Saturday, June 20, 2015

Things Got A Little Squirrelly (Again) Last Night

GAME RECAP: Cards Crush Phils 12-4

The best team in baseball played the worst team in baseball Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, and the final score reflected as much. The Cardinals (44-23) hit three home runs on their way to a 12-4 victory over the Phillies (23-46). Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong each hit two-run home runs in the second inning against Phillies right-hander Phillippe Aumont, who walked seven and lasted just four innings in his season debut and first Major League start. The scoring continued from there for St. Louis. "We catch some heat sometimes when we can't put up the big offensive numbers," Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said. "But you know with a lineup like this it's going to happen. Are you going to be able to throw up 12 every night? No. But it's in there." The Phillies have lost 10 of their last 11 games and 22 of their last 27. "Tough," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said. "Tough game. You know, not much going right out there tonight. Fell behind early, and with not swinging the bats, it's a tough combination. Yeah, right from the get-go it was a tough game."

  • Aumont simply could not find the strike zone, which has been an issue most of his career. He threw 104 pitches, and only 56 were strikes. He not only walked seven, but he also threw a wild pitch and threw behind Jon Jay in the second inning. "It was just a constant battle a little bit with myself," Aumont said. "That's what it's been my whole career. Just me, myself and I out there battling. Nobody else. Because when I execute my pitches, I get these guys out down there and up here. Just keep your chest high and keep working at it. The mental part is a big part of the game, and you've got to be strong at it."
  • Howard always hits Cardinals pitching well, and his good fortune continued in the fifth inning with his three-run home run to right field. Howard has more home runs (21) and RBIs (64) against the Cardinals than against any other non-NL East team.
  • Remember the squirrel that appeared at home plate in Game 4 of the 2011 National League Division Series between the Cardinals and Phillies at Busch Stadium? Cards fans turned it into their good-luck charm in their team's run to the World Series title. Another squirrel appeared in the top of the second inning Friday, crawling up the backstop behind home plate before trying to run across the wire down the right-field line. Except the squirrel slipped and fell a long way onto the Phillies' dugout and then jumped into the dugout, prompting players to scatter.
  • Phillies starting pitchers have not earned a win in 24 consecutive games, which is a new franchise record. They set the previous record at 23 games from July 29-Aug. 20, 1961. The Phillies are 4-20 in their current stretch. The '61 Phillies went 0-23 in theirs.
  • "Going forward, we're going to need some starting pitching to help us out so our bullpen guys who are quality bullpen pieces don't get abused out there." -- Sandberg, when asked about the organization's plan to bring No.2 prospect Aaron Nola along slowly. Sandberg then said he understood the strategy about being careful with young pitchers.
Right-hander Aaron Harang starts Saturday night's 7:05 ET game. Harang has pitched much better than his 4-8 record indicates, but he has struggled recently with a pair of losses to Cincinnati and a loss earlier this week to Baltimore. John Lackey makes his 14th start of the season Saturday at 6:05 p.m. CT vs. the Phillies, trying to improve upon his 0-3 record with a 6.27 ERA as the visiting pitcher in 2015. He has been one of the most efficient pitchers in the NL this year, averaging 14.3 pitches per inning, the second fewest in the league.


