Monday, September 14, 2015

Phillies Salvage Series Split Against Cubs

GAME RECAP: Phillies Split Cubs 7-4

Ryan Howard squashed the Cubs' bid for some momentum heading into their showdown against the Pirates by hitting a two-run homer and Aaron Altherr tripled and scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch in the seventh to spark the Phillies to a 7-4 victory Sunday and split the four-game series. "I'm just thankful we're not in the same division against the Phillies," said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose team finished 2-5 against Philadelphia. The Cubs fell four games behind the Pirates in the National League Central Division and the Wild Card standings. Chicago and Pittsburgh meet Tuesday at PNC Park for the start of a four-game series. The Cubs also trail the Cardinals by 6 1/2 games for first place in the Central. "It's nice to beat a team like the Cubs," said Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin, whose team has the worst record in baseball. "We beat them five out of seven." Howard connected in the third off Dan Haren to give the Phillies a 4-1 lead, but the Cubs chipped away, closing to 4-3 on Chris Coghlan's solo homer in the fifth before taking advantage of two errors in the seventh to tie it at 4. Addison Russell reached on an error by shortstop Freddy Galvis to start the seventh, and three batters later, scored on a fielding error by second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who bobbled Anthony Rizzo's grounder, then collided with him at first base. Hernandez had to leave the game with a dislocated left thumb. Altherr tripled with one out in the seventh, and then scored on a wild pitch by Clayton Richard for the game-winner. Galvis added a two-run double in the eighth. The Cubs now are 31-14 in their last 45 games since the Phillies completed a three-game sweep at Wrigley Field on July 27. The 31 wins are the best in the National League in that span.

  • Howard has not had the season the Phillies wanted, but he had a nice day Sunday. He had a game-tying sacrifice fly in the first inning and two-run home run to right field in the third to give the Phillies a 4-1 lead. It was Howard's first home run since Aug. 25.
  • The Phillies are still trying to get a read on rookie outfielder Altherr, but he has shown flashes in 23 games. He tripled in the seventh inning against Richard then scored on a wild pitch to give the Phillies a 5-4 lead. Altherr went 2-for-3 with a double, triple and walk. He has 12 extra-base hits in 87 plate appearances. "I know I've had quite a few, but I don't really try to focus on trying to get extra-base hits," Altherr said. "I just try to put the barrel on the ball, and wherever it goes is where it goes."
  • "In certain situations I've told him that I will pinch-hit for him. I reconsidered my position." -- Mackanin, on pinch-hitting for Howard against lefties. Mackanin said recently he would not pinch-hit for Howard, who has a .418 OPS against lefties this season.
  • Phillies closer Ken Giles picked up his 13th save with a scoreless ninth, extending his season-high scoreless streak to 13 innings. Giles is 13-for-13 in save opportunities since he replaced Jonathan Papelbon as closer.
  • Ken Giles is 1-0 with a 0.47 ERA and 13 saves in 17 appearances since replacing Papelbon as the Phillies' closer. He has allowed 12 hits, one run, three walks and has struck out 24 in 19 1/3 innings.
  • Anthony Rendon, who hasn't faced the Phillies this season, has six homers and 22 RBIs in 32 games against Philadelphia in his career. Both are personal highs for him against an opponent.
  • Bryce Harper left Sunday's game in the first after experiencing dizziness following a collision on the bases with Derek Dietrich. He has passed every concussion test so far, but the club won't know whether he's available for Monday's game until he passes them again.

Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon expected to return to Philadelphia in September in the thick of a pennant race. But the Nationals open their three-game series Monday night against the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park 9 1/2 games behind the Mets in the National League East. Washington is 10 games behind the Cubs for the second National League Wild Card. The Phillies traded Papelbon to the Nationals in July for Double-A pitcher Nick Pivetta. Papelbon is 1-1 with a 2.50 ERA and six saves in 16 appearances with the Nationals since the trade. Aaron Nola (6-2, 3.56 ERA) gets the start for the Philles in the opener, while the Nationals counter with Jordan Zimmermann (12-8, 3.32).


Season Over? – It sounds like Phillies second baseman Cesar Hernandez's season is finished. He dislocated his left thumb on a collision at first base in the seventh inning of Sunday's 7-4 victory over the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. He will see a hand specialist Monday, but there is concern about a possible injured ligament. "It doesn't look good for the rest of the year," Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin said. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo hit a ground ball to Hernandez, but the Phillies' second baseman dropped the ball as he tried to flip it to Ryan Howard for the out at first. Hernandez retrieved the ball and his momentum carried him into Rizzo. They collided and toppled to the ground. "He didn't seem to be in pain, but he's disappointed obviously," Mackanin said. "We'll wait and see [Monday]." Hernandez left the clubhouse before reporters arrived. If his season is finished, he hit .272 (110-for-405) with 20 doubles, four triples, one home run, 35 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a .687 OPS in 127 games. His OPS ranks 17th out of 21 qualified second basemen in baseball. He showed some potential this season and he is expected to be the team's Opening Day second baseman in 2016. If Hernandez does not return this season, Darnell Sweeney and Andres Blanco are expected to play there. The Phillies also could call up another infielder to provide some depth. "If my name is called, then I'll definitely be happy for the opportunity, but I don't want to see anybody get hurt for playing time," said Sweeney, whom the Phillies acquired from the Dodgers last month in the Chase Utley trade.

