- Ryan Howard has been showing shades of his former self as of late, dominating opposing pitching over his seven-game hitting streak. With three hits Saturday, Howard improved his total over the streak to 12 and is batting .462 in the stretch. Perhaps the finest indicator of how well he has been playing came in the sixth inning when, with runners on second and third and one out, Howard was intentionally walked for the first time since April 16. "If you've been watching all year I've had some good swings, I've had some bad swings and good stretches where I haven't had balls fall in, but had really good swings," Howard said. "So now it's being able to find real estate."
- The Phillies must've felt guilty for being shut out in Nola's Major League debut, because the team has provided plenty of run support for the rookie in starts two and three. After scoring 11 runs on Sunday in Chicago, tying a then-season high, the Phillies set a new season high with 12 runs on Saturday, earning Nola his second career win. "It's pretty amazing to watch," Nola said. "Those guys, they're averaging so many hits and runs a game. As a pitcher it's awesome to go out there and step on the mound and throw when you have a lead, especially that big of a lead that the guys are putting up."
- "I keep teasing him. Everybody else is hitting home runs and he's hitting singles and doubles. I don't know. How do you explain it?"-- Mackanin, on Howard's hot streak.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Young Battery Leads Phillies In Big Win Over Braves
GAME RECAP: Phillies Crush Braves 12-2
Cameron Rupp and Freddy Galvis each drilled three-run homers to provide Aaron Nola more than enough support as he bounced back from a rough first inning to lead the surging Phillies to a 12-2 win over the Braves on Saturday night at Citizens Bank Park. Rupp's fourth-inning home run off Matt Wisler's first-pitch slider provided the Phillies a lead they would not relinquish on the way to improving to 12-2 since the All-Star break. Nola surrendered Nick Markakis' third career leadoff home run during a two-run first inning and then ended his five-inning performance with four consecutive scoreless innings. "When you get a lot of hits, it always looks like there is energy," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said of his team's recent offensive outburst. "When you face a tough pitcher that's really doing a good job then everybody likes to say that there's no energy. But our guys have not let down and they look like, they feel like, they're going to win which is a nice feeling" The Braves, who have lost six straight and nine of their past 10 games, were not as fortunate with their rookie starter. Wisler surrendered a career-high seven earned runs and allowed eight hits before exiting with two outs in the fifth inning. He had allowed two earned runs or fewer in four of his previous seven career starts. "[The Rupp home run] really changed the whole game," Wisler said. "Eight-hole hitter with the pitcher on deck, I've got to execute that pitch better. That cost us pretty badly."
OTHER NOTES FROM THE DAY:
After setting a career high in innings pitched last time he faced the Braves, Adam Morgan will take the hill for the Phillies. Morgan is 2-2 with a 4.05 ERA this season. With a win Sunday, the Phillies could execute their fourth sweep of the season and third since the All-Star break. Julio Teheran will attempt to lower his 7.24 road ERA when Atlanta and Philadelphia conclude this four-game series on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET. Howard and Domonic Brown could pose a problem for Teheran, who has allowed a .309 batting average to left-handed hitters this year.
