Down three middle-of-the-order bats, the Phillies’ offense stayed hot in a 7-4 win Monday night in D.C., their fifth consecutive game with at least seven runs.
They started early again with three runs in the first inning, two on Bryce Harper’s 26th homer of the season.
Harper has had a massive month. He’s hit .323 and slugged .774 in August with 10 doubles, 10 home runs, 23 RBI, 24 runs and as many walks (21) as strikeouts.
“He’s been incredible,” manager Joe Girardi said. “What he’s done for this club is absolutely incredible. And he has that ability all the time, that’s how good of a player he is. He’s meant so much to us, he’s grinded it out, played every day, stolen bases, played good defense, walked, driven in runs, big hits. He’s been special.”
“This is the time of year you’ve got to really grind it out. He’s being pushed but he wants to be pushed and he wants to be great and he wants to help us make the playoffs.”
Harper has played every day for six weeks but has shown no ill effects. He’s just gotten better and better this summer.
“I’ve just got to keep going,” he said. “That’s what this organization expects and what these fans expect. No matter who’s on the mound, I’ve got to post every day. No matter how I’m feeling or what I’m feeling that day, I want to play as much as I can. I’ve thought about taking days off many times, thinking maybe I can get one today and it’ll do me good. But every time I get to the ballpark and go to talk to Girardi, I think about it and it’s just like never mind, I want to play.”
It was a slog for Zack Wheeler, who gave up two runs in the second, one in the third and one in the fifth. He had to work hard all night and spent most of it out of the stretch but pitched well enough to win, retiring the final six hitters he faced.
Wheeler will be happy to turn the page from August. This was the seventh time in his last 10 starts that he’s allowed at least four runs. Wheeler’s ERA has increased from 2.05 to 3.02 in that span as he’s fallen well behind Walker Buehler (2.02 ERA) in the NL Cy Young race.
“I thought he threw the ball better as the night went on,” Girardi said. “Our plan was to keep him probably under 100 pitches tonight, just because of his workload. But I thought he did a pretty good job, he pitched better than what the numbers indicate.”
The biggest hit of the night for the Phillies was Ronald Torreyes’ three-run triple in the third inning after the Nationals had made it a one-run game. Torreyes is 22 for 68 this season with runners in scoring position, hitting .324 with seven extra-base hits.
Jose Alvarado put a scare into everyone in Phillies colors by putting the first two men on base in the ninth inning but retired the next three to end the game with the tying run at the plate. Closer Ian Kennedy was unavailable and Hector Neris had pitched in three straight games.
“Ian was hot (warmed up) the last six days,” manager Joe Girardi said. “He was hot every day he didn’t pitch. We just felt it was best if we gave him a day. … It’s just too risky.”
The Phillies have won four in a row, and the five-game streak of at least seven runs is their longest since 1980. They’ve scored exactly seven runs in each of the five games, the second-longest streak in recorded MLB history behind the Brewers’ six games in September 1989.
The win ensured the Phils (67-64) they’d end the night no more than 4½ games behind the Braves, who played late at Dodger Stadium. They have two more games at Nationals Park, an off day Thursday, then three in Miami.
The Braves have a much more difficult week. They faced Julio Urias Monday, Buehler Tuesday and Max Scherzer Wednesday. The Braves then go to Coors Field to face a Rockies team that isn’t good but has won nine of its last 10 at home.
The Phillies must pick up ground this week, particularly in this series. The Nationals have lost 20 of their last 26 games and are ready for the season to end.
The Phillies are closer to the second wild-card spot than they are to the Braves. They trail the Reds by three games, but the Padres and Cardinals are also in the way.
“I still think you concentrate on trying to win your division,” Girardi said.
The Phils played without J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins and Didi Gregorius. Realmuto is dealing with injuries to his ankle and right shoulder, Hoskins is out for the season with an abdominal tear and Gregorius is on paternity leave, though he should be back at some point in this series.
Their absences make Odubel Herrera, Jean Segura, Andrew McCutchen and Brad Miller even more important. Herrera had two hits and a walk Monday and is batting .333 in August with a 1.012 OPS. Miller homered (14) and reached base all five times.
McCutchen has hit .130 in 17 games since returning from a knee injury and appeared to tweak his knee running the bases Monday night. Travis Jankowski replaced McCutchen as part of a double switch in the seventh inning but Jankowski left the game himself an inning later after fouling a ball off of his foot. X-rays were negative, but Girardi said that Jankowski could go on paternity leave Tuesday.
The series continues Tuesday night with two lefties. Matt Moore (2-4, 6.12) is opposed by Patrick Corbin (7-1, 6.09). Corbin has the highest ERA among all qualifying MLB starters and has allowed 31 home runs, the most in the National League. The Phillies beat him on July 29 and again on August 3.