Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Phillies Bullpen Can’t Hold Off Nationals

GAME RECAP: Nats Edge Phils 4-3

Daniel Murphy continued his scorching-hot month of May by collecting three hits, including the go-ahead two-run single in the eighth to lead the Nationals to a 4-3 comeback victory against the Phillies on Monday at Citizens Bank Park. Murphy also hit a solo home run in the fourth to collect three RBIs on the night, while raising his Major League-leading batting average to .395 as the Nationals snapped a four-game losing streak to the Phillies. "It's been incredible. He's carrying our team," Nationals right-fielder Bryce Harper said. "He's doing everything possible in our lineup to keep us going. It's something fun to watch. It's definitely special." Philadelphia right-hander Jeremy Hellickson, who tossed seven shutout innings on April 27 at Nationals Park, had shut the Nationals down again through seven innings of one-run ball. He only allowed three hits -- two of which were to Murphy -- with eight strikeouts, and even drove in a run on a sacrifice bunt in the second. "Hellickson pitched a hell of a game, and we just couldn't hang on," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis hit a solo homer in the sixth to give Philadelphia a 2-1 advantage. The Nationals then rallied for a three-run eighth inning off Phillies reliever Hector Neris, handing him his first blown save of the year after a run-scoring double from Jayson Werth and the go-ahead hit by Murphy. Jonathan Papelbon allowed a run on back-to-back doubles from Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard to open the bottom of the ninth, but the right-hander retired the next three batters to secure his 14th save and close out his former team.

  • Just three starts after he approached his personal best of 10 strikeouts in a game, Hellickson again got within striking distance of that number. But Phillies manager Pete Mackanin pulled Hellickson two K's away from getting there. Emmanuel Burriss pinch-hit for the veteran righty in the seventh after Hellickson had tossed 79 pitches. Through 11 starts, Hellickson has rung up at least eight batters in three of them. He has more eight-plus strikeout games in 2016 than any other season but 2013, when he had five in 31 starts. "When things are going good, you just have a lot of confidence with all your pitches," Hellickson said. "I feel like I've got good life on my fastball right now. I'm not afraid to throw that in hitter's counts. And in this 4-5 game span, it's probably the best my changeup has been in a long time."
  • If Hellickson throwing over to first twice before making another pitch after he hit Harper in the knee wasn't cruel enough, Tyler Goeddel only added insult to injury the next play. Murphy lined a ball to Goeddel in left field. By the time the ball was in Goeddel's glove, Harper had made it to second. Big mistake. Goeddel secured the fly ball before firing a rocket to first base to double up Harper for the second out of the seventh. The Nats' phenom almost stuck his foot out to reach the bag in time, but after review, the out call stood. "I couldn't believe it," Mackanin said. "That was a great play. It's a shame to waste a great play like that and not come out with a win."
  • "We thought about doing that, but we've had such a good combination of Neris and [Jeanmar] Gomez. We thought it was a good idea to get him out and go with the combination that's been working so well for us." -- Mackanin, on possibly leaving Hellickson in after the seventh.
Aaron Nola (4-3, 2.86) gets the ball in Game 2 against the Nationals. He's allowed 14 runs in 33 May innings, but only eight have been earned. Washington tagged him for seven runs in five innings on April 16, but Nola responded with seven shutout innings against the Nats two starts later. First pitch on Tuesday is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.


Welcome Home! – Before he served in the Iraq War, ran for Congress or became Under Secretary of the Army, Patrick Murphy worked in the Phillies marketing department. Before even that, Murphy worked security in the raucous 700 Level of Veterans Stadium during Temple University and Philadelphia Eagles football games. Not even at the Vet did Murphy picture himself standing on the field, the center of attention. But he did just that prior to Monday's Nationals-Phillies game, when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Citizens Bank Park in celebration of Memorial Day. "It's pretty special," Murphy said. His accent says he grew up in a Northeast Philly rowhouse before Murphy can spit the words out himself. Neither that nor his passion for Philadelphia sports have vanished under the guise of Washington politics. After returning from Iraq, Murphy in 2006 ran for and won the Congressional seat in Pennsylvania's 8th District. He became the first Iraq veteran elected to Congress and served two terms. In 2015, President Barack Obama tapped Murphy to be Under Secretary of the Army, for which he was sworn in for this year on Jan. 4. Murphy has become a Washington insider, but he still spends his weekends in Bucks County. More importantly, he's taken what he learned growing up in Northeast Philly and applied it among all of his service. "That rowhouse mentality of taking care of the person on your left and your right is something the Phillies believe in," Murphy said. "It's the same way we are in the Army to make sure we all come home." As part of Memorial Day celebrations across baseball on Monday, the Phillies recognized veterans with pregame ceremonies, between-innings honors and official U.S. Marine camouflage on their hats and jerseys. And the Phillies saved their best for one particularly decorated vet. After all, it was the least they could do for an apparent good-luck charm. "They were cursed when I left," Murphy joked. "But since I came back from Iraq, they've been winning again."

