Sunday, September 13, 2015

Is This The Kick In The Asche The Phillies Need?

GAME RECAP: Phillies Shock Cubs 7-5

Pinch-hitter Cody Asche hit a walk-off two-run home run with two outs in the ninth to power the Phillies to a 7-5 victory Saturday night over the Cubs, who lost for only the fourth time in their last 13 games. Hector Rondon retired the first two batters he faced in the ninth, then walked Erik Kratz. Asche launched the first pitch he saw from Rondon into the right-field seats. It was his second career walk-off home run. The other happened exactly a year ago with a walk-off homer against the Marlins. "That's absurd," Asche said. "That's just unbelievably crazy." The Cubs hold an 8 1/2-game lead over the Giants for the second National League Wild Card spot, are three games behind the Pirates for the top spot, and are 5 1/2 games back of the division-leading Cardinals. Rookie Kyle Schwarber hit his 16th home run with two outs in the third to put Chicago ahead 1-0, but that was the Cubs' only hit over the first six innings against Jerad Eickhoff. The Phillies took advantage of an error by Anthony Rizzo and Justin Grimm's wildness to put together a five-run seventh, highlighted by Cesar Hernandez's three-run double. But the Cubs rallied to tie the game in a four-run eighth, sparked by a two-run double by Chris Coghlan, an RBI double by Kris Bryant, and a sac fly by Miguel Montero. "[Grimm] couldn't have had better stuff than he had tonight -- it's impossible," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I know he's going to be very upset. I have all the confidence in the world. He's got to be good for us to get to where we want to be. It's just unfortunate it didn't play tonight."

  • The Phillies are looking for somebody to step up as a candidate for the 2016 rotation, and Eickhoff made another case for himself. He allowed three hits, one run, three walks and struck out a career-high eight in seven innings. He has a 3.90 ERA in five starts. "He was outstanding tonight," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "He looked determined to me. It looked like he was out there to establish himself."
  • The Phillies had two outs and nobody on base in the seventh when a walk and error put runners on first and second. Ryan Howard, who snapped a 0-for-35 slump Friday, stepped up and hit a double to right field to tie the game. It was his first RBI since Aug. 25. Grimm then walked pinch-hitters Brian Bogusevic to load the bases, and then Darnell Sweeney to force home the go-ahead run. But Hernandez twisted the dagger with a double to center field to clear the bases to make it 5-1. "It was great to see Howie come through big like that," Mackanin said.
  • In the Phillies' fourth, Odubel Herrera was called safe at second on a stolen base, but apparently didn't believe it and started to head off the field. The Cubs challenged whether he was safe, and after a replay review, the call was overturned, and Herrera was out.
  • "As you all know, I've been saying that Cody Asche is the best hitter on the team. I think I've made that clear in the past." -- Mackanin's opening remarks in his postgame news conference.
  • Howard has 643 career extra-base hits, which moves him into a fourth-place tie with Hall of Famer Chuck Klein on the franchise's all-time list.

Phillies right-hander Aaron Harang pitches the series finale against the Cubs at 1:35 p.m. ET Sunday. He had a 2.02 ERA through the end of May, but has a 7.79 ERA in 14 starts since then. Haren is coming off his best outing since joining the Cubs, in which he scattered seven hits over seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. This will be his fourth start against the Phillies this season and third at Citizens Bank Park; he's 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA.


Headed For Strong Finish? – Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin took a seat in the Phillies' media room at Citizens Bank Park late Saturday night and opened his news conference with the following statement: "As you all know, I've been saying that Cody Asche is the best hitter on the team. I think I've made that clear in the past." Asche certainly was on Sept. 12. Appearing as a pinch-hitter, Asche hit a two-run walk-off home run in the ninth inning of a 7-5 Phillies victory over the Cubs. It was the second walk-off homer of Asche's career. The other came exactly a year earlier, when he hit a two-run homer in the 10th inning against the Marlins. "That's absurd," Asche said of his Sept. 12 walkoffs. "That's just unbelievably crazy." Perhaps the latest blast will spur Asche to a strong finish. "It's been a while since I drove a ball like that," he said. Asche is hitting .247 (91-for-368) with 22 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 28 RBIs and a .678 OPS in 111 games. He opened the season as the team's third baseman before being optioned to Triple-A Lehigh Valley to learn to play left field because of the arrival of rookie third baseman Maikel Franco. Asche recently returned to third base while Franco is out with a broken left wrist. But Asche has not had the season he hoped to have offensively. The Phillies had hoped for better, too. They love his mental makeup (they see some Chase Utley in him), so when he finished last season hitting .252 with 10 homers, 46 RBIs and a .699 OPS in 121 games, they expected those numbers to take a jump this year. "We know he's got it in him," Mackanin said. "We know he's got that kind of power. He's got the ability to be a very good hitter. This year was not a good one for him, but there's still 19 games left and he's going to be playing. It would be great to see him finish strong, because we feel like he's got a good chance to be part of the future. I think if he finishes strong, he can go home feeling pretty good about himself." Said Asche: "That's the daily mental grind that I'm facing right now. Just come in here and continue to work, regardless of what's happened prior to this point. Just keeping a clear mind every single day and making sure I'm working to get better."

