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Phillies will be better because of their inexplicable heartbreak, mistakes

Dusty Wathan held his two hands high above his head as a signal to pinch runner Vince Velasquez to stay at second base on Jorge Alfaro’s fly ball to center field with one out in the top of the ninth inning of Tuesday’s game against the Nationals.

Velasquez did not heed the third-base coach’s advice. Instead, he tagged up and ran to third as the potential tying run.

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The pitcher left second base early, however, and was the final out as the Phillies ended up being walk-off losers in a home game after the Nationals’ appeal was upheld by video replay.

Wathan’s signal carried multiple meanings.

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He and Phillies fans — most of whom did not show up for Aaron Nola vs. Max Scherzer — are hoping players can stop making mistakes that are costing the team in its chase for its first postseason since 2011.

Base running has been disappointing this season for the Phillies, who have been picked off four times in the last month. Two of their prominent players (Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez) continue to have issues.

The club’s defense has struggled, too.

Tuesday was the latest crushing loss for the Phillies, thanks to Velasquez’s base-running miscue and two errors.

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It is likely what the 2018 version is: youthful, energetic, talented, flawed … and a year ahead of schedule.

They also are resilient, rebounding from Tuesday’s setback to rally past the Nationals on Wednesday to avoid being swept with the NL Central-leading Cubs coming in Friday for three games.

It appears silly to criticize the organization’s six trades in the last month. All of them attempted to fill needs.

Perhaps, the problems began when the team was constructed coming out of spring training.

The offseason signing of first baseman Carlos Santana at $20 million per year for three years bumped expected cornerstone Rhys Hoskins to left field.

Santana has a career-high (and MLB-most) 10 errors at first base and Hoskins, though he has improved, remains below average in left.

“I think he's actually really improved on defense,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Hoskins. “Yeah, I do. I think he’s getting better jumps, particularly coming in on the ball. And I think that it makes sense, right? This is his first season playing the outfield. It takes some time to get adjusted.”

Scott Kingery, who figures to have a long, productive career, was given a 6-year, $24 million contract before his first major league game. He has struggled playing seven positions (including pitcher) and batting everywhere but fourth in the lineup.

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Kapler said Kingery’s play offensively and defensively has been better of late and that he’s the club’s best defensive shortstop.

A star second baseman in the minors, Kingery is getting the starts ahead of Asdrubal Cabrera when Nola and Jake Arrieta, a pair of groundball pitchers, are on the mound.

Kingery slashed .421/.450/.789 in his last nine games before Wednesday, but remains 23rd among major league shortstops in WAR and on-base percentage.

Many pro scouts have said since April that Kingery should have spent time in Triple-A to build on last year’s stellar minor-league season before getting called up.

There was a time in June when J.P. Crawford was getting starts at third base ahead of Maikel Franco as speculation swirled about Franco’s future with the team because it was believed he was underachieving.

Crawford got hurt. Franco got hot and helped the Phillies to first place in the NL East.

Jorge Alfaro has 11 errors and a MLB-most eight passed balls. Andrew Knapp has eight errors and five passed balls.

The Phillies, who regularly take extra fielding, entered Wednesday tied for the MLB lead with 102 errors.

Many of the moves in the last month have been to address issues that were there in April.

The Phillies needed to break camp with a veteran catcher, though it likely wouldn’t have been one as good as Ramos.

They needed left-handed relievers in addition to Adam Morgan, though Austin Davis has been a pleasant surprise.

They needed veteran bats off the bench instead of putting a slew of relatively new major leaguers in unfamiliar bench roles.

The Phillies went with a young, inexperienced roster to start 2018, when almost everyone felt they were a year away from contending.

They were in first place as late as Aug. 11, with essentially that same core group.

They improved themselves with a six-pack of trades without giving up much in return, but have since slid back in the division and NL wild-card races.

There is time to turn things around.

Will they? No one really knows.

One thing seems certain after a season of inexplicable wins and unbelievable losses: The Phillies will better from their experiences.

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