The Phillies did not come out swinging Tuesday night, literally or figuratively. Bryce Harper's 11-pitch plate appearance to begin the bottom of the first ended with a strikeout looking. Same for Rhys Hoskins one batter later.
It took 35 pitches before the Phillies finally put a ball in play.
When Cubs left-hander Jose Quintana exited after six innings, he did so with a career-high 14 strikeouts and the game tied.
Then J.T. Realmuto's two-out RBI double in the seventh inning did a few things.
It prevented another bad, bad Phillies loss. They struck out 15 times as a team Tuesday night against non-strikeout pitchers, which would have stuck out in a loss.
It also helped ease the frustration of a weird day at the ballpark. Hitting coach John Mallee was fired Tuesday morning. For six innings, this was definitely one of those games that would have prompted fans to rush to social media with the "Fire Mallee" pleas that had become all too common in recent weeks.
Instead, the Phillies won, 4-2, a night before Charlie Manuel arrived to assume the role of hitting coach for the final 43 games (see story). They got a quality start from Jason Vargas, solid setup work from Blake Parker and Mike Morin and a save from Hector Neris (see observations).
The pitching was good enough, which the Phillies have been able to say in about only 35 games all season. The pitching staff is what it is. The Phillies know as much. To win, they need to score runs. Four runs won't win you every game but it will win you many, as evidenced by the Phillies' 53-16 record when reaching that threshold.
"We need contributions from every corner of the organization and every portion of our major-league team," manager Gabe Kapler said. "At the same time, if we are going to make the kind of run that we think we're capable of, it's going to be because we score runs.
"The strength of our team right now is our offense. It hasn't been where it's needed to be thus far this season. But we certainly have the talent and guys with the track record and a bench that's deeper now than it has been."
Harper and Hoskins did not have good nights atop the Phillies' order. They were a combined 0 for 8 with six strikeouts, four looking. Realmuto and Jean Segura have been OK batting third and fourth but one wonders how much longer Kapler will go with Harper and Hoskins batting first and second.
Hoskins, who wore a Golden Sombrero Tuesday night, is in a rut right now in which he can't buy a knock. Over his last 25 games, he has made an out in 80 of 95 at-bats and struck out 28 times.
Realmuto, on the other hand, has provided the offense lately Phillies fans were expecting. Since June 29, he has hit .310 with an .889 OPS. He has 17 extra-base hits in 145 plate appearances. Realmuto finds himself on pace to surpass his career high of 21 home runs, and if the season ended today he'd have the second-highest OPS of his career.
"My approach has changed a little bit just trying to be early in the count, be earlier, see the ball better and not chase as much," Realmuto said.
"I think what we see with J.T. is really good timing right now," Kapler added. "He has a pretty pronounced leg kick. We see the knee coming up at the right time kind of when the pitcher's hands break and it's not something he is necessarily thinking about, but it's something we see in the dugout. Everything is happening on time, so he has a chance to see the ball.
"You're seeing him take pitches with more confidence, pitches that are just off the plate. He is getting into hitter's counts. We saw that tonight. He really looked comfortable at the plate and has been looking comfortable at the plate for some time."
The organization's hope is that when Manuel arrives and has a chance to be Charlie, a few more guys will feel comfortable at the plate, notably Hoskins. The Phillies need more than one or two hitters per night seeing the ball well.
If not, the only way to win will be with the kind of individual heroics Realmuto provided Tuesday. That happens only occasionally, and the Phillies will need to win more than occasionally to make a real wild-card push.
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