Sunday, May 22, 2016

Phillies Remain Cold At The Plate

GAME RECAP: Braves Shutout Phillies 2-0

Williams Perez again shut down the Phillies on Saturday afternoon, pitching 6 1/3 shutout innings in a 2-0 victory that gave the Braves two consecutive wins for the first time since April 19. Both starters were effective. Adam Morgan lasted six innings and allowed just one two-run inning, but that was all Atlanta needed to back up Perez's performance. Jeff Francoeur and Nick Markakis reached to start the fourth, and Ender Inciarte ripped a double past a diving Odubel Herrera in left-center. Erick Aybar followed with a sacrifice fly to cap the scoring for the Braves, who will have a chance to split a 10-game road trip and claim their second series sweep of the season with a win in Sunday's finale. "It means a lot with all these guys have been through," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "All I heard was these guys never quit. They just keep getting after it. Things aren't going their way, but they just keep fighting every day. They've done every bit of that since I've been here." All the Phillies mustered against Perez 10 days ago in Atlanta was a Ryan Howard home run. But Perez limited them to even less on Saturday. Three Phillies reached base, two singles and a walk spread over three innings, and none stayed on the basepaths for more than one batter. "That kid, Perez, I gotta tip my cap to him," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "He used both sides of the plate very well, kept us off balance, pitched a good game." Howard, meanwhile, struck out two more times and now has four times more strikeouts (17) than hits (four) since the calendar turned to May.

  • The Braves and Phillies scored about as many runs as can be expected from the two worst offenses in baseball on a cold and drizzly mid-May game. All the runs (two) came from Atlanta's bats in the third inning. The Phils were shut out for only the second time in 43 games. Morgan pitched well enough to win, but Philadelphia stranded three baserunners and that was all the offense it could eke out against Perez and the Braves' bullpen. With the two-run margin of victory, Atlanta pulled even with the Phillies for least runs scored this season, each now with an MLB-worst 137. "It's obvious that we haven't been hitting the ball the way I think we're capable of hitting," Mackanin said. "Sure, it gets to you after a while. I don't know if we can sustain the pace of scoring two or three runs a night." 
  • It took only four innings for Herrera to lay out twice in center field. However, on both attempts, he came up just short. It resulted in a harmless single in the first, when Freddie Freeman laced a ball into right-center past a diving Herrera. David Lough backed up and Morgan retired the next batter. But the damage came in the fourth, when Herrera took an awkward route to a ball off Inciarte's bat, resulting in him lying on the center field grass as Inciarte jogged into second and Francoeur raced home to score the Braves' first run.
  • For the first time in his career, Herrera has gone three consecutive games that he's started without reaching base. After going 0-for-4 on Saturday, he's hitless in his last 11 at-bats.
  • The Braves lost each of their first 10 challenges of the season before winning one on Friday night. They added another win on Saturday when a quick replay review showed Perez's pitch hit Maikel Franco's bat and not the third baseman's hand, as originally ruled by home-plate umpire Gerry Davis.

Jerad Eickhoff (1-6, 4.44) gets the start for Philadelphia in the finale of its three-game series with the Braves. Eickhoff hasn't recorded more than four strikeouts in a start since April 24, when he struck out seven but also allowed seven runs. Though he posted a 1.89 ERA in his first three starts, that number reached 6.18 over his past five.


Good Start, Bad Outcome – Adam Morgan was much sharper in Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Braves than his last outing, in which he didn't make it out of the fourth. But Morgan collected his second quality start of the season -- both coming against his hometown Braves. He finished the day with only two runs on the scoreboard and six innings in the book. "He managed to battle and make pitches when he had to," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He fought through it." Not exactly a rousing endorsement, but Morgan felt similarly. Despite surrendering only two runs, the Braves were hitting balls hard off him all game. In all, they collected six hits and made a handful more loud outs. "There were some pitches that I missed, but overall I felt like I improved on the outing last time," Morgan said. "So I'm just going to keep on doing that, trying to improve." The 26-year-old southpaw was coming off the worst start of his career. Morgan allowed seven runs to the Reds in 3 2/3 innings last Sunday. He pointed to a lack of command during that start. In each of the past two starts, though -- one good, one bad -- Morgan has walked more batters than he's struck out. He's combined to throw 9 2/3 innings but has walked five and struck out only two. Morgan's never had swing-and-miss stuff, but this is well below even middling career strikeout numbers. His last two starts amount to a rate of 1.86 strikeouts per nine innings. In 15 MLB starts last season, that rate stood at 5.2, and his lowest Minor League mark came in his 13 starts with Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season, at 4.3. But Mackanin chose to overlook the less-than-dominant numbers in lieu of a strong mental performance, battling through six innings, following up a rough start. "When you don't have your best stuff, or you're not locating as well as you can, you gotta figure out a way to get through it," he said. "And that's exactly what he did."

