Phillies crush Nationals to complete four-game sweep

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PHILADELPHIA — Early this season, a game within the game was to see if Cincinnati had lost again, using the Reds to show how rebuilding, stripped-down teams damage baseball’s competitive integrity.

The Reds were 2-13, then 3-22, then 23-46 in late June, sure to affect the playoff race one way or another. The 19 meetings with the Reds would give St. Louis Cardinals or the Milwaukee Brewers the inside track to a National League wild card spot? 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 snap a four-game losing streak just days after trading away their two best players.

The Nationals (36-74) are what everyone thought the Redskins had become when they went through the offseason payroll dump. Washington is 7-25 since the start of July, has the worst record in the major leagues and has no left-handed relievers and arguably four position players better suited as designated hitters.

The thing is, a sad summer could get even sadder.

“The last three games just weren’t fun,” coach Dave Martinez said. “We have to play better. I thought we were swinging the bats okay until today. But we have to play better. We have to have better starting pitching. We’re always behind and it’s hard for morale.”

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

Washington’s staff also ranks 30th out of 30 with 169 allowed. The Reds, 29th in that category, are at 145. The last Nationals hitters were Darick Hall’s solo shot against first baseman Cory Abbott in the second inning Sunday, then Nick Maton’s two-run blast in the fourth — and Rhys Hoskins. 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 the game Saturday night, Washington needed a lot of time 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 to left field by Hall. From there, Abbott never really found his rhythm again. In the third, he struck out a batter and walked two, with the second free pass bringing in a run. In the fourth, he walked the leadoff hitter before being taken deep by Maton, Hoskins and Hall. Abbott, 26, struck out 11, walked five batters, threw 79 pitches and was tagged for seven earned runs.

“They’re just really good at bat-to-ball skills, being able to get the ball up 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 at who I thought were competitive. I really had to stay in the zone.”

Aaron Nola held the Nationals to one streak with five hits in six innings. Washington was outscored 36-12 in the series. The Phillies (60-48) got five runs off Victor Arano in the eighth. That rally started when shortstop Luis Garcia threw a grounder to the run and threw it several feet wide of first.

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

To repair a strained bullpen, the Nationals recalled reliever Mason Thompson Sunday morning and optioned Jordan Weems — the first pitcher to wear it in Corbin’s dud Saturday — to Class AAA Rochester. To pad their depth, Washington claimed 27-year-old Alex Call from the Cleveland Guardians, also sending him to the Red Wings.

Thompson scored a run in the seventh after Erasmo Ramírez handled seven outs behind Abbott. Kohl joins a Red Wings team that has lost 17 straight games. For the rest of the season, there is likely to be a lot of movement between the Nationals and their upper 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 could be close in the future.

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

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

How did the Call end up in resignations? Call made his major league debut in July and played in 12 games for the Guardians. But needing 40-man roster space for pitcher Hunter Gaddis on Friday, Cleveland designated Call for assignment. He was having a strong season with Class AAA Columbus, posting a .280 batting average, .418 on-base percentage and .494 slugging percentage with 11 home runs and nearly identical strikeout and walk rates. Call, who plays all three outfield positions, also provides some roster flexibility, arriving with three minor league options and nearly six full years of team control.

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