Battle On The Mound – It would have been a heck of a story if Phillippe Aumont had dominated the Cardinals in his 2015 debut. But this season has been anything but storybook for the Phillies. Making his first Major League start, Aumont buried the Phillies quickly in Friday's 12-4 loss at Citizens Bank Park. He allowed five hits, six runs, two home runs, walked seven, threw one wild pitch and threw behind one batter in four innings. He struck out three. He threw 104 pitches, just 56 for strikes. "I don't give up," Aumont said. "I'll keep working. I know I can do it. I've done it plenty of times." Aumont joined the Phillies in December 2009 as part of the Cliff Lee trade with Seattle. The Phillies moved him from the bullpen to the rotation the following spring, but after struggling as a starter in the Minors, he returned to the bullpen. He remained there, pitching sparingly in relief for the Phillies from 2012-14, but constant struggles with his command put him on thin ice entering Spring Training this year. He cleared waivers in March, and the Phillies outrighted him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. A short time later, Aumont returned to the rotation. He enjoyed some success early, but his struggles throwing strikes returned. He walked 25 batters in 26 innings in his last five starts before the Phillies called him up to replace Cole Hamels, who missed Friday's start because of tightness in his right hamstring. Hamels said Friday he will make his next scheduled start Wednesday against the Yankees in New York. Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong each hit two-run home runs against Aumont in the second, when he walked two batters. He walked two more in a scoreless third and two more in the fourth, when he allowed two more runs. "It's more so mentally," Aumont said about his struggles. "It's just mentally, blockage. You start getting in those situations, and you start nitpicking a little bit. Not doubting, but ... it has to be between the ears. I've done it plenty of times physically. It's frustrating to just be in that position, fighting it. "It was just a constant battle a little bit with myself. That's what it's been my whole career. Just me, myself and I out there battling. Nobody else. Because when I execute my pitches I get these guys out down there and up here. Just keep your chest high and keep working at it. The mental part is a big part of the game, and you've got to be strong at it." Right-hander Justin De Fratus replaced Aumont in the fifth. He allowed eight hits and six runs in two innings. He threw 58 pitches. The Phillies' bullpen has pitched 20 1/3 innings in the last four games. "That's a challenge, keeping the bullpen intact," Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg said.

Balance In The Middle Infield – Over the past 14 games, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg has started catchers Carlos Ruiz and Cameron Rupp evenly. It makes sense. Ruiz's .573 OPS is 21st among 23 qualified catchers in baseball. Rupp's is .636. Could the same thing finally happen at second base with Chase Utley and Cesar Hernandez? Hernandez started at second base in Friday night's series opener against the Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park. He has started four of the last 13 games at second base, leading the team with a .328 on-base percentage over that span, and has a .631 OPS overall. Utley's .539 OPS is the lowest of 166 qualified hitters in baseball. The Phillies would like to see Hernandez play more, so they can determine if he is an option at second base going forward. Utley, meanwhile, has a $15 million option for 2016 that automatically vests if he reaches 500 plate appearances. He has 240. There is no question the Phillies prefer not to pay it, if Utley continues at his current pace. "I'm just taking that day to day," Sandberg said about second base. "I keep kind of waiting for Chase to hit a streak and really get it going in the other direction. To do that, you need a good series, a good week of at-bats. I'm kind of caught in between there. Cesar can also get in some games, possibly at shortstop, but I'm trying to do my best to get him in there. "I know Chase is working on some things. To give him the opportunity to get hot would be a plus for him, and to get playing time for Cesar would be a plus for Cesar."

Not Again – On a chilly night in October 2011, the Phillies and Cardinals squared off in a classic NLDS game. Roy Oswalt was on the hill for the visiting Phils and was handed a two-run lead before he ever had to take the mound. But in the later innings ... things took a turn. A squirrel ran across home plate as Oswalt was set to deliver a pitch to Skip Schumaker. The umpire called it a ball, despite pleas from Oswalt and then-manager Charlie Manuel for a "no-pitch." The Cardinals went on to win Game 4 ... and Game 5 ... and then the NLCS ... and eventually the World Series. This Rally Squirrel thing had legs. Fast forward to Friday night. Yadier Molina and the Cardinals have the best record and baseball and are visiting the Phillies (who don't). But, it would seem that the Cards didn't want to take any chances because they brought the Rally Squirrel with them. The Cards were already up 4-0 in the top of the second inning when the squirrel began to scale the net behind home plate. Eventually, it fell onto the top of the home dugout before throwing itself into a host of players. "When I saw it in my face I just brushed it away," said Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera, who was near where the squirrel jumped into the dugout. Suddenly it was 11-0. Just like that. Things eventually calmed down and the Cardinals never looked back, but Phillies fans will probably be seeing that squirrel in their nightmares for the next few days.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 23-46. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance this spring, don’t expect their competitive place in the standings to last. All time, the Phillies are 61-51-0 on this day.

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