Thursday, July 2, 2015

Trade Deadline Can’t Come Soon Enough

GAME RECAP: Brewers Beat Phillies 9-5

The Phillies and Brewers entered this week's four-game series at Citizens Bank Park with the two worst records in baseball. But the Brewers are looking like world beaters following Wednesday night's 9-5 victory, giving them a four-game winning streak for the first time since last August, and in position to sweep the four-game series with a victory Thursday. They pounded out a season-high 17 hits, including multi-hit games from Gerardo Parra, Scooter Gennett, Adam Lind, Aramis Ramirez, Martin Maldonado and starting pitcher Kyle Lohse, who had three hits. Lohse allowed four hits in 6 1/3 innings to pick up the win, his second in a row. "I scored twice, and it's always fun to help out and feel like a ballplayer," Lohse said. "I felt like I threw well. I feel pretty positive about what we were able to go out there and do." Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang became the first Phillies pitcher to lose eight consecutive starts since Jim Nash, who lost eight straight from June 14 to Sept. 30, 1972. "It seems like they swung at everything I threw up there," Harang said. "Even if it wasn't a strike they were swinging at it. It was one of those baffling games where you don't really know what's going on. You're just trying to get through it."

  • Harang's performance this month is important for the Phillies, who would love to trade him to a contender for a prospect or two. But Harang is not helping the cause. He had the eighth-best ERA (2.02) in baseball in 11 starts through May 30, but has struggled since. He allowed a career-high 14 hits and eight runs in five-plus innings against the Brewers and has posted an 8.31 ERA in his last six starts. "It's hard to figure," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said about Harang's struggles. "It looks to me like he's throwing the ball the same way he did early in the season. Normally, it all boils down to command of your stuff. When you don't hit your spots you can get burned, especially against an aggressive-hitting club."
  • It is a small step forward, but struggling Phillies left-hander Jake Diekman allowed one hit and struck out three in two scoreless innings. He has a 1.13 ERA (one earned run in eight innings) in six appearances since being recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on June 18. "He pitched very well," Mackanin said. "He pitched like he was out there to prove something. I loved it."
  • "It was encouraging to see [Maikel] Franco hit three doubles to right-center field. He was getting a little big [with his swing], but he kind of got back to where he's supposed to be. He stayed on the ball very well." -- Mackanin on Franco, who went 3-for-4 with three doubles, two RBIs and one walk.
  • The Phillies have not announced a roster move to accommodate right-hander Chad Billingsley, who will pitch the series finale Thursday night. Right-hander Sean O'Sullivan (1-6, 5.76 ERA), right-hander Kevin Correia (0-2, 3.60 ERA) and left-hander Adam Morgan are candidates. O'Sullivan has allowed 12 runs in 9 1/3 innings in his last two starts. Correia has pitched OK in his four starts and the Phillies might want to give Morgan (1-0, 1.59 ERA) a longer look.
  • Before heading to the DL, Billingsley struggled pitching against left-handed batters. Of his 33 at-bats against lefties, Billingsley allowed 15 hits -- six for extra bases -- and allowed eight runs to score.
  • Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz has a strong track record against Garza. Ruiz is 6-for-15 lifetime with three extra-base hits and a 1.204 OPS against the right-hander. Ryan Howard, meanwhile, has just one hit, a home run, in 16 at-bats against Garza and has struck out six times.
  • After Wednesday's Brewers win, the road team has won each of the last 10 games between the Phillies and Brewers dating back to April 2014. The Brewers' six-game winning streak at Citizens Bank Park is their longest in Philadelphia.

The Phillies and Brewers will round out a four-game series in Philadelphia on Thursday night with the Brewers in position to pull off their first sweep of the year. Milwaukee, which has a record of 7-16-2 in series this season, has been swept five times but hasn't delivered one of its own. Philadelphia is no stranger to sweeps, either, having been swept six times. Right-hander Matt Garza gets the start for the Brewers. Garza is 4-10 with a 5.52 ERA in 2015. He'll be opposed by Chad Billingsley, who's set to return to Philadelphia after going on the disabled list May 17 with a right shoulder strain.


