In an otherwise spectacular season, Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon blew his second save of the series against the Nationals on Wednesday night. Jayson Werth did the honors with a run-scoring single with two outs in the ninth. Washington went on to win the game in extra innings.
Papelbon shouldered the blame for the blown save following the game, saying, "I've got to be able to make a pitch to Werth there. I have to get into more of a battle with him." Nothing too out of the ordinary there, closers blow saves and they blame it on not being able to make a pitch all the time.
What was out of ordinary was Papelbon's comments about the team's fundamentals, or lack thereof. Jim Salisbury of CSNPhilly.com has the quotes:
“This is a game of fundamentals and we've got to do fundamentals right and keep grinding,” he said. “It's a game of who grinds the most and who plays the best fundamental baseball. That's pretty much it.”
“Everything from the pitchers making the correct pitches, to pitchers backing up the right bases, to the outfield moving on counts, to the infield moving on counts. Everything that goes into every pre-pitch. We've got to do better.
“I'm not pointing fingers at anyone. It's a team effort here. To be able to win and be in the forefront of the playoff race, you have to play good fundamental baseball and do the little things, and the little things are before the pitches are thrown. There's 150 pitches thrown by our pitchers and before every one of those we have to make sure we're putting ourselves in a position to be the best we can before each pitch.
“I'm seeing some of the same mistakes. I think for us we have to make the fundamental plays were supposed to make.”
The mini-tirade apparently stemmed from a question about the infield positioning on Denard Span's leadoff infield single, which ignited the ninth inning rally.
Fundamentals are a bit of a lost art these days, but this isn't the first time Papelbon has gone public with something he perceived to be a team problem. During spring training he said he felt the Phillies lacked leadership last season despite the presence of veteran players like Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, Roy Halladay and, of course, Papelbon himself.
The Phillies are 35-38 and sit in third place in the NL East, eight games back of the first place Braves. They may be having issues with their fundamentals, but their problems run much deeper than that.