PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Bryce Harper was about the last Phillie in the clubhouse still in uniform packing for a seven-game road trip that could decide if the team is really going to be a player in the NL wild-card race. His hat flipped backward and his cleats off, Harper’s Phanatic socks peeked out of his pants legs as he shuffled items around his locker, his back pockets as inside out as the offense.
Harper had few solutions for the team’s recent malaise.
“Just keep playing Philly baseball,” Harper said. “Keep being the same team.”
That hasn’t been good enough for the Phillies since the All-Star break, where a 6-15 record has knocked them from NL East contenders to a team fading from contention for a playoff berth. Leury Garcia hit a grand slam, Eloy Jiménez added a three-run shot and Tim Anderson also went deep to lead the Chicago White Sox to a 10-5 win over the Phillies on Sunday.
The Phillies are still in the NL wild-card hunt but lost two of three at home to the below-.500 White Sox. Not even appearances by Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Pedro Martinez and the rest of the 2009 NL champions could inspire the Phillies and they trailed all the way against Reynaldo Lopez (6-9) and three relievers.
The Phillies have scored three or less runs in 11 games since the All-Star break and left a whopping 27 runners on base over the three games against the White Sox. It’s not what they planned when they spent $330 million to bring Harper aboard and fuel expectations they could make a serious playoff push for the first time in nearly a decade.
But the disappointment of the season hit hard Sunday when the Phillies made the surprise demotion of starting third baseman Maikel Franco to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Franco was hitting just .231 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs (mostly batting eighth in the lineup) in 102 games. Franco was once projected as a cornerstone player for the Phillies, appearing in more than 150 games in both 2016 and 2017. His best season came in 2016 when he hit 25 home runs and had 88 RBIs.
The Phillies have a glut of outfielders and the trade deadline deal to get former All-Star Corey Dickerson left them looking to shake up the roster. Scott Kingery started at third base Sunday and will replace Franco. Rodriguez will serve as the right-handed bat off the bench. Dickerson hit a two-run homer in the ninth.
“This felt like an appropriate time to make a very difficult move for the clubhouse because we all care deeply about Maikel Franco,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s an exceptional teammate and person and we all love him. But we felt like the best roster for the Philadelphia Phillies had Sean Rodriguez on it right now because of his versatility and his ability to play all over the diamond.”
Philadelphia sent Drew Smyly (2-6) to the mound for his third start for the Phillies — a castoff expected to hold the fort for a crumbling rotation. The Phillies have at one point sent three members of their opening day rotation to the bullpen, and Jake Arrieta is pitching through bone spurs in his right elbow.
Smyly allowed five runs in the second inning, four of them on Garcia’s 431-foot blast that landed just shy of the outfield concourse. Garcia’s seventh homer of the season was his first career grand slam.
“We were just one or two pitches away from a much different outcome,” Smyly said.
Lopez was chased after 5 1/3 innings and the White Sox leading 5-3. Aaron Bummer came out of the bullpen and got Rodriguez to hit into a double play to end the rally. Jimenez sealed the win in the eighth when he went deep off Mike Morin in the eighth for his 18th homer of the year.
“We’ve been struggling quite honestly to try and produce a lot of runs, but today was a good day,” White Sox manager Rick Renteria said.
The Phillies honored the 2009 NL championship team that lost the World Series to the New York Yankees in six games. Martinez threw the first pitch to Jayson Werth. Werth playfully tackled the Phillie Phanatic after players and coaches from that team were announced. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008 and made five straight playoff appearances from 2007 to 2011. They haven’t been back again to the postseason.
White Sox: The White Sox road trip continues in Detroit with RHP Lucas Giolito (11-5, 3.39) taking the ball in the opener of a four-game series.
Phillies: The Phillies head to Arizona for a three-game set and send RHP Vince Velasquez (3-6, 4.40 ERA) — fresh from his impressive effort in left field — to the mound on Monday. They also play four in San Francisco.
“We’ve got to get past this weekend, go out there and play Arizona and beat them hopefully,” Harper said.
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