Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Phillies Dominated By Ace And Potential MVP

GAME RECAP: Nationals Shutout Phillies 4-0

How can one describe the game that Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg had Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park in a 4-0 win over the Phillies? Dominant. He looked like the Strasburg who was nearly unhittable in his first big league game against the Pirates in 2010. Strasburg pitched eight scoreless innings, didn't allow a baserunner to reach scoring position and struck out a career-high-tying 14 batters. It marked the third time this season Strasburg struck 10 or more batters. He allowed one hit, and that came in the fifth inning, when Cody Asche led off and singled to right field. "He was really good tonight," Nationals manager Matt Williams said. "The biggest thing was he established his low fastball. He didn't use his changeup until about the fourth inning. When he establishes his low fastball, there are a lot of swings-and-misses [30 in all] on the changeup. Innings four through eight, he used the changeup a lot. He got a lot of guys to swing and miss at it." Strasburg would not have won his ninth game of the season if not for Bryce Harper, who continues to show that he is the front-runner to be the National League MVP. He drove in all four runs, homered twice and went 3-for-3 with a walk. By winning Tuesday's game, the Nationals gained ground on the first-place Mets, who lost to the Marlins, 9-3. Washington is now 8 1/2 games behind New York in the National League East. "That's probably one of the best, if not the best-pitched, games I've seen all year," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said about Strasburg.

  • It has been a rough season for David Buchanan, who carried a 9.11 ERA into his start against the Nationals. But Buchanan, who had a 22.00 ERA in his last three starts, allowed five hits, two runs, two walks and struck out five in six innings for one of his better starts of the season. He needs to pitch like this in his two remaining starts to re-enter the conversation as a serious candidate to make the 2016 rotation coming out of Spring Training. "You want to make sure you finish on a strong note," Buchanan said. "Had a lot of talking to do, and thinking to do, over this past week, so today I wanted to go out there with confidence and poise and go out there and compete."
  • As much as the Phillies' rotation has struggled this season, the bullpen has not fared much better, entering the night 11th in the National League in ERA. Phillies left-hander Adam Loewen allowed a two-run homer to Harper in the eighth to effectively put the game out of reach for Philadelphia.
  • "It's the best I've seen in a couple of years. I think most guys would agree with me. I don't know, Nolan Ryan? A lot of fastballs, combined with changeup and curveball. Pretty good." -- Phillies second baseman Andres Blanco, on Strasburg.
  • Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco has been on the DL since last month because of a broken left wrist. But he is scheduled to take batting practice before Wednesday's game. If it goes well, he could begin rehabbing this week in Clearwater, Fla., and rejoin the Phillies next week in Miami.
  • Phillies first baseman Darin Ruf is expected to play regularly at first base while Ryan Howard is sidelined with a bruised left knee.
  • Bryce Harper hit a home run Monday night against Phillies rookie Aaron Nola. It was Harper's 92nd career homer, but the first he had hit against a pitcher younger than him. Harper was 22 years, 333 days old. Nola was 22 years, 103 days old. Harper's streak was the third-longest in the expansion era: Mike Trout (116) and Bob Horner (95).

The Nationals hope to keep their postseason chances alive with a victory in Wednesday night's series finale against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Nationals will lean on left-hander Gio Gonzalez (10-7, 3.88 ERA) to help them keep pace with the Mets, who have a 8 1/2-game lead over the Nationals in the National League East with 17 games to play. Gonzalez is 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in two starts this season against the Phillies. He is 7-5 with a 3.02 ERA in 14 career starts against them. Phillies right-hander Alec Asher (0-3, 10.67 ERA) hopes to spoil the Nats' night. He has struggled in his first three big league starts.


Injury Updates – Ryan Howard hobbled out of Citizens Bank Park on crutches Monday night. He left with a bruised left knee, but the knee got worse, and he checked into the emergency room a few hours later to have it drained. "That doesn't look good," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said before Tuesday night's game against the Nationals. Mackanin said Howard is day to day, but he acknowledged that day to day "could be eight days from now." Darin Ruf is expected to play regularly at first base while Howard is sidelined. Third baseman Maikel Franco could take live batting practice Wednesday. If that goes well, he could head to Clearwater, Fla., Wednesday night or Thursday morning to face live pitching. If Franco, who has been sidelined since Aug. 12 with a broken left wrist, has no setbacks, he could rejoin the team next week in Miami. "If he's 100 percent, he'll be back," Mackanin said. Outfielder Aaron Altherr has a bruised right elbow. He is available to pinch-run. Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon hit Altherr with a pitch Monday. "There's a little bit of a mobility issue," Mackanin said about Altherr's elbow. "There's no structural damage. He's stiff and sore."

