The Philadelphia Phillies were expected to be able to count on a strong defense to make a late push for a playoff spot. Recent miscues, however, are part of the reason they’re slowly slipping out of contention.
The Phillies, coming off a sloppy game in the field, look to begin breaking out of their recent slump when they play the middle game of their series with the Florida Marlins on Saturday.
Philadelphia (73-67) was ranked fifth in the majors with a .986 fielding percentage entering Friday night’s game with Florida (61-80), but committed two errors that led to three unearned runs in the fourth inning en route to a 6-3 loss.
The Phillies have committed an error in three straight games for just third time this season.
Philadelphia has lost five of seven to fall three games behind San Diego for the wild card, and six games out in the NL East. The Phillies were only two back of the division-leading Mets after sweeping them last week.
“We have to come out and win a game,” Philadelphia manager Charlie Manuel said. “That’s how you get going again and get some momentum.”
“We had a couple mishaps and they cost us. The margin for error is slim,” said Howard, whose 11 errors lead the team and are tied for second-most in the majors among first basemen.
To make matters worse, Aaron Rowand - one of the NL’s best defensive center fielders - left Friday with a left hip strain and is uncertain for Saturday’s game. Shane Victorino, who has been nursing a calf injury, replaced Rowand in center field.
Strong defensive play may be especially important with John Ennis (0-0, 3.00 ERA) taking the mound for Philadelphia on Saturday. Ennis is making just his second major league start, and his first since 2002.
The right-hander, who is getting the ball because Adam Eaton’s scheduled start has been pushed back to Tuesday, will become the 13th different starting pitcher used by the Phillies this season.
Ennis has made one appearance since being called up from Triple-A Ottawa, giving up one run and four hits in three innings to earn a save in Philadelphia’s 14-2 win over San Diego on Aug. 26.
This will be Ennis’ first career start against the Marlins.
Florida will counter with Rick VandenHurk (4-5, 6.84 ERA). The right-hander struggled in his last start, surrendering six runs and eight hits in 5 1-3 innings of a 6-3 loss to Washington on Monday.
VandenHurk is 3-2 with a 7.30 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance on the road.
He pitched at Philadelphia on Aug. 7, allowing six runs and five hits in 2 1-3 innings of an 11-1 loss. It was his first career start against the Phillies.
The Marlins posted a 6.27 ERA in six games prior to Friday, when they held the Phillies to one hit in 10 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Florida will play 18 of its final 21 games against teams currently in contention for a spot in the postseason.
“Obviously we’re not in a pennant race, but we still want to go out there and win,” Marlins first baseman Mike Jacobs said. “We can play a spoiler role.”