Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Braves Top Phillies In Battle For Last Place

GAME RECAP: Braves Beat Phillies 7-2

The Braves snapped a 12-game losing streak Monday night with a 7-2 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. Williams Perez completed seven innings of two-run ball, backed in part by Freddie Freeman's 16th homer of the season and a four-RBI night from Hector Olivera. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez did not hesitate when pitching coach Roger McDowell asked him if he wanted to use closer Arodys Vizcaino to protect a five-run, ninth-inning lead. "I said, 'Vizcaino is in the game no matter what,'" a relieved Gonzalez told reporters. "Because with a [12-game] losing streak, it is a save situation." Freeman got things going with a two-run home run in the first inning against Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang. The second of Jace Peterson's three singles helped the Braves score three more runs against Harang in the fourth to take a 5-1 lead. The Braves and Phillies entered the series with the two worst records in baseball, giving the series 2016 Draft pick implications. The Braves (55-83) had lost 19 of their last 20, and improved to 7-7 against the Phillies (53-85) this season. "That was a disappointing start to the homestand," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "We caught a team that's down, and we couldn't do a whole lot."

  • The Phillies had very little going Monday, but right fielder Aaron Altherr continues to warrant a longer look in the outfield. He tripled in the first inning and scored a run with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. He then made a nice running catch at the wall in the eighth inning, which he turned into an inning-ending double play when he threw to first to double up Andrelton Simmons. "He's a nice-looking young player," Mackanin said. "We're going to find out the rest of the month how he does at this level. I have no reason to believe he won't succeed at this level. I'm anxious to see him play a little bit more."
  • Harang has been unable to regain the form that helped him to a 2.02 ERA in 11 starts through May 30. He is 1-10 with a 7.79 ERA in 14 starts since then, which includes Monday's start. He allowed eight hits, five runs, three walks, one home run and struck out six in just five innings against the Braves. "They came out swinging, that's the thing," Harang said. "They know what I'm going to do. They know I'm going to go out and throw strikes."
  • "It's really different. It really makes a difference. Let's put it this way, it's more fun. It's more fun when you win. You win, you pack the house. We've got to just keep moving forward." -- Mackanin, on the announced attendance of 15,125. It was a record-low at Citizens Bank Park.
  • Phillies pinch-hitter Brian Bogusevic hit a homer in the fifth. It was his first big league plate appearance since Sept. 29, 2013, when he played for the Cubs.
  • Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard entered this series with 50 career home runs against the Braves. Mets third baseman David Wright (34) is the only other active player who has collected at least 25 homers against Atlanta.
  • This series could go have a significant influence on who has the top pick in the 2015 First-Year Player Draft. The Braves and Phillies entered this series with Major League Baseball's two worst records.
  • Braves center fielder Cameron Maybin has missed the past two games because of a left cornea abrasion. His status for Tuesday's game is questionable.

As the Phillies have distanced themselves from their first-half memories with the encouraging success they have had since the All-Star break, they have gained even more reason to believe they were wise to select Aaron Nola with the seventh overall selection in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft. Before surrendering six earned runs in just four innings against the Mets on Wednesday, Nola had produced a 3.26 ERA through his first eight career starts. The 22-year-old right-hander surrendered just five hits and one earned run while totaling 15 innings over the final two starts he made in August. Nola will have an opportunity to get back on track when he takes the mound for Tuesday night's game against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. He limited Atlanta to two runs over five innings on Aug. 2. Ryan Weber will be called up from Triple-A Gwinnett to make the start for the Braves. The 25-year-old right-hander will be making his big league debut after going 6-3 with a 2.21 ERA in 27 games, six starts, for Gwinnett this season.


Rookie Earns Playing Time – The Phillies unexpectedly created some room in their outfield in the past week, when Domonic Brown suffered a concussion and Cody Asche returned to third base with Maikel Franco sidelined with a broken left wrist. It has left more playing time for Aaron Altherr. It has been well-deserved. Altherr had another solid game in Monday night's 7-2 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. He tripled to right field in the first inning. He hit a sacrifice fly to right in the third to score the Phillies' first run. He then got hit by a pitch in the sixth. Altherr is hitting .259 (15-for-58) with five doubles, two triples, two home runs, 10 RBIs and an .835 OPS in 17 games. "The more games you play, the more days you're up here, the more you're comfortable," Altherr said. "I'm definitely having a good time being around all these guys. I just hope I can continue to keep playing well." Altherr has played solid defense, too. He made a great leaping catch at the right-field wall in the eighth inning on a ball hit by Michael Bourn. Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons had rounded second base when Altherr made the catch, and Altherr threw the ball to Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard, who stepped on the bag to complete the inning-ending double play. "The ones hit right at you are the toughest ones, just because of depth perception," Altherr said. "You don't really know how far it's going to travel. I got to the point where I had to make up my mind. I could have turned around if I made up my mind earlier, but I just tried to stick with it and run it down." It is impossible to say exactly how the Phillies' outfield might look on Opening Day next season, but Altherr should be a favorite to make the roster. Brown's time with the Phillies could be up, which would open up a spot. Odubel Herrera certainly will be back after a strong rookie season. Asche could get another shot in left field. Jeff Francoeur could be re-signed. If not, the Phillies probably will look for another veteran to sign to stabilize the outfield. "You've got to like the way he plays defense," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said about Altherr. "That was one hell of a catch. He hit the ball hard two or three times today. He gives you a good approach at the plate. And you certainly like his athleticism. He's a nice-looking young player. We're going to find out the rest of the month how he does at this level. I have no reason to believe he won't succeed at this level. I'm anxious to see him play a little bit more."