Offense Comes Alive – A few weeks ago the Phillies were struggling mightily. Between June 24 and July 7, the team went 3-10 and dropped to 28 games below .500. Then things got even tougher. Over a three-day span, the team faced All-Star starting pitchers Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner back-to-back-to-back. The Phillies lost all three games by a combined score of 26-2 and struck out 31 times. Then something surprising happened. The Phillies' fate turned for the better. In 16 contests since those three games, the Phillies have a 12-4 record and have scored 5.31 runs per game. Twice in that span the Phillies have either matched or set a season-high in runs scored and eight times they have recorded double-digit hits in a game. Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin has said many times he doesn't quite know what has changed in his team that has led to this offensive eruption. But he did offer one possibility. "I think what happened was when we faced Kershaw, Greinke and Bumgarner and then had the break, I think everybody else looks easy," Mackanin said. Mackanin said that in jest, but the hypothesis isn't wholly unbelievable. Facing any pitching, even elite Major League pitching, after being baffled by three of the leagues' aces could serve a similar purpose to putting a donut on your bat when taking warm-up swings; after deliberately making your job harder, even the difficult tasks seem easier. To see whether or not Mackanin's theory has any founding, there are a few comparisons to look at. The easiest one is to look at other teams who have faced 2015 All-Stars back-to-back-to-back this season. Aside from the Phillies, only two other teams have done that this season: Kansas City and Texas. The Rangers, after facing Kershaw, Greinke and Chris Sale, did the exact opposite of the Phillies, going 4-12 in their next 16 and averaging 3.31 runs per game. The Royals, who faced Sale, A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole on three-straight days, split what the Rangers and Phils did, going 6-5 since that stretch and averaging 3.82 runs per game. Based off this season's small sample, facing three aces in a row doesn't necessarily work as a palate cleanser. The sample of teams that have faced Kershaw and Greinke one after another is significantly larger but the results are just as inconclusive. Of the 15 times teams have had to move on after facing the Dodgers' 1-2 punch, six teams have had winning records over their next 16 games, eight have had losing records and one has gone 8-8 with records ranging from 11-5 to 4-12. With data from this season looking as if it doesn't support the idea that great pitching makes good pitching look worse, the Phillies are still looking for an explanation for their offensive renaissance. But if history is any indication this streak might end where it began. The Phillies have to face Greinke on Thursday.
Howard’s Hot Streak Leading Offense – Hitting is contagious. If that wasn't a tired baseball aphorism before, Ryan Howard and Pete Mackanin sure made it one. "Guys are going up there having good at-bats all the way around," Howard said. "Hitting is contagious so to speak." "Hitting is contagious. We've all heard that cliché," Mackanin said. "But it seems to be taking a hold with our team right now." The phrase is a cliché. But that doesn't make it wrong in the Phillies' case. In Saturday's 12-2 victory over the Braves, the Phillies scored the most runs they've put up in a game since May 17, 2014, against the Cincinnati Reds, improving their record to 12-2 since the All-Star break. Howard has been at the center of this offensive explosion. His three hits on Saturday improved his average over his seven-game hitting streak to .462. He has 12 runs batted in over this stretch, the most he has had in a 12-game span since between May 26 and June 1 of 2014. After starting off the game 3-for-3, he was intentionally walked in the sixth inning for the second time this season and the ninth since the beginning of 2014. Since the start of his hitting streak, Howard has improved his batting average from .219 to .238 and his OPS from .697 -- the lowest it had been since early May -- to .751. But as much as it seems as if Howard has turned a corner, he doesn't see it that way. "I've had confidence. I just haven't had balls falling in," Howard said. "Now it's just a matter of getting balls to fall when I need them to. The confidence has always been there. It's just a matter of finding real estate every once in a while." If a baseball field is like a metropolitan area, Howard has been finding his real estate inside the city limits recently, with just eight of his 40 hits since the beginning of June being home runs. But luckily for Howard, his teammates have been able to plant some balls in the suburbs while he's been hitting more like a slap hitter. Saturday was just the fourth time all year that the Phillies hit three home runs with Cameron Rupp hitting a three-run shot in the fourth, Odubel Herrera launching a solo homer into the second deck in right field in the fifth and Freddy Galvis joining the party with a three-run clout of his own in the sixth. Mackanin said he has noticed the trend of Howard falling behind in the home-run chase and has ribbed the former MVP about it. "I keep teasing him," the manager said. "Everybody else is hitting home runs and he's hitting singles and doubles. I don't know. How do you explain it?" Luckily for Howard, if his teammates keep hitting home runs, he very well may join in too. After all, hitting is contagious.
