Thursday, August 6, 2015

Frenchie Can Only Do So Much

GAME RECAP: Dodgers Disappoint Phillies 4-3

Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig is showing some power these past couple of weeks. He hit a three-run home run to left field in the first inning in Wednesday night's 4-3 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. It was his fourth home run in his past 13 games. He went 2-for-4 with three RBIs to lead the Dodgers, who have won five of their last six games. "He got us out of the gate," manager Don Mattingly said of Puig's home run. "We had a lot of chances after that and didn't do a lot, and they hung around and got back in the game." The Phillies managed just four hits and one run in six innings against Dodgers left-hander Brett Anderson, but they made things interesting with Jeff Francoeur's two-run home run to left field in the eighth. "They're a very disciplined team," Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang said about the Dodgers. "That's why they're in first place."

  • Francoeur remains an intriguing trade candidate in August. He showed his value offensively and defensively Wednesday. He threw out Joc Pederson at third base in the fourth inning. Then, he hit the two-run homer in the eighth against Jim Johnson to cut the Dodgers' lead to 4-3. "There's got to be somebody that's interested in him, I would think," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "He's come up big all year. We love him."
  • There is a small chance the Phillies can trade Harang before the Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline, but he did not help his cause against the Dodgers. He allowed seven hits, four runs, five walks, one home run and struck out just one in five innings. "I can't worry about that," Harang said about the August waiver Trade Deadline. "I've got to worry about just executing out there right now. That's what I've got to focus on. I can't worry about the potential to go here or there. I've got to pitch like I know I can pitch and get myself back in a groove."
  • The Phillies challenged a play at second base in the second inning. Second-base umpire Jeff Kellogg ruled A.J. Ellis safe at second on a sacrifice bunt, but replay showed Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis tagged Ellis before he reached second. The call was overturned.
  • Francoeur is hitting .322 (48-for-149) with a .340 on-base percentage and a .557 slugging percentage since May 4. His .897 OPS is seventh-best among National League outfielders with 150 or more plate appearances in that span.
  • Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco is making a case for National League Rookie of the Year. Despite making his season debut May 15, Franco entered Wednesday ranked second among NL rookies in doubles; third in home runs, RBIs and multi-hit games; fourth in runs and extra-base hits; and fifth in total bases. He is 33 plate appearances short of qualifying, but he otherwise would rank first among NL rookies with an .830 OPS.
  • Kiké Hernandez homered off Buchanan last year, so he could get a start at third base, or spell Jimmy Rollins at shortstop in the day game.
  • In his only start against the Phillies this year, Greinke allowed one hit over eight scoreless innings on July 9 at Dodger Stadium.

With Zack Greinke starting for the Dodgers on Thursday, expect Yasmani Grandal to be catching. Manager Don Mattingly said he started A.J. Ellis behind the plate Wednesday night in part because he and Brett Anderson have developed a winning rapport, and in part to keep Grandal teamed with Greinke. Mattingly said he did not want Grandal to catch a day game following a night game. Greinke is 5-1 with a 2.03 career ERA against the Phils. The Phillies will counter Greinke with starting pitcher David Buchanan, whose lone start against the Dodgers was a winning one last year, allowing one run in five innings. Buchanan needs to bring his best to have a shot to beat Greinke. He is 2-6 with a 6.44 ERA in eight starts this season, but 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA in his last three. He allowed three runs in 7 1/3 innings Friday against the Braves.