A Bit Of Redemption – David Buchanan had one heck of a task Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park. He had to outpitch Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg with a Phillies lineup that lacked a single hitter with 10 home runs or 42 RBIs. Buchanan put together one of his better performances of a rough season, but it was not nearly enough as Strasburg dominated the Phillies in a 4-0 victory. Buchanan entered the night with a 9.11 ERA in 11 starts and a 22.00 ERA in his past three. He allowed five hits, two runs, two walks and struck out five in six innings against the Nationals, but his effort looked ordinary against Strasburg. The Nationals' starter allowed one hit and struck out 14 in eight scoreless innings. He was the first pitcher to allow just one hit with 14 or more strikeouts against the Phillies since the Mets' Tom Seaver on May 15, 1970 (one hit, 15 strikeouts). "It's the best I've seen in a couple of years," Phillies second baseman Andres Blanco said about Strasburg. "I think most guys would agree with me. I don't know, Nolan Ryan? A lot of fastballs, combined with changeup and curveball? Pretty good." But Buchanan couldn't worry about Strasburg. He had to worry about himself. There had been some discussion about pulling Buchanan from the rotation after he allowed 10 hits and four runs in 3 1/3 innings last week against the Braves, but the Phillies' front office instructed interim manager Pete Mackanin to keep him there. Buchanan posted a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts last season. The front office wanted to see if it could find that guy before the offseason. "You want to make sure you finish on a strong note," Buchanan said. "Had a lot of talking to do, and thinking to do, over this past week, so today I wanted to go out there with confidence and poise and go out there and compete." Buchanan allowed a solo homer to Bryce Harper in the first inning. Harper singled to score another run in the third to make it 2-0. Otherwise, Buchanan mostly stayed out of trouble. "That's what we wanted to see," Mackanin said. "That's why we brought him back to pitch again, because he pitched a lot like he did last year." The Phillies dropped to 56-90, becoming the first team in baseball to lose 90 games. They have 16 games to play, meaning they would need to finish 7-9 or better to avoid 100 losses. "Sure, I'd like to avoid 100," Mackanin said. "We got hurt again with the injuries with [Ryan] Howard being out and [Aaron] Altherr being unavailable, so that didn't help. With a full contingent, I think we'd be winning a few more games, but we certainly don't want to lose 100. If it happens, it happens, but I just want the guys to keep battling and keep competing. Not to avoid 100 losses, but to win every game they play."

Smooth Front Office Transition (So Far) – When the decision not to renew the contract of Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. was announced on Sept. 10, David Montgomery stood in the back of the crowded conference room as an observer. At the front were incoming club president Andy MacPhail and John Middleton, who has emerged as the voice of the ownership group. The two explained the decision, and they handled all the questions about what it meant to the future of the organization. For 17 years, it would have been Montgomery in the spotlight. In his role as team president, he was ultimately responsible for every significant move the organization made. That was before he was diagnosed with jaw cancer last year. Montgomery underwent successful surgery last year, and he eventually became chairman of the team. Then, Pat Gillick filled in, and, at midseason this year, MacPhail was hired to replace Gillick at the end of the season. Montgomery, who received The Jamie Moyer Legends Award, as well as the Moyer Foundation's Community All-Star Award on Tuesday at the Crystal Tea Room, said the transition has gone smoothly. "A year ago, I would have said very difficult. But the reality is I feel very, very good about Andy MacPhail," Montgomery said. "I think he's the ideal person. He clearly has the confidence of our ownership group. He has more left in his tank than I would at this stage. I turn 70 [next year]. I can't ignore that. I'm a healthy guy, but I have a different physique. I can't... be out on what I call the circuit as much. "What I'm pleased about is [that MacPhail] feels very refreshed. He's had the three years off. Now he feels, 'Hey, time to get going.' He sees this as a challenge he's very capable of doing, because a) he's done it before, and b) it's easier to do in Philadelphia than it is other places because we have some resources that aren't available in every market. He's a planner. He's very thoughtful and I think he'll do an excellent job for us." The decision to replace Amaro was especially difficult because Montgomery selected him to replace the retiring Gillick as general manager after the Phillies won the 2008 World Series. But it also underscored the point that his position has changed. "All the emotions you can imagine," Montgomery said. "[But] it ran its course. And in order to give Andy the opportunity that we're talking about, we knew he needed a fresh canvas to work with. Sadly, that included Ruben. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't be respectful and appreciative of the work Ruben did because it was what we were trying to do." Montgomery was instrumental in the decision to bring Ryne Sandberg back to the organization that originally signed him, which eventually led to Sandberg replacing Charlie Manuel as the Phillies manager in 2013. Sandberg stepped down earlier this season. "That one surprised me," Montgomery said. "We went out to dinner afterwards and had a nice conversation. I couldn't believe some of the weight that he felt going into this year. I think, in a way, his opportunity [managing Triple-A Lehigh Valley], which made him attractive to us, and the way he handled people there and his clubhouse, I think he thought he could more easily transfer to a big league clubhouse. "And he came at a very awkward time, if you think about it. We had this aging core of veterans who were anxious to continue to play. On the other hand, we had young people who wanted to play. And that doesn't always make for the easiest situation." With Montgomery as president, the Phillies enjoyed the greatest run of sustained excellence in franchise history: five straight divisional titles, two pennants and a World Series championship. Now, others will supervise the current rebuilding process. But he has no regrets. "We pushed it hard. We were all involved in trying to get one more after we got '08. We were all in. We knew the risk," Montgomery said. "When you trade your near-ready Minor Leaguers, there's going to be a dip. Now, to be honest with you, did we expect it to hit us quite as hard? No. "But nobody could have expected at 2012 Spring Training that [Ryan] Howard, who was supposed to be ready by May 1, came back when [July 6]? That [Chase] Utley, all of a sudden, his knees wouldn't let him play. Roy Halladay went from being superhuman to be human, just like that. And we went from 102 wins to 81 wins," Montgomery continued. "With the benefit of a rearview mirror, 'What were you thinking? You should have figured it out sooner.' We knew what we were doing. It was a conscious decision. It didn't work." Montgomery remains deeply committed to seeing the Phillies succeed. The only thing that has changed is his role in the process. And he's comfortable with that.