Patience Needed – For a team building toward a bright future, the Phillies acquired a player with a recent history that has been marred by injury. Through trades over the past week, the Phillies acquired young players who now occupy Nos. 3, 4, 5, 13, 14, 15 and 24 in their prospect rankings in exchange for veterans like Cole Hamels, Jonathan Papelbon and Ben Revere who didn't factor into the future as the organization envisions it. But also included in the bounty was one player who doesn't quite fit in with the cohort of young, high-upside players headed to Philadelphia: Matt Harrison. A 29-year-old right-handed pitcher the Phillies received from Texas as a part of the Hamels deal, Harrison has made just nine starts since the end of the 2012 season due to complications and surgeries relating to herniated discs in his back. His first action as a Phillie was to go back to the disabled list. That being said, Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said he sees Harrison having a role in the future of the Phillies organization. "I wouldn't bet on [him pitching this year]," Mackanin said. "But like I told him yesterday, I said 'I know you feel bad, but we're looking at you for what we're about to become rather than this year. We're not really playing for a whole lot this year.'" Harrison said upon arriving in Philadelphia on Saturday that he feels "stiff," and doesn't feel that he should rush back onto the field given his injury history. Given that a doctor once told him that he had just a 20 percent chance of ever playing again because of the intensity of his spinal fusion surgery, Harrison knows that he can't take his health for granted. With that in mind, Harrison was more optimistic than Mackanin, saying that he believes he could possibly return when he is eligible to come off the DL in 15 days. "Not too concerned because there's no pain like there used to be, Harrison said. "I think it's gonna be a quick, easy turnaround and I'll be back as soon as possible."
Scouting Nola – Background: Aaron Nola caught the attention of scouts while he was still at Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, La. The right-handed starting pitcher was named the 2011 Class 5A State Player of the Year and was voted the state's "Mr. Baseball." His efforts earned him a selection in the 22nd round of the '11 Draft. However, instead of signing with the Toronto Blue Jays, Nola chose to attend Louisiana State University. Nola's success continued for the Tigers and the awards continued to come. He was named to several All-America teams and was the College Baseball Foundation's National Pitcher of the Year in 2014. He was also a finalist for the prestigious Golden Spikes Award. The Phillies selected Nola seventh overall in the 2014 Draft and he was immediately placed on a quick path to the big leagues. A year after being drafted, Nola is pitching for the parent club. Not huge by today's standards, Nola is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds. Nola began this season pitching for Double-A Reading and advanced to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. In total, he threw 109 1/3 Minor League innings this season and posted a 10-4 record with a 2.39 ERA and a sparkling 1.05 WHIP. After pitching in parts of only two Minor League seasons in the Phillies' system, Nola made his Major League debut on July 21 against the Tampa Bay Rays. He threw six very solid innings, allowing one run and striking out six, in a losing cause. Repertoire: Nola has an effective repertoire that includes a two-seam fastball that sits between 92 and 94 mph, an infrequent four-seam fastball, a very good changeup and a curveball that can be very effective. He mixes and matches well between those pitches. Everything works off his sinking fastball. The pitch results in a good percentage of ground balls, always a great sign for a pitcher. Due to his good control and command, Nola is not afraid to pitch inside. He also has the confidence to use any pitch in any count. This is why Nola is No. 2 on the Phillies' Top 30 Prospect list. Mechanics: Nola has advanced pitching mechanics, changing his low three-quarter arm angle on occasion, resulting in good movement on all his pitches. It is the movement and use of the entire strike zone that adds deception to his delivery. It is rare that Nola is behind in counts, negating a need to throw a "get-me-over" fastball. Challenging hitters is an important part of his plan. Nola has appropriate confidence in his talent and can skillfully navigate a solid lineup. He has always had an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio. Strengths: Nola brings a very mature demeanor and presence to the mound. He is advanced in almost every phase of his game. Being able to change speeds and locations with ease, Nola takes charge on the mound and throws strikes. In fact, in his brief Minor League career, he had a walk rate of 1.5 per nine innings and struck out an average of 7.5 per nine. Due to his ability to keep the ball down in the zone, Nola has yielded less than one home run per nine innings throughout his career. At a very hitter-friendly park like Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia, Nola's ground-ball proficiency will be an asset. Even though Nathan Karns -- his first mound opponent -- hit a home run off Nola in his debut, the young righty should be able to limit long-ball damage. Contrary to the norm with many right-handed pitchers, Nola has shown an ability to succeed against left-handed hitters. Weaknesses: If he elevates the ball, his pitches have a tendency to straighten out. However, he self-corrects and may only experience a brief encounter with a lack of command. I find this interesting: Nola's older brother, Austin, also attended LSU and is a professional baseball player, too. He is a middle infielder in the Marlins' organization. Aaron is only 22. Austin is 25. The future: The future is now for Nola. It is likely he can retain a role in the Phillies' rotation. Nola in a word: Ready.
The Phillies are starting the season as expected and are now at the bottom of the NL east at 41-64. 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 46-58-1 on this day.