Recent Surge Brings Hope – When the All-Star break arrived this season, not a moment too soon for the Phillies, they had the worst record in baseball. And it wasn't even close. At the rate they were going they would have ended up with 110 losses. Since play resumed, virtually the same roster has MLB's best record. Despite a 4-3 loss to the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday night, they're 13-4. What in the name of Andy MacPhail is going on here? How can a team that looked suspiciously like the '62 Mets for much of the first half now more resemble the '27 Yankees? Glad you asked ... Part is covered by the universal, one-size-fits-all answer: "That's baseball." Consider 1997. As late as July 27, the Phillies were 42 games under .500. They closed out the year with a 38-22 record. Consider 1991. They were in last place with a 40-58 record on July 28, then inexplicably ran off 13 straight wins. Besides, as impressive as the record has been for the last two-and-a-half-weeks, that's a small sample in baseball terms. Still, there are several factors which, with the benefit of hindsight, have helped trigger the turnaround. The one getting the most attention is the change in managers. After Ryne Sandberg stepped down on June 26, Pete Mackanin was given the job on an interim basis. Sandberg was a self-described old-school baseball man. Mackanin runs a looser ship. Veteran Jeff Francoeur on Wednesday became the latest to suggest that the players are performing better because they're more relaxed under Mackanin. In fairness to Sandberg, a managerial change often provides a temporary bounce, whether it's going from a disciplinarian to a player's manager or vice-versa. When hard-nosed Larry Bowa took over from more easygoing Terry Francona in 2001, a team that lost 97 games the year before jumped out to a 35-18 start. Still, this abrupt U-turn must put into play the possibility that Mackanin could be considered to stay on next season. He spoke at length Wednesday about his evolution as a manager who started out under domineering types like Gene Mauch, Billy Martin and Dick Williams. "I have a certain style. And I've changed over the years. I realize the players are the ones who win and lose. And if I can keep the players positive and happy, while at the same time keeping that little bit of friction between us, and letting them know that we're trying to win and it's a bottom-line business, that's what I want to do," he said. "My first few years I was a yeller and a screamer. I found out over time that's not the way it should be. That doesn't work today." His epiphany came while he was managing winter ball in Maracaibo, Venezuela. He came home after a loss and was ranting and raving. "And my wife [Nancy] said, 'Are you going to have a heart attack over this? What are you doing?' And it stuck with me. And I started changing," he said. It also doesn't hurt that, after managing in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico as well as Venezuela, he can speak passable Spanish. The Phillies currently have 11 Latin American players on their 25-man roster. There are other reasons players might be more relaxed, too. Starting the second half with the worst record in baseball lowers expectations and takes a lot of the pressure off, for example. Mackanin has further benefited from the organizational decisions to bring Aaron Nola and Adam Morgan to the big leagues, plus David Buchanan's return from a trip to Triple-A Lehigh Valley and the disabled list. For the most part, they've been more effective at giving the Phillies a chance to win than stopgap veterans like, for example, Sean O'Sullivan and Kevin Correia were able to do. An offense that ranked at or near the bottom of baseball in most major offensive categories has perked up, as well. Part of that could be attributed to not having to come back from early deficits on a regular basis. Before the break, Phillies starters had a first-inning earned run average of 6.65. Going into Wednesday night: 2.25. That Aaron Harang took the loss Wednesday after giving up three in the first underscores the point. The Phillies were unable to overcome the early deficit and also had a streak of six straight home games with 10 or more hits snapped. Besides, it's logical that younger players like third baseman Maikel Franco, center fielder Odubel Herrera, shortstop Freddy Galvis and second baseman Cesar Hernandez should be more confident now, as they gain experience and come to the park every day knowing there's a good chance they'll be in the lineup. Hernandez presents an interesting illustration. He was hitting .232 when Chase Utley went on the disabled list, three days before Sandberg resigned. He's batted .324 with a .381 on base percentage, 22 runs scored and 12 stolen bases in 35 games since. Utley, who could be activated as early as Thursday, was batting .179 when he was sidelined with right ankle inflammation. Finally, it's possible that the Phillies were able to ambush some teams who subconsciously let down knowing they were playing the team with baseball's worst record. It's a long season. Players are only human. It could have helped the Phils take two out of three from the Rays at home and sweep the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Look, nobody is suggesting that the Phillies will play at this pace for the rest of the season. Nobody is pretending that their rebuilding project doesn't still have a ways to go. But, just as they aren't as good as they've looked since the break, maybe they weren't as bad as they looked earlier. "I think we're much better than what we showed in the last month or two of the first half," Francoeur said. There isn't a single, simple explanation why the Phillies have played so much better lately. There are several reasons, as it turns out.