Welcome Back To The Majors – The Phillies plan to move to a six-man rotation in the near future, which is why they have not announced a starter for Wednesday night's series finale against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The smart bet is right-hander David Buchanan, whom the Phillies recalled from Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Monday. It might make more sense to give Buchanan a look over the remainder of the season, considering he is expected to remain in the organization next year. Right-hander Jerome Williams is an option for Wednesday, but he can become a free agent and is unlikely to return. The Phillies on Monday also announced they recalled right-handed reliever Nefi Ogando and left-hander Ken Roberts. Both will help an overworked bullpen.

Focusing On 2016 – Phillies outfielder Domonic Brown slipped on sunglasses, grabbed a shoebox from his locker and headed out the door Monday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. Brown is still recovering from a concussion suffered last week attempting to make a catch in New York. He said his headaches are gone, but his eyes remain sensitive to light. He will be tested later this week, but he acknowledged Monday the possibility his 2015 season might be finished. His Phillies career might be finished, too. "I don't worry about that," Brown told MLB.com. "No, not at all. I hope I'm here, I'll tell you that. It's a family for me here. I know everybody. The guys have been great to me. There have been a couple tough times, but that's growing pains. They've always been honest. I respect everybody. I'm comfortable. Why wouldn't you want to be here, you know? "A lot of people ask me if it would be better with a change of scenery. I don't know, really. But I don't see why I can't do good here. I don't mind coming in and competing for a job again. I do it every year anyway. What's wrong with that?" Brown has hit .228 (43-for-189) with six doubles, one triple, five home runs, 25 RBIs and a .634 OPS in 63 games this season. Since he represented the Phillies in the 2013 All-Star Game, he has posted a .650 OPS, which ranks 112th out of 126 qualified outfielders in baseball. Combine Brown's numbers since the 2013 All-Star break, the fact that he is eligible for salary arbitration a second time and the fact that the Phillies might want to give a longer look next season to outfielders Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, Cody Asche, Darnell Sweeney and others, and there is a strong possibility Brown is non-tendered and plays elsewhere next season. If only Brown had shown more flashes of his 2013 success. "I can do that at any time," he said. "I just think I need to play every day. That's up to me. Go out and play well. It's a different philosophy here with how they handle things, but that's all I know. Other teams might leave guys out there, but here you've got to perform. I understand that."

Awaiting Final Draft Position – The Phillies have heard a comment or two in the past couple months about their record and their prospects at the No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft, but they bristle at the notion that they are gunning for it. But the topic seemed relevant before Monday night's series opener against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies and Braves entered the series with the two worst records in baseball. The Phillies were 53-84 and the Braves were 54-83, making this series one with 2016 Draft implications. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said he has no mixed feelings about the team playing well and winning in its final 25 games vs. getting the top pick and knowing they will pick the player that they love the most. "What we're trying to do is just continue to assess what we have with our players and giving them a chance to play," Amaro said. "Hopefully, they're learning from the experience. That's the most important thing for us on the field right now. We'll deal with the Draft when the Draft comes. When we find out what happens at the end of the year, then we'll deal with it." The difference between the No. 1 pick and the No. 2 pick (or No. 3 or No. 4) might not matter much anyway. The common consensus is that there is no unanimous top pick. There is no Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg. "There is some pretty good pitching up top," Amaro said. "I think we're going to be pitching intensive. Obviously, we always try to take the best player, but I think our mindset is probably pitching." Many consider the top two high school pitchers to be IMG Academy (Lakeland, Fla.) left-hander Jason Groome and St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.) right-hander Riley Pint. The top two college pitchers might be Florida left-hander A.J. Puk and Oklahoma right-hander Alec Hansen.

The Phillies have returned to their lackluster ways and regained their grip on last place in the NL East with a record of 53-85. Given the departures, aging stars, injuries, and bipolar performances this season, this could still end up being the worst team in franchise history… at least that is something to hope for this year! All time, the Phillies are 62-50-0 on this day.

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