Rocket Man – It took a replay review to confirm the call, but no video evidence was necessary to prove Tyler Goeddel has a cannon for an arm. Just ask Bryce Harper. In the seventh inning of a 4-3 Nationals win, Daniel Murphy had curved a would-be home run just foul of the right-field pole. Jeremy Hellickson threw over to first. Harper was back safely for a third time. Then Hellickson delivered home and Murphy ripped a liner to left, quickly landing in Goeddel's glove. The rookie outfielder made the transfer, crow-hopped and launched. By about this time, Harper was just turning back from second base. As Harper was making his way back to first, the ball went from the leather of Goeddel's glove to his right hand and into the muggy Philadelphia air. The ball landed, bouncing on one hop, in Ryan Howard's glove just as Harper attempted to sneak his foot onto the bag. Harper was too late, first-base umpire Mike Estabrook ruled. The Nationals challenged, but to no avail. The loudest and longest cheers of the game from the Citizens Bank Park crowd rained onto the field as Phillies fans witnessed Goeddel's assist hold up on a baserunning gaffe by the reigning National League MVP. "I couldn't believe it," manager Pete Mackanin said. "It's a shame to waste a great play like that and not come out with a win."

Blown By The Bullpen – Jeremy Hellickson was cruising. He'd flown through seven innings with a solo home run the only damage. He'd struck out the side the inning prior. But Hector Neris, with his mid-90s heater and bottom-dropping splitfinger, was too tempting an option for Pete Mackanin. The Phillies skipper lifted Hellickson for a pinch-hitter in the bottom half of the seventh. By the end of the next half inning, the Nationals had taken a lead they would not lose, beating the Phillies 4-3 on Monday. Mackanin afterward still called Neris among the best in the game. And for his first 26 appearances, he had been. But he wasn't Monday. Neris faced seven batters in the eighth inning. He retired only two of them, gave up two hits and walked three more. Three Nationals runs had scored by the time Jeanmar Gomez had recorded the final out of the inning. "I can't remember the last time a team got three runs off of Neris," Mackanin said. "Two outs, man on first and he just couldn't control that split." To answer Mackanin's inquiry, Neris had a particularly rough series against the Mets last August when he gave up four runs twice in three games and 10 runs in five innings of relief. Before that? Never. And since? Not until Monday. The backend combo of Neris and Gomez had been effective. But no bullpen can go a season without allowing runs, and for it to only allow runs when it doesn't cost its team a game is next to impossible. The Phillies bullpen hadn't hit many bumps after its rough start to the season, though. Gomez, Neris and David Hernandez had combined for a 2.09 ERA before Monday. Neris had been the best of the bunch, averaging almost 12 strikeouts per nine innings and allowing just four runs in 28 innings. Then, in two-thirds of one, the Nationals nearly matched Neris' season total. Hellickson, who had been brilliant though seven, was surprised to get the hook so early. "I obviously would have loved to have a chance to finish that game," he said. "I felt like it was my game to win or lose. "But at the same time you don't really question going to Hector in that situation. He's been one of the probably best eighth-inning men in the game so far this year. So, you don't really question that move." Neris has a closer's mindset, though -- something that's required of any effective relief pitcher. "I know I'm better than that," Neris said. "Everybody has a bad night in their career in baseball. Ready for tomorrow."

Daily Decision – Is Pete Mackanin facing one of his toughest managerial challenges to date? "Hell yes," the 64-year-old baseball lifer said, as he let out a hearty laugh prior to Monday's game against the Nationals. Mackanin, in his first season at the helm of the Phillies, has been tasked with transitioning the past into the future. Many changes are already taking shape. A good manager handles the situation without the product on the field taking a hit. A great manager does so while keeping the clubhouse in order. It is Mackanin's prerogative -- or at least his belief -- to let the lineup do the talking. When Tommy Joseph was penciled in at first base, batting fourth against Cubs right-hander John Lackey on Sunday, neither the 24-year-old Joseph nor the 36-year-old Ryan Howard were notified in person of the change. "I haven't been called into the office and talked to about it, so you guys apparently have breaking news before I do," Howard told the media after Sunday's 7-2 loss. Mackanin hasn't communicated anything to his first basemen because he doesn't believe there's anything to communicate. Simply, he has a young player up from Triple-A whom he and the front office want to get a look at. On a day-to-day basis, Mackanin is top dog when it comes to lineups, playing time and the like. From upper management, Mackanin said "pretty much all I go by right now" is to make sure Joseph doesn't stagnate against right-handers, whom he had success against in Triple-A this season. Mackanin had similar orders at the beginning of the season regarding Tyler Goeddel. Since Mackanin started playing him nearly every day in left field at the start of May, he's hitting .313 and slugging .493, compared with .160 marks for both prior. Joseph, who's hitting .286 (10-for-35) with three home runs since being called up, isn't going to start every day at first, according to Mackanin. "Howie's still in the picture, he's not being benched," Mackanin said. "If I was going to sit him on the bench and he wasn't going to play anymore, I'd have to have a conversation." Instead, Mackanin will lean on splits when deciding who to start between Howard and Joseph. He said the platoon role Darin Ruf played was more due to Ruf's success against lefties than Howard's struggles versus righties. With Tanner Roark on the mound for the Nationals in Monday's series opener, Mackanin gave the nod to Howard, who is 4-for-12 (.333) against right-hander. Mackanin wouldn't speculate as to who would start even a game in advance. He's handling it day by day. Want to know who's the Phillies' starting first baseman? Look at the lineup, just like Howard and Joseph.

