Phillies sweep Nationals to complete four games

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PHILADELPHIA — Early this season, the play-in-game was to see if Cincinnati lost again, using the Reds to show how rebuilding shorthanded teams hurt baseball’s competitive integrity.

The Reds went 2-13, then 3-22, then 23-46 in late June, which was sure to affect the playoff race one way or another. Would 19 games with the Reds give the St. Louis Cardinals or Milwaukee Brewers the inside track to a wild-card spot in the National League? It was fair to ask. But after Sunday, the Reds have eight more wins than the Washington Nationals, who lost to the Philadelphia Phillies 13-1 to be swept in a four-game sweep just days after trading away their two best players.

The Nationals (36-74) are what everyone thought the Redskins had become when they spent the offseason shedding salary. Washington is 7-25 since the start of July, has the worst record in the majors and has no lefties and perhaps four position players best suited to designated hitters.

The important thing is that the gloomy summer can become even sadder.

“The last three games just haven’t been fun,” manager Dave Martinez said. “We have to pass better. I thought we swung the bats well until today. But we just have to pitch better. We need to get a better opening move. We’re always behind and that’s hard on morale.”

The Reds, Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs are grouped together as co-seeds in the NL Central. Otherwise, the Nationals are joined in the bottom of the majors by the Oakland Athletics, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals. But none of those clubs hired Juan Soto and Josh Bell until last Tuesday. And no other club has allowed 567 earned runs, 28 more than the next closest team in pitching futility. The Los Angeles Dodgers, in stark contrast, had hit an MLB-low 307 before hosting Soto, Bell and the San Diego Padres on Sunday night.

Washington’s pitching staff is also 30th out of 30 with 169 homers allowed. The Reds, 29th in that category, are at 145. The last Nationals homers were Darrick Hall’s solo shot off starter Corey Abbott in the second inning Sunday, then Nick Mayton’s double 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 Saturday night, Washington badly needed length from Abbott, who was making just his second major league start of the season. The righty responded by recording his first three outs on six pitches. But the seventh pitch, an outside fastball, was hit into the left field seats by Hall. From there, Abbott never regained his rhythm. In the third, he hit a single and walked two, with the second free pitch bringing in a run. In the fourth, he walked the leadoff hitter before Mayton, Hoskins and Hall caught him deep. Abbott, 26, recorded 11 strikeouts, five hits, 79 pitches and seven earned runs.

“They’re just very good at bat-to-ball skills, being able to get the ball out of the park,” Abbott said of the Phillies. “They stick to their game plan, they don’t deviate from it. … They weren’t swinging against those I thought were competitive. I really had to stay in the zone.”

Aaron Nola held the Nationals to a five-hit streak in six innings. Washington was outscored 36-12 in the series. The Phillies (60-48) rallied for five runs off Victor Arano in the eighth. That rally started when shortstop Luis Garcia fired a grounder on the fly and threw a few feet wide of first.

Philadelphia is now 10-2 against Washington, filling the four-game stretch of this streak with 14 home runs. The Nationals have hit seven home runs in their 12 games. They are on pace for 109 losses, which would be their most since moving to Washington.

To patch up the overworked bullpen, the Nationals called up reliever Mason Thompson Sunday morning and optioned Jordan Weems — the first pitcher to wear it in Saturday’s Corbin game — to Class AAA Rochester. To pad their outfield depth, Washington claimed 27-year-old Alex Kahl from the Cleveland Guardians, sending him to the Red Wings as well.

Thompson gave up a run in the seventh after Erasmo Ramírez singled with seven outs behind Abbott. Cal joins a Red Wings team that has lost 17 games in a row. The remainder of the season will likely see plenty of movement between the Nationals and their higher-level minor league teams. If you squint hard enough, to the point where your eyes are almost closed, one benefit of this finish will be testing players who might be around in the future.

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Or, if you’re more of a self-preservationist, you can just close those shutters until next spring.

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

How did Call get rejected? Cal made his major league debut in July and played in 12 games for the Guardians. But needing a 40-man roster spot for pitcher Hunter Gaddis on Friday, Cleveland designated an assignment invitation. He had a strong season with Class AAA Columbus, posting a .280 batting average, .418 on-base percentage and .494 slugging percentage with 11 homers and nearly identical strikeout and walk rates. Kohl, who plays all three outfield positions, also provides a good deal of lineup flexibility, arriving with three minor league options and nearly six full years of team control.

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