Ryan Howard Got Violated Last Night – It stands to reason that Kyle Lohse, a pitcher, might not be used to reaching first base three times in one game. In fact, before Wednesday's start against the Phillies, he'd only recorded three hits once before in his career. Which might explain why Lohse's third hit of the night ended with a combination hug/tackle of Ryan Howard. To beat out an infield single, Lohse hurled himself into first with abandon, running square into Howard's backside as the first baseman leaped to corral a high throw. The two toppled to the ground and Lohse was safe. But we wouldn't blame Lohse if he just wanted to hug Howard. After the game, Lohse told's Adam McCalvy that following the hijinks, Howard simply said, "Well, this is awkward." Awkward? Maybe, but you gotta do what you gotta do to make it safely to first. The Brewers won, 9-5, and Lohse finished 3-for-4 with a pair of runs scored. "I scored twice, and it's always fun to help out and feel like a ballplayer," he told McCalvy. 

Looking For Answers – Aaron Harang throws a lot of strikes. In the Phillies' 9-5 loss to the Brewers on Wednesday, Harang threw 91 pitches, 64 of which for strikes. Spending that much time in the zone ended up haunting Harang as he gave up eight runs and a season-high 14 hits in five-plus innings. It was the sixth straight start in which he allowed four or more runs after doing that just once in his first 11 outings. It was also the second straight start in which he set a season-high for hits allowed and the first time all season he did note record an out in the sixth inning or later. Given that Harang has started against the Brewers 26 times in his career, they were no strangers to Harang's pitching style. When combining that with how much he was around the zone, Harang understood why he was hit so frequently. "I've faced those guys so much over the years," Harang said. "Even their manager. I faced him quite a few times over the years. They know I'm going to be around the plate. Sometimes that can be a definite downfall. When you're around the plate, guys are going to swing more often." And swing the Brewers did. Harang said he felt the Brewers were more aggressive, even swinging at pitches that were outside of the zone, than they were against the Phillies' starters in the first two games of the series. This led to 17 hits for Milwaukee, a season high. With his loss Wednesday, Harang became the first Phillies pitcher to take eight consecutive losses since Jim Nash in 1972. The 1972 Phillies were one of just three Phillies teams that won fewer than 60 games since World War II, a group the 2015 Phillies are on pace to join. This recent string of losses has been a 180-degree turn for Harang. He ended May with a 2.02 ERA, eighth best in the NL at the time, but since then it has more than doubled to 4.08. "Normally it all boils down to command of your stuff," interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "You don't hit your spots, you get burnt, especially against an aggressive hitting club. And he left some pitches up, probably a few more than he'd like to. It was just a matter of he doesn't have the command right now that he had earlier. Once he gets that back, he's going to be the same guy that we saw." Harang agreed. "I don't feel like [my control] has been as sharp," he said. "I think early on there were times where I felt like I might've gotten away with a few pitches here or there. Guys are making adjustments or doing something. Maybe I'm throwing too good of pitches and catching too much plate instead. That's something I'll sit down with [pitching coach Bob McClure] over the next few days and just try to get ready for what's ahead."