Today In Phils History – Despite Gene Freese’s 5th pinch hit homerun of the season, 1 short of the MLB record, the Phillies lost to Milwaukee in 1959. Those loses continued to pile up as the Phillies fell to 1,243 games below .500 with a loss to the Expos in 2003… following a win the next day, the franchise has never fallen that far from even since then. One of those wins came in 2009 when Jamie Moyer collected the 250th win of his career. 5 years later, Ryan Howard became the fastest player in MLB history to reach 1,000 RBI which he accomplished in only 1,230 games. This came in the second of two consecutive 14 inning games, a first for the franchise. And, finally, happy birthday to Kenny Lofton who was born on this day in 1967.  

The Phillies are currently 26-25 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 40-61-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Phillies Dominated By Cubs In Series Sweep

GAME RECAP: Cubs Sweep Phillies 7-2

Ben Zobrist continued his hot streak, smacking a three-run home run, and Miguel Montero added a solo shot that ricocheted off the right-field video board to lift the Cubs to a 7-2 victory Sunday over the Phillies at Wrigley Field for their fifth straight win. John Lackey went seven innings and held the Phillies to four hits, including a solo home run by Tyler Goeddel in the seventh, for his second win in his past seven starts. It was the Cubs' first three-game sweep of the Phillies at Wrigley Field since July 28-30, 1995. "The Cubs have a very good team," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "Probably the best team in baseball right now. They beat us. Fair and square, they beat us." Chicago improved to a season-high 20-games over .500. What's next? "The next goal is 25 over," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, happy to see his players want to complete the sweep. "Many times you'll see a team not have the same sense of urgency on sweep day when you can win the series. I like the fact that our guys aren't satisfied winning a series when you have a chance to sweep." Vince Velasquez gave up a season-high seven runs over 4 2/3 innings, and didn't get any offensive support, which was a theme for the Phillies in the series. Chicago outscored Philadelphia, 17-5, in the three games. Chicago has 18 wins by five or more runs, tops in the Majors. The had 16 all of last season.

  • The Phillies missed out on a scoring chance in the fourth when Freddy Galvis led off with a double and moved to third on an Andres Blanco groundout. After Maikel Franco walked to give the Phillies runners at the corners, Tommy Joseph grounded to Zobrist, who made an attempt to tag Franco running to second. Franco went out of the baseline to dodge the tag, and Zobrist threw to first for the out. Despite Galvis crossing the plate, Franco was called out and the double-play ruling prevented the run from scoring.
  • Galvis made his second error of the season to start a wild sequence that cost the Phillies in the fifth. With Dexter Fowler on first, Galvis booted a hard-hit Jason Heyward ball to his glove side. As Galvis tracked the ball down in shallow center, Fowler broke for third. The Phillies recovered to tag Fowler out at third after a 6-5-4-5 rundown, but Heyward moved to second and later scored. Had Galvis fielded the ball cleanly, it could have been a double play.
  • In the seventh, Matt Szczur was called safe at first after hitting a grounder to Franco. After a review, the call was overturned and Szczur was out.
  • "That's up for debate, I guess. Every team goes through a lull. Every team goes through a hot streak and a cold streak. How you come out of those streaks, especially the cold streak, determines how good of a team you are. I choose to believe we're on the bottom of the roller coaster and on our way up. That's the way I look at it." -- Mackanin, when asked if his team's magic is running out.
  • Lackey posted his fourth start this season in which he went at least six innings and gave up one or zero runs. He finished May with a 2-1 record and 2.09 ERA, striking out 40 over 43 innings. In the past five games, Cubs starters are 5-0 with a 2.08 ERA. "He treats every inning like it's 0-0 and he keeps going after you," Maddon said. "They're such a young team and want to swing so much," Lackey said of the Phillies. "Against an older, veteran team, you might throw a few more fastballs, but against a team like that, you have to keep mixing it up. They're not going to take the first-pitch strike, they're going to keep swinging."
Right-hander Jeremy Hellickson starts to begin a three-game series when the Phillies host the Nationals on Monday at 7:05 p.m. ET. Hellickson has gone at least six innings in each of his past three starts.