Returning Tomorrow? – Chase Utley told reporters Tuesday he expected to see Jimmy Rollins before the Dodgers rolled out of town Thursday. So, plan to see Utley back with the Phillies for Thursday afternoon's series finale against Los Angeles at Citizens Bank Park, although it remains to be seen if he will be activated from the 15-day disabled list. Utley, who has been on the DL since June 23 with a sprained right ankle, went 3-for-4 with one double, one RBI and one walk in the third game of his rehab assignment Wednesday night with Double-A Reading. But what happens to Utley upon his return with second baseman Cesar Hernandez playing so well? "I'm going to try and mix Chase in at second base," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said this week. Hernandez will give Freddy Galvis a break at shortstop and Maikel Franco a break at third base to keep him in the lineup. Utley also will play occasionally at first base. "I already had a conversation with Cesar to let him know that he is not a utility player, but it's important to get Chase at-bats," Mackanin said. "[Utley] may play some first base, so hopefully three or four days a week I can get him in. We'll see." It is important for Utley to play because he is receiving interest from a few teams, most notably the Angels and Cubs. While Utley has hit just .179 with seven doubles, one triple, four home runs and 25 RBIs in 65 games this season, there is a real chance the Phillies could find a trade partner before the Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline. Utley has 10-and-5 rights and has indicated numerous times in the past he does not wish to waive those rights. But he hinted in Spring Training he could change his mind if the team does not compete and his fellow veterans are traded. The Phillies just traded Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and Jake Diekman before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

Immediate Impact – Nick Williams scored five runs in five plate appearances Wednesday, finishing 4-for-4 with a walk, double, two homers and three RBIs as Double-A Reading walloped Trenton, 11-1. The Phillies' No. 4 prospect (No. 64 overall) had a career night in just his second game for Reading. Texas traded Williams to Philadelphia last week as part of a trade Deadline deal for Cole Hamels, and the outfielder has now gone 6-for-9 in two contests since the switch. Reading's offense also got a boost from No. 17 prospect Andrew Knapp, who went 2-for-5 with two homers and three RBIs of his own. The catcher now has five multi-hit games in a row, over which time his average has ballooned from .323 to .373. Knapp's two taters matched his Double-A total coming into Wednesday night's game, and he now has 33 RBIs over 30 games in Reading. But Williams -- Reading's leadoff hitter -- stole the show. Still just 21 years old, he's coming off a strong 97-game campaign with Double-A Frisco in which he hit .299/.357/.479 with 21 doubles, four triples, 13 homers and 45 RBIs.

Looking Ahead To The Waiver Wire – The Phillies sure have made things interesting since the All-Star break. Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon, Ben Revere and Jake Diekman have been traded. Maikel Franco, Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis are playing like they could be pieces of the future. Ken Giles is throwing 100-mph fastballs as the closer. And the few remaining veterans on the 25-man roster still have a chance to be traded before the Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline. Phillies right fielder Jeff Francoeur helped his cause, while Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang did not, in Wednesday night's 4-3 loss to the Dodgers at Citizens Bank Park. Francoeur threw out Joc Pederson at third base in the fourth inning and hit a two-run home run to left field in the eighth, while Harang allowed seven hits, four runs, five walks and struck out one in five innings. Francoeur is hitting .276 (59-for-214) with 12 doubles, one triple, 10 home runs, 35 RBIs and a .787 OPS in 78 games. Francoeur has the second-best OPS on the team among players with more than 100 at-bats. Only Franco (.829) is better. Francoeur also is averaging a home run every 21.4 at-bats, which is the second-best mark on the team. Only Ryan Howard (one homer every 19.8 at-bats) has been better. "We commented about it," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's got to be somebody that's interested in him, I would think. He's come up big all year. We love him." Harang allowed a three-run home run to Yasiel Puig in the first inning to hand the Dodgers a 3-0 lead. He had a 2.02 ERA in his first 11 starts this season. He has a 7.46 ERA in his last eight. "I can't worry about that," Harang said about the Aug. 31 waiver Trade Deadline. "I've got to worry about just executing out there right now. That's what I've got to focus on. I can't worry about the potential to go here or there. I've got to pitch like I know I can pitch and get myself back in a groove." It was Harang's second start since returning from the disabled list with left-foot plantar fasciitis. "I was off," Harang said. "I wasn't sharp."

