Friday, June 3, 2016

Phillies Continue Playing Down To Expectations

GAME RECAP: Crew Crushed Phils 4-1

Chris Carter and Jonathan Villar homered, Chase Anderson delivered another effective start and the Brewers continued a winning streak at Citizens Bank Park that began long before that trio's tenure. It reached eight games over three seasons with Thursday's 4-1 win over the Phillies in the opener of a four-game series. Maikel Franco continued to torment Brewers pitchers with two hits, including his ninth home run, but he flied out in a critical at-bat against Milwaukee reliever Will Smith in the sixth as the teams traded late-inning threats. The Brewers left the bases loaded in the sixth and the eighth -- the latter inning ending with a disputed strikeout -- but Villar's two-run home run in the ninth provided insurance on the way to Milwaukee's seventh victory in 10 games. "The one thing [Villar] hasn't done is hit home runs, and then he goes and hits a home run," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "It's a complete game, for sure." The Phillies have lost seven straight games while scoring three runs or fewer in all of them. They have scored three runs or fewer in 34 of 54 games this season. Anderson lowered his ERA over his past five starts to 2.97 by allowing a run on three hits and no walks in 5 2/3 innings. Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff pitched into the seventh before leaving the game when a comebacker struck his foot.

  • The Phillies fell behind in the top of the second, but it could have been a lot worse. Eickhoff gave up a single and two doubles, but only one run, because right fielder Paredes, making his first Phillies start since being acquired from the Blue Jays, hit cutoff man Andres Blanco, who threw out Lucroy trying to score on Kirk Nieuwenhuis's two-bagger.
    "I look at the first two months we played, and I know we're better than the last 10 days. Things just haven't been working for us, and the main culprit has been our offense. We need more offense." -- 
    Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, on his team losing 11 of its last 13.
  • The Phillies' magic number is four. When they've scored at least four runs this season, they're 14-6. But they've scored three or fewer far more often -- 34 times -- and are 12-22 in those games.
  • Franco is 9-for-17 (.529) with a 1.235 slugging percentage in four games against the Brewers this season. Four of his nine homers and nine of his 29 RBIs have come against Milwaukee.

Right-hander Vince Velasquez will try to get back on track after two tough outings when the Phillies host the Brewers at 7:05 ET. Velasquez, who dazzled in his second start of the season with 16 strikeouts, has a 10.38 ERA in his last two outings.


Eickhoff OK – Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff has turned in seven quality starts in his first 11 outings this season. That's pretty good. He also has just two wins. That doesn't seem fair. Once again, the 25-year-old kept his team in the game Thursday night, holding the Brewers to two runs in 6 2/3 innings. Once again, it wasn't enough as Philadelphia ended up with a 4-1 loss at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies have lost seven straight. It was the sixth time this season the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs in a game Eickhoff has started. To calculate it another way, the Phillies have averaged 2.58 runs per nine innings while he's been on the mound. "It's really as simple as that I'm trying to focus on my job, which is to keep hitters off the bases and keep runners from scoring," the pitcher said. "I honestly just try to focus on what I have to do. If we score runs, great. If we don't, I have to keep pitching. It doesn't change how I go at hitters and attack the zone." Adding injury to insult, Eickhoff left the game after a hot shot back up the middle by Keon Broxton caromed off his left ankle in the seventh. He had X-rays after the game, but preliminary indications are that he should be ready to make his next start. "It's going to be a little swollen, but I can walk on it fine," Eickhoff said. "I think it will be all right. They don't think it's anything serious right now, so that's good news." Manager Pete Mackanin said he was planning on making a pitching change at that point anyway. "Eickhoff did a good job. He didn't really have his best command, but he made pitches when he had to, and he really battled to get us into that seventh inning," he said. "Nothing's really going right for us these days."