Howard Continues To Sit – As the Phillies packed their bags and headed out of Wrigley Field on Sunday after a 7-2 loss sealed a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cubs, struggling first baseman Ryan Howard faced questions about his future in the lineup. Howard, 36, is hitting .154, the signs of age taking their toll. Meanwhile, recent callup Tommy Joseph is hitting .286 through his first 35 Major League at-bats. Joseph's ninth-inning home run Sunday was his third, and he has RBIs in four of his past five games. Sitting the left-handed Howard against left-handed pitchers is not a new concept. But might he begin sitting against righties, too? "I haven't spoken to the manager about that," Howard said. "So he'd be the person to talk to. He hasn't come to me and told me anything about it, so I don't know anything about it." Manager Pete Mackanin didn't give a plan regarding how the Phillies will handle their big-money cornerstone (Howard's contract expires at the end of the season, but he is due more than $25 million this year), but Mackanin did offer this: "We'll just talk about it," he said. "We brought Joseph up here for a reason, to get a look at him, and I can't let him stagnate on the bench like [Darin Ruf] ended up doing, so he's going to face some right-handed pitchers to keep his timing. I don't know when the next time we're going to face a left-handed [pitcher] is, but I'm going to use him a little more often than I did with Ruf." What does Howard think of that? "I haven't heard anything about sitting more against righties. I haven't been called in the office and talked to," he said. Howard sat Friday against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester as expected (Howard is 2-for-15 this season against lefties) and went 0-for-4 Saturday against right-hander Kyle Hendricks. Sunday, Joseph was the man at first base against right-hander John Lackey. Was Howard surprised? "I guess," he said. "I show up, if my name's in the lineup or if it's not. I don't make the lineup. The manager makes the lineup. I just show up." If Howard continues to ride the bench against right-handers, how will his swing hold up? "I don't know," Mackanin said. "We'll just have to see." And if he is benched and that swing doesn't hold up, what will happen to his mindset? "I don't know," Mackanin said. "I don't know how he feels. I'm pretty sure we'll talk to him and we'll see where we go from there." If there's anything certain, it seems Joseph will continue to play, regardless of what that means for Howard and his legacy in Philadelphia. "The important thing is we brought Joseph up here to get a look at him," Mackanin said. "If he sits on the bench for a week or 10 days and we don't get a look at him, what's the point of bringing him up?"

Can Galvis Get The Gold? – In the second inning of Friday's 6-2 loss to the Cubs, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis ranged to his backhand side deep in the hole to field a Javier Baez grounder. Galvis made the stop while running full speed -- that was the easy part -- then planted his right foot despite momentum taking him the other way. Galvis heaved a throw across the infield just in time to nail the speedy Baez. Another out, another reminder Galvis continues to play Gold Glove-caliber defense in addition to the leadership and energy he has brought this season. "He's making every play there is," manager Pete Mackanin said Saturday. "If he's not the best shortstop in the league, I'd like to see the guy that's playing as consistent defense as he is." The fielding metric UZR, or ultimate zone rating, is an all-encompassing measure of how well a player fields his position compared to other fielders, and the stat largely backs Mackanin's statement. Entering Sunday, Galvis had the third-best UZR among Major League shortstops at 4.4, per FanGraphs. Only the Giants' Brandon Crawford (8.0) and the D-backs' Nick Ahmed (4.8) ranked higher. Last season, Galvis' UZR of 0.6 was 12th in baseball (a UZR of 0 represents the league average). So what's the difference? "I've been working with [bench coach Larry Bowa] on trying to set my feet and make the routine plays," Galvis said. "Don't try to do too much. Just throw the ball, catch the ball, and that's it. So far, so good." After making 17 errors last season, Galvis had only one in 48 games entering Sunday's 7-2 loss before committing one in the fifth inning. The last Phillies shortstop to make just one through the first 48 games of a season was Jimmy Rollins, who didn't commit his second until the 52nd game of his 2007 National League MVP season. On Sunday, Galvis' second error of the year came when he booted a hard-hit ball to his glove side, and he also rushed a throw to first on a Kris Bryant single. But that doesn't take away from his body of work. "I'm not going to be critical of Freddy Galvis," Mackanin said. "He's been unbelievable. He's been outstanding." "I'm just trying to focus every time," Galvis said. "Just make the routine plays." The range factor stat -- a simple average of putouts and assists per nine innings -- suggests Galvis is fielding a similar amount of balls as last season, and his 2016 range factor of 4.21 is right at the league average. So, indeed, what has improved is Galvis' ability to make the simple plays. That said, don't think Galvis doesn't have a flair for the spectacular. He showed that Friday, in addition to plenty of other instances. Told of Mackanin's comments about him being as good as anyone in the league, Galvis smirked. "It's good," Galvis said. "If he says it, I believe it. I just try hard every day, try to make the out for the pitcher. That's it."

Today In Phils History – On the same day that Chuck Klein hit a homerun off the same pitcher in two separate games, in one of those games that Phillies tied a NL record with 21 infield assists in a 12-2 win over the Boston Braves. 4 years later, Phillies pitcher Jim Bivin gets Babe Ruth to groundout in the last at bat of his major league career. 30 year later, the Phillies purchased Hall of Famer Lew Burdette from the Cubs. Not known for his speed, in 1978 Mike Schmidt stole 3 bases against the Pirates. 15 years later, power won the day as Darren Daulton (2), Dave Hollins, Mariano Duncan, Kim Batiste, and Tommy Greene all belted homeruns in an 18-1 win over the Rockies. 11 years later, Jim Thome connected for the team’s 37th homerun in May breaking the franchise record for homeruns in a single month. Thome’s successor, Ryan Howard, made homerun history of his own in 2009 when he connected for his 8th career grand slam tying the team record held by Mike Schmidt. Finally, two years prior in 2007, Jamie Moyer and Randy Johnson set the MLB record for oldest left handed starters to ever face one another in a single game at a combined age of 88 years and 90 days.  