Supporting The Phillies Family – All things considered, Chad Billingsley and his wife, Tiffany, are feeling incredibly blessed these days. Wednesday night at Citizens Bank Park, they will show appreciation for everything good that has happened to them since March. While Chad has worked to return to the mound following a pair of right elbow surgeries, Tiffany has been quietly going through rounds of chemotherapy to beat a rare but aggressive form of cancer called gestational choriocarcinoma. The couple happily reported that Tiffany has been clear of cancer since last month. She will finish her final treatments in a few weeks. "There were so many things that went right in this process," Chad said Tuesday. "It's like the Lord knew we had to be home," said Tiffany, who is from Reading, Pa. The Billingsleys, who will celebrate their ninth wedding anniversary in November, are hosting 100 members of the oncology staff at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where Tiffany has been receiving her care. The group includes two of her doctors -- Russell Schilder and Norm Rosenblum -- and her nurse practitioner, Amanda Jackson. The Billingsleys' lives turned upside down in late March. Following a miscarriage, Tiffany, 31, was diagnosed on April 1 with gestational choriocarcinoma, which is the malignant form of gestational trophoblastic disease. According to, GTD is a group of rare tumors that involve abnormal growth of cells inside a woman's uterus. The cancer affects about two to seven of every 100,000 pregnancies in the United States. It is aggressive, but treatable, if detected early. Tiffany had no luck finding a doctor who could see her immediately. Two weeks, one hospital said. Three weeks, said another. "I had to pitch that next day," Chad said. "I was a mess. I ended up talking to Ruben [Amaro Jr.]. He was on the ball right there. By the time I finished my start, we already had an appointment set up at Jefferson for the following Tuesday [April 7]. It was a big relief." "I may not even be alive today if it wasn't for the Phillies," Tiffany said. "They've been unbelievable. We've never felt so part of a family, and we're new." Tiffany started first-level chemotherapy April 8, but her hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) numbers continued to increase. Her cancer tripled in one week, reaching her lungs. "Is she even going to be alive?" Chad recalled thinking back then. "Are we past the point where chemo can help?" Tiffany eventually started five-drug chemotherapy. She responded well. Chad said he contemplated putting his baseball career on hold because the treatments were so harsh on Tiffany, but she said she needed him to pitch. "We need normalcy," she said. "It was good for me to pitch," Chad said. "If it distracted me for a half hour, it helped. It was a good escape." "Imagine what it would have been like if he hadn't had that, and this was the only thing we thought about," Tiffany added. Fortunately, by mid-July, doctors detected no cancer. "I would never share any of this with anyone, but the Phillies and Jeff have been so fantastic," Tiffany said. "We wanted to say thanks." "It's about thanking them publicly for having my wife here today," Chad said. "What they've done is unbelievable."

Recognizing Vendors – There are 750 players on the current MLB rosters, dozens and dozens of coaches, scores of broadcasters, and millions of fans who help make each and every MLB season special. But even with all those people doing their best to contribute, there'd still be no dugout ice cream, no peanuts for Anthony Rizzo to bogart and no gluttonous hot dog monstrosities without the hard work of the food and beverage vendors at MLB stadiums throughout the country.

The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 42-66. 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 48-61-0 on this day.

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