One K Won’t Get You A W – The Phillies intentionally loaded the bases in the eighth inning of a one-run game -- and it worked, thanks to a quirky play to end the frame. The Brewers won, 4-1, but not before watching a promising rally fizzle in the eighth. After the Phillies opted to intentionally walk Jonathan Lucroy, reliever Hector Neris retired Chris Carter on a swinging strikeout, Alex Presley on a fielder's choice grounder (with the out at home) and Aaron Hill on a check-swing called strike three. Hill immediately protested to plate umpire Jim Reynolds, saying he had fouled off the baseball. Slow-motion replays appeared to show Hill had a case, and Brewers manager Craig Counsell joined the argument. To no avail. The umpires conferred briefly on the infield before declaring the inning over. "It's not reviewable," Reynolds said. "It's not under the guidelines for plays that are reviewable. Foul balls, any of that stuff is not reviewable." So what was Counsell's argument? "He wanted us to check," Reynolds said. "I didn't have a foul ball. I didn't hear, I didn't see anything. He wanted us to check, and we did. Nobody else on the crew had a foul ball on that." The Brewers still held on for their seventh victory in 10 games. Tyler Thornburg and Jeremy Jeffress each pitched a scoreless inning, with a Jonathan Villar two-run home run in the ninth giving Jeffress some breathing room. "We kind of squandered a big opportunity there to get some insurance runs," Counsell said. "But our bullpen pitched pretty well, regardless."

Returning To Form? – The Phillies had a lot of questions coming into this season. One thing they were counting on, though, was that third baseman Maikel Franco would be a big bat in the middle of their lineup. But Franco has struggled. He was given Wednesday night off in part because he was hitting .220 with three home runs and a .620 OPS since April 23. And it may have helped. He singled sharply to left in his first at-bat against the Brewers on Thursday night and drilled his ninth home run of the season into the seats in left his second time up. He had two of the Phillies' five hits as they fell, 4-1, for a seventh straight loss. "I felt pretty good," Franco said. "It [the day off] was good for me. It made me feel relaxed at the plate. I was just trying to be positive every single day. I came in every day and tried to do my job. "I know when I've got my rhythm at the plate and can see more pitches. This game was much better." Manager Pete Mackanin said, with the Phillies struggling offensively, the 23-year-old may be trying to do too much. "Possibly. He might be trying to carry the team," Mackanin said. "We're counting on him quite a bit, and he knows that. But it's all part of playing at this level. You've heard that before. This guy is young. This guy is putting too much pressure on himself, trying to do too much. "But that's part of the business here. You've got to understand that. You've got to overcome it. You've got to understand that you shouldn't try to do too much. Just like when a guy throws hard, the more you muscle up, the worse you make it for yourself. So you've got to know that: don't muscle up, and take the ball the other way." Part of the problem, the manager added, is that the Phillies have scored three or fewer runs in 34 of their 54 games this season. "Day after day, where the offense was scuffling and we weren't producing runs, and guys like Franco started trying to do too much," Mackanin said. "Had the weight of the world on his shoulders. But you have to fight that urge. Or be reminded of it. Just do what you can do. If you're not a home run hitter, don't try to hit home runs. If you're striking out too much, you've got to work on that." So was it the night off that led to his big night? "It's hard to say," the manager said. "You like to think you move a guy in the lineup, you give him a night off, a couple days off, clear their heads. You try everything to get a guy back on track. And I hope so. I know Maikel's a better hitter than he's shown so far." Trying to inject some offense into the lineup, Mackanin batted newly acquired outfielder Jimmy Paredes third. He struck out his first three times up before doubling in the ninth. Cody Asche, just off the disabled list, started in left and was hitless in his two at-bats. "We didn't have a good night," Mackanin said. "[Brewers starter Chase] Anderson had a good changeup. He made everybody look bad. But we need to make some pitchers start looking bad. I think we're capable of it. I believe these guys are going to get better. "We've just got to get it going. Our hitters have to step up. It was nice to see Franco step it up a little bit. He looked a little better at the plate. But everybody else has to start looking better at the plate."