The Phillies are currently 26-24 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 75-83-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Phillies Having No Luck In Chicago

GAME RECAP: Cubs Dominate Phillies 4-1

Kyle Hendricks got all the run support he needed early, and the right-hander posted his second career complete game in the Cubs' 4-1 victory Saturday over the Phillies in front of 41,555 at Wrigley Field. "I didn't want him coming out of that game," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Hendricks, who went the distance for the first time since May 21, 2015, when he did so against the Padres. It was the second complete game by a Cub this season; Jake Arrieta did so when he no-hit the Reds on April 21. Hendricks is 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA in five home starts this year. "He was in total command of his pitches," Cubs catcher Miguel Montero said. Hendricks has been the odd man out, ranking second lowest in the National League in run support average entering the game. The Cubs were averaging 5.7 runs per game, second in the Majors behind the Red Sox, but apparently not on the days he pitches. On Saturday, Hendricks struck out six and scattered five hits, including a fluke double by Freddy Galvis to lead off the ninth that dropped in front of Jason Heyward in right. Galvis scored on a fielder's choice when Ryan Howard struck out. "Jason was trying to yell for [Ben Zobrist] to go get it, and I think 'Zo' thought he was yelling, 'I got it,'" Maddon said of Galvis' hit. "It was an impossible moment." Leading off the bottom of the first, Dexter Fowler homered off Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff, who also served up RBI doubles to Zobrist and Heyward. Eickhoff, who gave up four runs over six innings and took the loss, also hasn't gotten much offensive support. He struck out seven and issued one walk. "I feel like we took pitches we should have hit and we swung at pitches we shouldn't have swung at," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I thought [Hendricks] gave us just enough -- not a lot -- but just enough pitches out over the plate, and we didn't capitalize."

  • The Phillies had their momentum stopped early after Odubel Herrera led off the game with a bunt single. Instead of giving the Phillies an early baserunner, Herrera got picked off when Hendricks threw over to first and Rizzo applied a quick tag. The Phillies didn't mount much of a scoring threat again until the ninth, and that's how it has gone lately. Philadelphia has scored a combined 22 runs in their past eight games, going 2-6 in that span. "He was going -- they've got some really fast guys," Maddon said. "Kyle does do a good job, and you saw it. He'll hold the ball and throw it accurately. Don't underestimate the importance of the tag. If you don't slap it down there, the inning is different."
  • After his double, Galvis advanced to third on a Maikel Franco groundout, and with the Cubs shifting on Ryan Howard, was able to get a huge lead. Howard struck out swinging on a changeup in the dirt, and as Montero gathered the ball and threw to second to put out Howard, Galvis broke home and scored. Galvis was originally credited with a stolen base, but the scoring was changed to a fielder's choice. "Made my whole day," Mackanin said. "Burnt the shutout. I like to see a guy like that playing with that kind of energy."
  • "He's got one error, and he's making every play there is. If he's not the best shortstop in the league, I'd like to see the guy that's playing as consistent defense as he is." -- Mackanin, on Galvis' defense.
Vince Velasquez starts the series finale against the Cubs on Sunday at 2:20 p.m. ET. Velasquez is coming off his shortest outing, leaving after four-plus innings and surrendering three runs in a no-decision against the Tigers.


Don’t Walk, Run It Off – Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis sat at his locker with ice wrapped around his right ankle after Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Cubs, but this was no wounded man. Only a few minutes earlier, Galvis had raced around the bases, almost single-handedly accounting for the Phillies' lone run with hustle and heads-up baserunning. In the sixth, a 77-mph curveball from Cubs righty Kyle Hendricks hit Galvis on the bone just above his right ankle. Galvis took his time before heading to first, and trainers came out to check on him. Galvis stayed in, and good thing he did. In the ninth, Galvis led off with a shallow fly to right field. Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward lost track of the ball, and as it landed, Galvis turned past first and headed to second. He was credited with a double, but he was just getting started. After Galvis advanced to third on a Maikel Franco groundout to the right side, Ryan Howard came to the plate. The Cubs put a drastic shift on the left-hander, with no one close to holding Galvis on third. Galvis took his lead at least halfway down the line throughout the at-bat. When Howard swung and missed on an 0-2 changeup in the dirt, Galvis creeped toward the plate. Cubs catcher Miguel Montero gathered the ball and gave Galvis a quick check before firing to first to retire Howard. As soon as Galvis saw Montero begin to throw, he scampered home. "I was like, 'Let's go, that's it,'" Galvis said. Galvis slid in safely, beating Anthony Rizzo's return throw to the plate. He was initially awarded a stolen base, but the official scorer reversed the call to a fielder's choice after the game. The ruling wasn't as sexy as a steal, but the play still had plenty of impact. "Made my whole day," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "Burnt the shutout. I like to see a guy like that playing with that kind of energy. … I'm thrilled the way he's playing hard. He's kind of taken a leadership role on the team, just with the way he goes about his business." He's also doing it with his defense, too. Galvis has made a handful of spectacular plays, and he has the third-best ultimate zone rating among shortstops in the Majors behind the Giants' Brandon Crawford and the D-backs' Nick Ahmed, per FanGraphs. "He's got one error, and he's making every play there is," Mackanin said. "If he's not the best shortstop in the league, I'd like to see the guy that's playing as consistent defense as he is." And as for the ankle, Franco said it's no concern. Good to play Sunday? "Oh yeah," he said.

