that’s what it looked like.”

Herrera said the ball did bend on him.

“If it had kept going straight, I would have caught it,” he said. “But it tailed away.”

Outfield defense cost the Phillies – and Joe Girardi – dearly in May and it will remain a concern as the games get more important. There were three balls hit to the outfield Wednesday night that a sharp defensive team probably catches. Tough plays, no doubt, but plays that a championship-level team will make more often than not.

A team’s defensive issues become more pronounced in close games and this one was close because the Phillies didn’t hit. Josiah Gray, one of the young talents that the Nats got from the Dodgers for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner last summer, held the Phils to four hits and two runs (both Schwarber long balls) over six innings. He struck out 11.

The middle of the Phillies’ order had a very tough night. no. 3 hitter Nick Castellanos struck out twice and grounded into a double play. Cleanup man Darick Hall struck out four times. no. 5 hitter JT Realmuto struck out three times.

Good thing Schwarber was around or the Phils might have been shut out, just like St. Louis, losers of four in a row, was in Atlanta.

Schwarber felt for Nola, who pitched into the eighth but took the loss.

“He goes out there and pitches his ass off and we didn’t get him anything,” Schwarber said. “It sucks because it feels like it’s been that kind of year for him. It’s one of those days where we didn’t come through.

“We have to go win a series tomorrow.”

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