Montgomery Honored By Moyer Foundation – When Ed Rendell became mayor in 1992, Philadelphia was broke. Still, he says, he was determined to do something to give the citizens hope that better days were ahead. The previous summer, only 10 of the 38 public swimming pools had been opened. And even then, the pools were available for only six weeks instead of the normal 10. Rendell decided to open all the pools for the entire summer. But there was no money. The first call he placed was to the Phillies. Shortly, starting pitcher Terry Mulholland announced that he would donate $1,000 for each win. The Phillies announced they would match that, and they invited others to join in. Soon enough, money had been raised to not only meet the goal, but also to open four more pools that had been closed for years. Multiply that scenario over and over, and it explains why Phillies chairman David Montgomery received The Jamie Moyer Legends Award, as well as the Moyer Foundation's Community All-Star Award on Tuesday at the Crystal Tea Room. Guests included former Phillies stars such as Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinski. Additionally, there was a video tribute that featured testimonials from Commissioner Rob Manfred, Commissioner Emeritus Bud Selig, former Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter and former Phillies players like Jim Thome, Darren Daulton, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins and Doug Glanville. Rendell, who went on to become governor of Pennsylvania, noted that the organization's commitment to charity began under Chairman Emeritus Bill Giles, and it continued and expanded during Montgomery's 17 years as club president. "The Phillies are almost always there," Rendell said. "There are some businesses in town that almost always say no. The Phillies never say no. They pick out the charities that are most in need of help, that can have the most impact on people's lives, and they support them in so many different ways." Montgomery turned his praise to Moyer and his wife, Karen, for their tireless efforts on behalf of their signature causes, Camp Erin and Camp Mariposa, which help children who have lost a loved one or who deal with parents who suffer from substance abuse. Moyer, in turn, pointed out that the Phillies have long been one of baseball's most proactive organizations in terms of giving back. "David has been a huge, positive role model. Not only in the Phillies organization, but in the community," the 269-game winner said. "I think he's set the bar high. He sets the example for executives and for athletes. But the cool thing is, and I don't know it's something I experienced anywhere else in my career, is the environment in the Philadelphia Phillies organization is very family-like. It's got to start somewhere." Montgomery added: "The award is a team award. It always is. We both know what these wonderful non-profits do is try to get some people here that will fill the room a little bit. So I guess I take some pride that the organization was selected by Jamie and Karen to do that. "There are things you can control and things you can't control. I've lived through all those cycles as far as winning and losing is concerned. But you can be consistent in one thing. You can be consistent in your commitment to the community. That's what we believe in. Our players have supported us to no end, and the Moyers are at the top of that list. "You've heard me say it a hundred times. We're the Philadelphia Phillies, we're not just the Phillies. We get all this attention and sometimes we wonder why. We really do have an obligation to take that visibility and use it to shine a light on people who are doing good work in the community."

The Phillies have returned to their lackluster ways and regained their grip on last place in the NL East with a record of 56-90. 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 48-61-1 on this day.

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