Offensive Offense – After a 4-1 loss to the Cubs on Saturday, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin credited Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks, who threw a complete game. But he was more troubled with his hitters, whose inability to find a groove is beginning to prove costly. The Phillies have lost six of eight. "I feel like we took pitches we should have hit, and we swung at pitches we shouldn't have swung at," Mackanin said. "I thought [Hendricks] gave us just enough -- not a lot -- but just enough pitches out over the plate, and we didn't capitalize." In the past eight games, the Phillies have scored 22 runs. After Friday's 6-2 defeat, Mackanin faced the question that since feels increasingly pressing -- "Are you worried that the offensive shortcomings are starting to catch up with you guys?" Mackanin didn't change his expression or alter his tone of voice. He answered in a matter-of-fact fashion. "I won't say I'm worried about it," Mackanin said. "I've been conscious of it for the whole season." That's how Mackanin and the Phillies are treating it. Stick to the facts, which reveal things both good and bad about the club. First, the numbers suggest the Phils have a better record than they should. Based on the Pythagorean win-loss stat, the Phillies should have a winning percentage of .394. Instead, they are at .531. Philadelphia has won 26 games despite a minus-38 run differential. The explanation is the fact the Phillies are playing -- and winning -- an astounding amount of close games, going 14-4 in one-run contests. Despite Philadelphia's surprising start, the struggle of the Phillies' lineup is indeed nothing new. Their 158 runs rank 29th in baseball, as do their 36 home runs. Only the 14-34 Braves are worse in those categories. "At the least, we certainly would like to have more offense, a little more power," Mackanin said. "You look at the Cubs, the Tigers, they've got the home run. They've got power. They have threats to do damage. We haven't been able to do that." But the Phillies have had respectable starting pitching, and the bullpen in particular has been good as of late. The 'pen has surrendered only three earned runs in its past 19 innings, dropping its ERA to a season-low 3.66. So as much as the numbers are an indictment of the offense, there is also a testament to the club's pitching. The facts also show Tyler Goeddel, Peter Bourjos, Cameron Rupp, Odubel Herrera and Freddy Galvis have all raised their batting averages in May. And the part that matters most: The Phillies are 26-23, right in the thick of the National League East race. "I'm always concerned that it might catch up with us," Mackanin said. "But as long as our pitching does their job, we're going to be in as many games as they allow us to be in."

Today In Phils History – 20 years after the Phillies acquired Kirby Higbe from the Cubs, Gene Conley took a tough loss as when he tried to intentionally walk Joe Adcock he let a pitch get a little took close to the plate and Adcock drove in Hank Aaron with the winning run. 6 years later, as Charlie Hayes was being born in Mississippi, Dick Allen blasted a 510 foot homerun at Connie Mack Stadium against the Cubs. From the beginning of a career to the end, it was on this day in 1989, after hitting .203 in the early part of the season, Michael Jack Schmidt announced his retirement in an emotional farewell speech. Back to the blossoming of a career, in 2006 Ryan Howard hit his 18th homerun of the season setting a record for the most homeruns by a 2nd year player by the end of the month. Of course, the only memory that could top that of Schmidt’s retirement is that of Roy Halladay’s perfection during a 1-0 victory on this day in 2010. It was the 20th perfect game in MLB history. Since then, the only quasi notable occurrence is the debut of Cesar Hernandez in 2013.

The Phillies are currently 26-23 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 40-56-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Phillies Run Into A Pack Of Vicious Cubs

GAME RECAP: Cubs Crush Phillies 6-2

The young and the old showed off their home run swings as 24-year-old sluggers Jorge Soler and Kris Bryant each hit a solo shot and veteran David Ross belted a three-run blast to power the Cubs to a 6-2 victory over the Phillies on Friday at rainy Wrigley Field. All three homers came off Phillies lefty Adam Morgan, who lasted four-plus innings. Jon Lester, who couldn't make it out of the third inning in his last outing, went 6 1/3 innings for the win. The Phillies took advantage of errors by Dexter Fowler and Javier Baez to score an unearned run in the third against Lester. Cubs manager Joe Maddon called them mistakes that they never make. "Dexter catches that ball 101 times out of 100," Maddon said. The difference for Lester was his ability to be more consistent with his pitches, especially his curve. The previous outing didn't faze him. "I wasn't worried about my start at all," Lester said. And the Phillies were aggressive. "They were swinging -- they were swinging from jump street, so to execute the fastball was important," Ross said. Maddon gave Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward the day off, and the team didn't miss a beat. The Cubs (32-14) are off to their best start since the team opened the 1918 season at 32-13.