Howard’s Reduced Role – And then there were two. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard made that memorable comment last month, when the Phillies traded Chase Utley to the Dodgers. The trade left Howard and Carlos Ruiz as the only remaining members of the Phillies' 2008 World Series championship team. It is too early to say if Howard will be back in 2016, but if he returns, his role is expected to be much different than it has been in the past. Howard went 1-for-3 with a home run and three RBIs in Sunday's 7-4 victory over the Cubs at Citizens Bank Park. He hit a sacrifice fly to center field in the first inning to tie the game, 1-1. He hit a two-run home run to right field in the third to give the Phillies a 4-1 lead. It was Howard's first homer since Aug. 25. Howard, who left the clubhouse before it opened to reporters, is 3-for-7 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs since snapping a 0-for-35 skid in Game 2 of Friday night's doubleheader. He is hitting .228 (106-for-464) with 29 doubles, a triple, 22 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .714 OPS this season, but he has a .418 OPS in 107 plate appearances against left-handers. If Howard had enough plate appearances to qualify, his OPS against lefties would be 56 points lower than Pablo Sandoval's .474 OPS against lefties, which qualifies as the lowest out of 159 batters. Phillies interim manager Pete Mackanin already has told Howard he will not start against left-handed pitchers this season. In fact, Howard has started just twice against 17 left-handers since Mackanin replaced Ryne Sandberg in June. Mackanin also previously had told Howard he would not pinch-hit him against lefties as a sign of respect. The situation presented itself again in the seventh inning when Howard struck out swinging on four pitches with a runner on third and one out against Cubs left-hander Clayton Richard. "I've spoken to Howie and in certain situations I have told him that I will pinch-hit for him," Mackanin said afterward. "I reconsidered my position. He was fine with it. Well, he wasn't fine with it, but I told him I was going to do that. Now in that situation if I would have hit for him there I thought they might bring in a right-hander, so I gave him an opportunity there. And I wanted him in the game late to face their closer or setup guy. "I just reconsidered my thinking on that. I didn't want it to become an issue for Howie, as much as he's meant to the organization. He and I spoke about it. We're not in agreement, but he understands." It seems to be the way to go, considering Howard's struggles against lefties. He has posted a .620 OPS against lefties from 2011-15, which is 235th out of 253 qualified hitters. "Part of the conversation that we had, had to do with just that -- you can get your act together against lefties in Spring Training next year. You can work on that," Mackanin said. "But this year we'd like to maintain some energy that we developed over the second half of the year. We'd like to win a few games, which creates the energy."

Minor Miracle (Tag) – With Cole Hamels trying to help the Rangers sneak into the postseason and Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley establishing a Phillies satellite office in the Dodgers clubhouse, it's safe to say that baseball fans in the City of Brotherly Love have shifted their focus to the team's future. Prospect Maikel Franco took over at third base to briefly make a run at the NL Rookie of the Year conversation, 2014 first-round MLB Draft pick Aaron Nola made his MLB debut and has looked impressive in his first handful of big league starts and shortstop of the future J.P Crawford caught the attention of many as he earned a promotion to Double-A Reading and was named the No. 5 overall prospect in baseball by Speaking of Crawford and Double-A Reading, the Fightins are playing the Binghamton Mets in the Eastern League playoffs and the 20-year-old prospect showed off some raw athleticism to complete a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play on Saturday. With no outs in the top of the fifth and Reading up, 4-2, (and Mets shortstop Amed Rosario on first base), Ben Lively got Victor Cruzado to strike out swinging. Rosario tried to take second on a delayed steal and Phillies catching prospect Andrew Knapp fired a throw down to second where ... no one seemed to be covering. But then, out of nowhere, Crawford came streaking across the frame, leaped in the air to corral the high throw and reached down to tag Rosario out before gravity pulled him back to Earth. Crawford also homered and drew three walks as the Fightins won the game and swept the series. The future is bright, folks. (And if you still don't believe what you just saw, feel free to watch the full play -- complete with enthusiastic commentary -- in the video below.)

The Phillies have returned to their lackluster ways and regained their grip on last place in the NL East with a record of 56-88. 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 60-45-1 on this day.

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