Phillies crush Nationals to complete four-game sweep

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PHILADELPHIA — Earlier this season, a game within the game was intended to determine if Cincinnati had lost again and use the Reds to show how rebuilding slimmed-down teams harmed baseball’s competitive integrity.

The Reds were 2-13, then 3-22, then 23-46 at the end of June, which will surely affect the playoff race in one way or another. Would 19 encounters with the Reds give the St. Louis Cardinals or the Milwaukee Brewers the inside track to a National League wildcard berth? It was fair to ask. But after Sunday, the Reds have eight more wins than the Washington Nationals, who lost 13-1 to the Philadelphia Phillies and were swept just days after trading their top two players from a four-game streak.

The Nationals (36-74) are what everyone thought the Reds had become as they spent the offseason cutting the payroll. Washington is 7-25 since early July, has the worst record in the majors, and has no left-handed relievers and arguably four position players best suited as designated hitters.

The point is, a bleak summer could get even sadder.

“The last three games just haven’t been fun,” said manager Dave Martinez. “We have to serve better. I thought we had been swinging the clubs well until today. But we just have to serve better. We need to start pitching a little better. We’re always behind and that’s tough on morale.”

The Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs are grouped together in the NL Central as Also-Rans. Otherwise, the Nationals are supported by the Oakland Athletics, the Detroit Tigers, and the Kansas City Royals at the end of the majors. But neither club employed Juan Soto and Josh Bell until last Tuesday. And no other club has conceded 567 earned runs, 28 more than the next closest team in pitching futility. The Los Angeles Dodgers, in contrast, had posted an MLB-low of 307 before hosting Soto, Bell and the San Diego Padres Sunday night.

Washington’s staff also ranks 30th of 30 with 169 homers allowed. The Reds, 29th in that category, are at 145. The most recent home runs from the Nationals were Darick Hall’s solo shot on starter Cory Abbott in the second inning Sunday, then Nick Maton’s two-run blast in the fourth — and Rhys Hoskins’ Two-run shot and Hall’s second solo homer later in the same inning, all against Abbott.

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After Patrick Corbin lasted just two-thirds of an inning on Saturday night, Washington desperately needed length from Abbott, who was only starting in the major leagues for the second time of the season. The right-hander responded by recording his first three outs in six places. But the seventh pitch, an outside fastball, was smashed by Hall in the left field seats. From then on, Abbott never got his rhythm back. In the third he dropped a batter and walked two, the second free pass brought a run. In the fourth, he went with the leadoff batter before Maton, Hoskins and Hall took him deep. Abbott, 26, reported 11 outs, batted five, threw 79 pitches and was tagged for seven earned runs.

“They’re just really good at getting bat-to-ball skills and they can lift the ball out of the park,” Abbott said of the Phillies. “They stick to their game plan and don’t stray from it. … They didn’t hit those that I thought were competitive. I really had to stay in the zone.”

Aaron Nola held the Nationals on a five-hit run in six innings. Washington was outplayed in the series 36-12. The Phillies (60-48) started in the eighth of five runs against Victor Arano. This rally started when shortstop Luis García set up a grounder on the run and threw several feet from first.

Philadelphia is now 10-2 against Washington and has filled the four games of this series with 14 homers. The Nationals have seven homers in their 12 matchups. They’re on track for 109 losses, which would be their highest since moving to Washington.

To patch up a revised bullpen, the Nationals recalled assist Mason Thompson Sunday morning and selected Jordan Weems — the first pitcher to carry him into Corbin’s dud on Saturday — for Class AAA Rochester. To fill out his outfield depth, Washington claimed 27-year-old Alex Call from the Cleveland Guardians and also sent him to the Red Wings.

Thompson scored a run in seventh after Erasmo Ramírez managed seven outs behind Abbott. Call joins a Red Wings team that has lost 17 straight games. There will likely be a lot of movement between the Nationals and their upper minor league teams for the remainder of the season. If you blink hard enough until your eyes are almost closed, one benefit of this finish will be to test players who may be nearby in the future.

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Or, if you’re more into self-preservation, you can just close those lids until next spring.

“These guys have had an opportunity over the last two months to come and play and show what they can do,” Martinez said. “I want these guys to go out there and play good, competitive baseball. If they can do that, we’ll be in some games, we’ll win some, we’ll lose some tough games. But we have to be more competitive from the first pitch.”

How did Call come up with waivers? Call made his major league debut in July, playing in 12 games for the Guardians. But Cleveland needed a 40-person roster spot for pitcher Hunter Gaddis on Friday and designated Call for Assignment. He had a strong season with Class AAA Columbus, posting a .280 batting average, a .418 on-base percentage, and a .494 batting percentage with 11 homers and near-identical strikeout and walk rates. Call, who plays all three outfield spots, also offers a good degree of roster flexibility, coming with three minor league options and nearly six full years of team control.

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