  • Morgan had given up only two home runs in 25 2/3 innings this season entering Friday. In his first start at Wrigley Field, Morgan surrendered two homers in the fourth inning alone, when Soler took a hanging 1-2 slider off the left-field scoreboard and Ross smashed a 1-0 changeup that almost reached Waveland Avenue. Morgan also gave up a homer to Bryant in the fifth, when the first baseman turned on an inside fastball on a 1-2 count. "You can overcome a solo home run, but that home run to Ross, that was the one that got us out of the game," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said.
  • After a 56-minute rain delay, the Phillies momentarily looked rejuvenated. When play resumed with one out and a runner on second in the top of the seventh, Freddy Galvis singled to move Odubel Herrera to third. Maikel Franco followed up with an RBI single on a slow roller aided by the wet infield grass, but the rally didn't materialize as Tommy Joseph and Carlos Ruiz struck out to end the inning. "I think we had 10 hits and one double, so there's not a lot to say other than we couldn't string enough hits together to get anything going," Mackanin said. "We had some opportunities and didn't capitalize."
  • "Nobody's solid in their spots. Last year, I always had to talk about how you audition every day. Every time you go out there, you got to keep doing it. At this level, consistency is the hallmark of a good Major League player." -- Mackanin, on if Morgan's rotation spot could be in jeopardy.
  • In the Chicago seventh inning, Bryant walked with two outs and advanced on a wild pitch. The Phillies challenged whether Bryant was safe at second, and after a review, the call stood.
  • Cubs players have been counting down Ross' home runs, and they could finally celebrate the veteran's 100th career blast. Soler led off the fourth with his moonshot, and after Addison Russell walked and Javier Baez singled, Ross, 39, hit his milestone homer. He celebrated in the dugout with his teammates, then tipped his cap to the fans. "The boys were excited, I was excited," Ross said. "My favorite part while this has been going on is rounding second base and looking in the dugout. It makes me smile every time seeing everybody so happy for me and counting down for me. They're as happy as I am. That makes me feel good." Ross is the oldest player in franchise history to hit his 100th homer as a Cub. 
  • "Who wants a picture with me? I'm surprised he didn't ask for [Bryant] or [Rizzo]." -- Ross, on the fan who retrieved his 100th home run ball and asked for a photo with the catcher in exchange.
Jerad Eickhoff will make his 10th start of the season for the Phillies against the Cubs on Saturday at 2:20 p.m. ET. He threw seven scoreless innings in his latest start, a win against the Braves.


Shake It Off – Maikel Franco's prediction was right. The Phillies' third baseman said his right ankle is doing great, and he was in Friday's lineup against the Cubs just as he said he would be after exiting Wednesday's game vs. the Tigers. Franco suffered a mild ankle sprain in the seventh inning of that game when he jammed his ankle sliding into second base. Franco didn't leave the game immediately, but he exited between innings. "I wanted to still play, but sometimes it's not my decision," Franco said. Franco used the team's off-day Thursday to recover, saying he spent the day "just chilling" while icing his ankle. Phillies trainers agreed Franco was ready to play in the opener vs. the Cubs. He reinforced that in the Phils' 6-2 loss to the Cubs, going 1-for-2 with two RBIs and a walk. In four career games at Wrigley Field, he's 5-for-15 with a home run and five RBIs. "Everything is good," Franco said.

Lingering Injuries – Outfielder Cody Asche and left-hander Mario Hollands each had their rehab assignment transferred to Triple-A Lehigh Valley on Friday. Through nine rehab games, Asche -- on the disabled list with a right oblique strain -- is 5-for-34 with two home runs. Hollands, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery, has allowed only one run in 8 2/3 innings during his six rehab appearances.

Heading To The DL – Phillies prospect Mark Appel, the former No. 1 overall Draft pick who is currently rated the club's No. 4 prospect and the No. 65 prospect in the Major Leagues by MLBPipeline.com, was placed on the disabled list Friday with a right shoulder strain. In a corresponding move, Phillies No. 30 prospect Ben Lively was promoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley from Double-A Reading, where he was 7-0 with a 1.87 ERA in nine starts for the Fightin Phils. Lively, who was acquired from the Reds for Marlon Byrd during the offseason, held Eastern League hitters to a .185 average, striking out 49 in 53 innings while walking 15 and posting a 0.94 WHIP. Appel, whose fastball normally reaches the mid-90s, suffered from a significant drop in velocity in his last start, struggling to hit 90 mph on Sunday for Lehigh Valley. The 24-year-old is 3-3 with a 4.46 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A this season, with 34 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings.

Today In Phils History – While his flailing pales in comparison to some of the modern day sluggers, Mike Schmidt wasn’t a stranger to the strikeout and he was quite familiar with the homerun as well which was exemplified on this day in 1983 when he followed 4 strikeouts (and an uncommon fielding error) with a game winning homerun in the bottom of the ninth. The following decade, in 1990, Lenny Dykstra made his only appearance as a Phillie on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Dykstra was part of the overhaul of the Phillies roster that included Steve Jeltz being traded to the Royals after the 1989 season. I mention Jeltz because he was born on this day in 1959, 40 years after Art Lopatka.

The Phillies are currently 26-22 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 52-46-0 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Interesting Questions Surface During The Rest Day

GAME RECAP: No Game Yesterday
Phillies take some time to recover from a rough couple of series and to try and find the fire they had before their recent struggles.

  • Phillies leadoff hitter Odubel Herrera is tied for sixth in the NL batting race with a .327 average. He hit a three-run homer on Wednesday in Detroit.
  • Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler is 9-for-27 in his last six games. He is 2-for-3 lifetime against Morgan.
  • The Cubs have cooled off a little bit from their hot start to the season, going 4-6 in their past 10 games. But they took two out of three against the division-rival Cardinals. 