The Bats Have Gone Cold – Despite all their offensive woes to start the season, Saturday's 2-0 loss to the Braves was just the second time in 43 games the Phillies were unable to score a run. The lack of shutouts hasn't translated to any wealth of offense, though. With the two-run margin of victory, the Braves and Phillies pulled even for last place in the Majors in runs scored this season, each now with 137. "It gets to you after a while," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I don't know if we can sustain the pace of scoring two or three runs a night. As good as our pitching has been, at some point it's gotta affect everybody. But it hasn't affected our guys yet." It's true. Although the weather outside has hardly reflected it, there are sunshiney vibes in the Phils' clubhouse. Even after Saturday's loss -- locking in their first series loss since the beginning of May -- Philadelphia sits five games above .500 and half a game behind the second-place Mets in the National League East. They've continued their success from April into and throughout May, winning 10 of 19 so far this month. More incredibly, the Phillies have done so with effectively a black hole in the middle of the order. Mackanin moved Ryan Howard down from fourth to fifth in the order before Saturday's game. It was the first time Howard hit lower than fourth in a start since April 15 and the fourth time all season. The move came on the back of Howard's month-long slump. Since going 3-for-5 with a walk-off home run against Cleveland on April 29, Howard is hitting .083 (4-for-48) -- though all four hits have gone for extra bases (one double, three homers). He has five times as many strikeouts (20) in that time span as hits. "He's going to be in the lineup," Mackanin said. But Tommy Joseph has a chance to carve out more playing time. Mackanin said Joseph could start Sunday, "to clear Howie's head a little bit." Both will be in the lineup in Detroit, where the Phils can use a designated hitter. "And we'll just go from there," Mackanin added. The Phillies added Joseph to the roster hoping to get an offensive boost. In the limited plate appearances he's seen, the 24-year-old first baseman has looked promising. He's 4-for-12 with a walk and home run. In his first pinch-hit appearance on Saturday, he launched one to right field that was caught on the warning track. But even if Joseph can step into the No. 4 hole and produce, Philadelphia is still waiting for Maikel Franco to bust out of his own slump. Since the month started, Franco is hitting .206 (14-for-68) with as many strikeouts as hits -- not quite on Howard's level, but not what the Phillies are looking for from a hitter they hope to anchor their lineup for years to come. "You've gotta have a good middle of the lineup," Mackanin said. "You gotta drive runs in and we're not doing it. The team today, we just didn't look good."

Today In Phils History – First, let’s start the day by wish Jose Mesa a happy 50th birthday. The rest of the events that occurred on this day are not so run of the mill. It starts in 1890 when manager Harry Wright was inexplicably struck blind. Catcher Jack Clements took his place as the first of three interim managers. In 1936, Bucky Walters homered and pitched a 4-hit shutout against the Giants. Pinky Whitney also hit a grand slam as part of a 15-0 onslaught. The last time a Phillies pitcher hit an inside-the-park homerun was on this day in 1952 when Curt Simmons accomplished the feat. And, finally, 2 years ago today, recently released Phillies prospect (2010 1st round selection) was caught in a hailstorm after pitching a day game for the AA affliliate in Reading. In addition to the property damage around the area, including shattering the windows of his car, he also received a concussion which kept him off the mound for nearly 2 months.

The Phillies are currently 24-19 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 41-52-0 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!

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