Rookie Making Impression – The Phillies have four rookies, one almost-rookie and one veteran in their six-man rotation. The five youths should consider their starts auditions for favorite status entering Spring Training in February. There is no question rookie Aaron Nola leads the pack, but rookie Jerad Eickhoff continued to make a strong case for himself Saturday night in a 7-5 Phillies victory over the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. Eickhoff allowed three hits, one run, three walks and struck out a career-high eight in seven innings. "Right now, I'm not really thinking about it or worried about it," Eickhoff said about his potential spot in next season's rotation. "I'm trying to go every five days, or whenever they tell me to throw, and go as long as I can. I think that's all I can do." Eickhoff, whom the Phillies acquired from Texas in the Cole Hamels trade, is 1-3 with a 3.90 ERA in five starts. Remove his start against the Red Sox in Boston last weekend -- he allowed six runs in four innings -- and Eickhoff has a 2.42 ERA in four starts against the Marlins, Mets (twice) and Cubs. "He was outstanding tonight," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. "He looked determined, to me. It looked like he was out there to establish himself." Eickhoff allowed just one hit through 6 1/3 innings - a first-pitch fastball that Kyle Schwarber hit for a solo home run in the third inning -- before allowing a couple of singles in the seventh. But Eickhoff otherwise kept the Cubs off-balance. He mixed his fastball with an excellent curveball, striking out seven of his eight batters with curveballs. "It felt good," Eickhoff said about his curveball. "In the [bullpen] it was OK, then I think the first one I threw in the game, it was almost to the backstop, but I was able to make the adjustment and get it back in the zone." The other pitchers in the Phillies' rotation other than Eickhoff and Nola (6-2, 3.56 ERA in 10 starts) are veteran Aaron Harang (5-15, 5.02 ERA in 25 starts), second-year pitcher David Buchanan (2-8, 9.11 ERA in 11 starts), rookie Adam Morgan (5-6, 4.60 ERA in 14 starts) and rookie Alec Asher (0-3, 10.67 ERA in three starts). Harang is not expected to return next season, but Eickhoff, Nola, Morgan, Buchanan and Asher will be in camp. Their performances in Spring Training will matter, but strong performances during the regular season, when the pressure is on and the results matter, will give those pitchers an extra benefit of the doubt as Opening Day 2016 approaches. In that sense, Eickhoff is putting himself in a good spot with three more starts scheduled: Sept. 19 in Atlanta, Sept. 26 in Washington and Oct. 3 against the Marlins. "It was a pleasure to watch him pitch," Mackanin said. "We've been struggling with the starters. It's great to see a good pitching performance from a guy like him."

Another Chance – The Phillies hope to salvage David Buchanan's season by keeping him in the rotation for at least another start. Buchanan will start Tuesday night against the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park. His spot seemed to be in doubt following a start against the Braves on Wednesday, in which he allowed 10 hits, four runs and three walks in just 3 1/3 innings. Buchanan has a 22.00 ERA in his last three starts, and is 2-9 with a 9.11 ERA in 11 starts this season. The Phillies' front office instructed Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin to keep Buchanan in the rotation. It makes sense. While Buchanan has struggled, he will be back with the organization next season, and the Phillies are desperate for pitching depth. Buchanan posted a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts last season, so the Phillies hope to recapture some of those results. Right-hander Jerome Williams (4-10, 5.90 ERA) would been have the logical choice to replace Buchanan in this season's rotation, but Williams can become a free agent after the season and is not expected to return. "We're going to make all efforts to salvage something out of his year," Mackanin said about Buchanan.

Franco Making Progress – Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco still has a chance to play before the end of the season. Franco has not played since mid-August because of a broken left wrist, but he has been swinging a bat recently without any pain. He could take batting practice in the next couple days, and if that goes well, he could head to Clearwater, Fla., before the end of next week to face living pitching. Franco could rejoin the Phillies in Miami for their series against the Marlins beginning Sept. 22.

Words Of Wisdom – Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin's job has not been easy since he replaced Ryne Sandberg in June. Mackanin took a team on pace to lose 105 games, with a roster short in every department, and entered play Saturday having posted a relatively impressive 25-26 record since the All-Star break. That performance is one reason why he is expected to return next season, even as the Phillies set out to hire a new general manager this coming offseason. But following a sweep of the Marlins in Miami late last month, the Phillies were just 4-14, which is why Mackanin called a "positive" team meeting before Saturday night's game against the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. "Keep them pointed in the right direction, under the circumstances," Mackanin said. Phillies pitchers posted a 6.37 ERA in that 18-game stretch, which was the third-highest mark in baseball. The offense averaged just 4.22 runs per game, which was tied for 21st. "I just wanted them to hear from me that I still like everybody," Mackanin said. "I just reminded them to continue competing through the end of the season and not just play it out." Following a doubleheader sweep Friday night, Mackanin was asked if his team might be out of gas. He said no, but he does need to keep his players focused. "Personally, I've been pleased with the way guys have been going about it," Mackanin said. "The meeting I had today was a pleasant reminder: Don't just play this out. There's things still out there. There's potential for jobs down the road for everyone. Everyone has been given chances to play, and we just want to make sure. I just reminded them that we're not going to just go through the season with no intentions. We're going to try to compete every day. That's what it's all about, competing every day, every pitch."

The Phillies have returned to their lackluster ways and regained their grip on last place in the NL East with a record of 55-88. 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 50-62-1 on this day.

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