Asche Returns – The Phillies activated outfielder Cody Asche from the 15-day disabled list on Thursday and designated outfielder David Lough for assignment. Asche, who was immediately inserted into the starting lineup, understands that the Phils' season-long offensive troubles have created an opportunity for him. "It's pretty cut-and-dried," Asche said. "I've got to earn everything I want. There's no silver platter here with my name on it. I've got to earn it, and that's what I'm here to do. "That's all you can really ask for as a player is opportunity. They're few and far between in this game, so you've got to take advantage when you're given them." Asche missed all of Spring Training and the season's first two months with an oblique injury. He hit .169 with four home runs and eight RBIs in 15 games while rehabbing at three Minor League levels. The 25-year-old batted .245 with 12 home runs and 39 RBIs in 129 games for Philadelphia last season. Lough, 30, was hitting .239 with three doubles and four RBIs in 30 games for the Phillies this season. He is a .254 career hitter in parts of five seasons with the Royals, Orioles and Phils. Manager Pete Mackanin said Asche, who was converted from third base last year, will be used strictly in left. That means Tyler Goeddel will be moved to right for the time being. "Nothing's set in stone," Mackanin added. "I hope [Asche] can add some offense to what we've got. We've got to get on track and win some games." Going into play Thursday, the Phillies had lost six straight, scoring three or fewer runs in each of those games. When Asche was first sidelined, it was thought he might be ready by Opening Day. "It feels like an eternity," he said. "I didn't expect it to take this long, but I think I've done a good job of forgetting about that and kind of just staying on a path of looking forward. This is Day One for me. The past is in the past, so I'm just going to move forward from here." The Phils also activated left-hander Mario Hollands from the 15-day DL and optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Preparing For The Draft – Last fall, it seemed a safe bet the Phillies would select Florida left-hander A.J. Puk with the first overall pick in the 2016 Draft. But with the Draft beginning at 7 p.m. ET next Thursday (with coverage on MLB Network and beginning at 6), things are less certain. Sources have indicated the Phillies are leaning toward a hitter, but ruling out Puk would be a mistake. In fact, has the Phils taking Puk in its latest mock Draft. Phillies fans should keep an eye on these seven amateurs as the Draft approaches: Barnegat (N.J.) High School left-hander Jason Groome, Mercer University outfielder Kyle Lewis, La Costa Canyon (Calif.) High School outfielder Mickey Moniak, Puk, Louisville outfielder Corey Ray, Chaminade (Calif.) College Prep outfielder Blake Rutherford and Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel. Everybody who has followed the Draft knows there is no Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg available, meaning there is no consensus No. 1 pick. Therefore, the Phils have more to consider. Not only must they consider talent, they must consider price. In other words, if the Phillies consider Players A, B and C similar in talent, but Player C can be signed for less, it could push him to the top because the Phils could use the money saved there to select more talented (and pricier) picks in the second round and beyond. It makes sense for a rebuilding team like the Phillies to build the deepest, most competitive Draft class possible. The Phils have $13,405,200 in their bonus pool. The No. 1 pick is valued at $9,015,000. Last year, the No. 1 pick was valued at $8,616,900, and the Diamondbacks signed Dansby Swanson for $6.5 million. Bet on the Phillies trying something similar, which would allow them to select what they consider first-round talent with the first pick (42nd overall) in the second round. Of course, the Phils are still trying to learn what each player's price might be on Draft day. Their representatives are not tipping their hands, but if somebody like Puk thinks the Reds will select him with the No. 2 pick, he might be less inclined to take a lesser signing bonus, knowing he can cash in at No. 2. Scott Boras represents Senzel, so he also might be less inclined to take a lesser deal. But if somebody like Lewis, Moniak, Rutherford or Ray thinks he could fall to sixth or seventh, he might agree to take less as the No. 1 pick because he still would make much more than the No. 6 or 7 pick. Got all that? The Phillies' amateur scouts flew to Philadelphia last week to present their regions. The organization began its national meetings Wednesday, and they will continue to meet until the Draft begins next week. It has been an all-hands-on-deck affair with Pat Gillick, Charlie Manuel and others scouting the country's top talent. Puk will get his share of time in these meetings. and Baseball America both rank him as the top amateur player in the country. Puk just dominated LSU in the SEC tournament, which helps his cause. But Phillies amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz has always loved hitters. Could the Phils' pitching talent in the upper levels of their farm system color their thinking next Thursday? It might, but not even the Phillies know exactly which way they will go.

Today In Phils History – The current funk that the Phillies find themselves in is nothing in comparison to the 22nd straight loss that the team was handed by Boston on this day in 1884. Of course, even at an advanced age, it would be nice to have a pitcher like Grover Cleveland Alexander who, after 373 career victories (tied with Christy Mattehwson for most in NL history) was released on this day in 1930. However, the most surprising stat of the day happened in 1957 when Richie Ashburn turned in the only 5 hit game of his career in a win over St. Louis. 15 years later, Phillies general manager abruptly announced his retirement during the 9th inning of a game against the Reds with Paul Ownes, the team’s farm director at the time, immediately being named his successor (1972 was that kind of season). Finally, Davey Johnson became the first player to have multiple grand slams in a single season when he connected against the Dodgers in a 5-1 win.

The Phillies are currently 26-28 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 46-56-0 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!

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