Big Changes Ahead? – Pete Mackanin knows his roster is subject to change. With today marking the start of July, the MLB Trade Deadline is officially less than a month away. And with sought-after trade commodities Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon on the Phillies' roster garnering interest from contending clubs, Mackanin said it is "probable" that they will be moved before the Deadline. "The whole point of this year basically is to see young guys, help us get ready for next year and beyond," Mackanin said. "If we can get good deals for Hamels and good deals for whoever else there might be out there, Papelbon. There might be a team that will come after Ben Revere or after [Jeff] Francoeur. We're not sure about anything, so we're going to have to wait and see what develops." Infusing more youth into the Phillies' everyday lineup has been Mackanin's main talking point since taking over as interim manager Friday. But so far, this youth infusion has only come on offense. While young position players like Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez have had the opportunity to grow in expanded roles, the rotation features mostly veterans like Aaron Harang, Sean O'Sullivan and Kevin Correia, none of whom fit the mold of "next year and beyond." Mackanin said he is "anxious" for a handful of pitchers in the Phillies' farm system to arrive to the Major Leagues, but said he and the organization have to be careful with exposing young players to the pros too soon. Aaron Nola, the Phillies' first-round pick in 2014, has already climbed through the Minor League ranks to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he has allowed just three runs in 17 2/3 innings over three starts. His strikeout rate at Triple-A has been higher than it was at other levels and he has yet to surrender a home run since his latest move. "Everyone's anxious to see Nola," Mackanin said. "And they're just going to pick the time that's right. They're going to pick the time that they feel is most beneficial not only to him but the team." But before Nola joins the Phillies or Hamels, Papelbon, Francoeur or Revere are traded, another change will be made to the Phillies' roster. With pitcher Chad Billingsley scheduled to come off the disabled list to start Thursday, the Phillies will have to make a move to make room. The most likely candidates to be sent down to Triple-A are O'Sullivan, who last started Tuesday, and Adam Morgan, a 25-year-old who has only made one big league start since his last start was abbreviated by rain.

Touted Teenager Expected To Sign With Phillies - The Phillies are pleased with the early returns of the Draft, but they plan to add more power to the system Thursday. They are expected to reach an agreement with 16-year-old outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz on the first day of the international signing period. Ortiz is a 6-foot-2, 260-pound slugger from the Dominic Republic. ranked him as the sixth-best international prospect available. Ortiz has the best raw power of the entire class, the type of power scouts have not seen from a player his age in years. There are concerns from some scouts about his athleticism and whether or not he will remain an outfielder, but other scouts think he should be fine. Of course, if Ortiz hits for power, the Phillies will find him a place to play. The Phillies have $3,041,700 in bonus money to use on their international prospects. They can go over that amount to sign a player, and they are expected to go well over that number to sign Ortiz with a bonus of more than $4 million. But that comes with consequences. For example, teams that exceed their pool by 15 percent or more are not allowed to sign a player for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods, in addition to paying a 100-percent tax on the pool overage. The D-backs, Angels, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees exceeded the 2014-15 pool by at least 15 percent, and cannot sign any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 during the next two signing periods.

Victims? – The Robin Hood-esque nature of Major League Baseball has victimized the Philadelphia Phillies. At least, that's how Andy MacPhail, the team's next president, sees it. "This game is designed to punish the successful," MacPhail said on MLB Network's "The Rundown" on Wednesday. "This team had five first-place finishes in a row, had 12 years where they were 80-plus wins. By design, they punish you for that. You draft lower. You have to pay your players greater and greater salaries based on arbitration and free agency based on performance and it takes its toll." That toll has reached a peak for the Phillies in 2015. The team has the worst record in baseball through about the halfway point of the season and entering Wednesday, the team was 17 games out of first place in the NL East. MacPhail joins a team mostly composed of older players who likely won't be around for too much longer and younger players who don't have the experience or the polish yet to make the contributions the Phillies need, something MacPhail conceded. But that doesn't mean he doesn't think changes aren't on their way. "The criticism of this franchise I think has been that maybe they tried to keep the party going too long," MacPhail said. "We're in the punishment phase. We're going to get out of the punishment phase as quickly, as efficiently and as effectively as we can." Since he will not be taking over as president until the end of the season, MacPhail said he would use the next few months to both learn the Phillies' culture and system and to re-indoctrinate himself into baseball after having been away for three years. With the state of the Phillies' organization, it's easy to question why MacPhail decided to come out of his brief retirement to run the team. But MacPhail said it was an easy choice. "[The ownership group] made it clear to me how they wanted to operate which I was comfortable with and it really became an opportunity I couldn't pass up," MacPhail said. "Plus I'd been out on my couch and travelling for long enough and my wife had had enough of me so it was time to go."

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 27-53. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and performance so far this season, this could end up being the worst team in franchise history! All time, the Phillies are 44-68-1 on this day. 

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