The Phillies open a three-game series at Wrigley Field on Friday, with Adam Morgan (1-2, 5.61 ERA) taking the mound against Cubs left-hander Jon Lester (4-3, 2.60 ERA). Morgan gave up two runs in six innings in his last start against the Braves, a bounce-back performance after giving up seven earned runs on eight hits against the Reds in the outing before that. He's faced the Cubs only once in his career, losing to them last season after allowing four runs on seven hits over five innings. Lester will look to have a similar type of comeback outing after he got rocked for five earned runs in 2 2/3 innings at San Francisco last Saturday. He is 4-0 lifetime against Philadelphia, with a 1.76 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP.


More Questions And Answers From Todd Zolecki – If the Phillies continue to win, will they be buyers before the Aug. 1 Trade Deadline? -- Corey K., Media, PA. How many people thought this question would be asked in May? Not many, I assume. The Phillies are one of baseball's best stories this season, but let's let things play out. Only 14 teams in the past 10 seasons have finished .500 or better despite being outscored. The 2009 Mariners were the most fortunate of the bunch, finishing 85-77 despite a -52 run differential. (Only four teams in baseball history have made the postseason despite being outscored.) The Phils are on pace to be outscored by 107 runs, so the odds are not in their favor. But OK, let's say the Phillies keep winning close games and defy the odds. I can see them buying before the Trade Deadline, but not in the way they have in the past when they acquired Cliff Lee, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence. Those teams were going for the kill, sacrificing top young talent for the final piece to push them over the top. The 2016 Phillies are not a piece away, and they are still very much geared toward the future. For that reason, if the Phils acquire talent, they will not sacrifice one of their top prospects in the process. No, I think something more likely will be acquiring a player in a salary dump, or acquiring somebody of a more modest means. Think less about talents comparable to Lee, Oswalt and Pence and more about talents like Joe Blanton, who cost the Phillies relatively little in 2008. But if you're wondering if Philadelphia would trade prospects like Nick Williams and Zach Eflin for a two-month rental, I would be absolutely stunned. Phils president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak have a plan in place, and they have stuck to it. I would be floored if they suddenly tossed that aside. What is going to happen with Ryan Howard? -- John G., Mt. Laurel, N.J. It is sometimes helpful to read between the lines. Pete Mackanin said in Spring Training he planned to platoon Howard and Darin Ruf at first. He held true to form, despite their struggles. Then once Tommy Joseph replaced Ruf on the 25-man roster, Mackanin said he still planned to platoon Howard at first base. But if you notice, Mackanin said earlier this week he now plans to evaluate the situation weekly. "At some point, it may come to that, but I wouldn't say it's imminent," Mackanin said about Joseph winning the first-base job. The door is ajar. The Phillies are playing well, despite Howard hitting .160 with a .585 OPS. But they need offense, and if Joseph hits consistently, he will get more playing time. What happens to Howard after that will be interesting. Howard showed leadership earlier this week when he pulled Odubel Herrera aside after he failed to hustle to first base. I'm not sure anybody else on the team could do that, other than maybe Carlos Ruiz. If Joseph starts playing more regularly, perhaps Howard adjusts to a backup role, mentoring the young players on the roster while playing a couple times a week. He could be released too, although I would be guessing if I said I thought it would happen. But I will say Howard's attitude has been remarkable this season. I think he sees the end is near and he is trying to make the best of it. That doesn't help the Phillies' offense, but it is worth noting.

Minor Performances – A pair of Phillies' top prospects had three-hit games in Lehigh Valley's win over Pawtucket. J.P. Crawford, the No. 3 overall prospect (Phillies' No. 1), scored a pair of runs in the game, but more importantly, he found his stroke offensively. Since he was promoted to Triple-A, Crawford got off to a bit of a slow start. The shortstop went 3-for-15 over his first four games, but on Thursday night everything was clicking as Crawford went 3-for-5. But Crawford wasn't the only Phillies' farmhand to have a good night at the plate. Nick Williams, Philadelphia's No. 3 prospect, was a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate and raised his average to .279.

Crawford Catching Attention – Here's a look at top prospects to watch Friday in Minor League action: Hitter to watch: J.P. Crawford (Phillies' No. 1) Lehigh Valley vs. Louisville. Crawford, the No. 3 overall prospect, got off to a bit of a slow start when he was promoted to Triple-A, but the young shortstop may be finding his rhythm. After going 3-for-15 over his first five games with the IronPigs, Crawford went 3-for-5 and scored a pair of runs Thursday, generating some momentum that he'd like to build on at 7:05 p.m. ET on MiLB.TV.

Today In Phils History – During the same game that the Giants’ Casey Stengel was ejected in 1923, the Phillies Cy Williams set a new major league homerun record when he hit his 15th of the month. Speaking of homeruns, today marks 2 years since Ben Revere, after 1,566 career at bats, hit his first major league homerun. On the mound, Pretzel Pezzullo got start and the win in his major league debut in 1935 but lost his start the following day. In 1973, pitcher Wayne Twitchell struck out for a record 9th consecutive time at the plate.  

The Phillies are currently 26-21 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. The Phillies finished the spring exceeding most expectations compiling a record of 15-11-3 (18-11-3 if you include the exhibition games against Reading and the University of Tampa). All time, the Phillies are 47-55-1 on this day. I expect the Phillies to finish in the bottom half of the division but not last in the NL East by finishing the season with a 77-85 record. Let the rebuild begin!