Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Phillies Find Offense, Pitching Disappears

GAME RECAP: Twins Overwhelm Phillies 14-10 

Kurt Suzuki's season-high four hits and career-high six RBIs, including a two-run homer in the fifth, powered an offensive explosion for the Twins, who set a season-high in runs with their 14-10 victory over the Phillies at Target Field on Tuesday night. "I feel warm," Suzuki said. "It's not 10 degrees outside and I can feel the bat. It's one of those things -- like they say in baseball, you find that comfort zone and you get a good pitch to hit and you don't miss it." Every Twins hitter except Eduardo Nunez either scored or drove in at least one run and Phillies starter Aaron Nola was chased after just three innings, during which he allowed eight runs (seven earned). Minnesota added six runs against the Philadelphia bullpen to hold off a four-run Phillies rally in the eighth. Brian Dozier had three hits, including an RBI triple, and two runs scored, while Trevor Plouffe scored two runs and drove in two on a first-inning triple. "It's unfortunate that you still have to be a little bit uncomfortable after you score 14 runs, but we got out early -- Trevor got a big hit early and Kurt had a big hit early -- but they kept answering," Twins manager Paul Molitor said. "We built the lead back up a little bit through the middle innings and the bullpen did a nice job." Peter Bourjos hit his second homer of the season in the second inning, and Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp and Maikel Franco also went deep as the Phillies hit double digits in runs for the first time since April 23. Bourjos and Cody Asche both recorded three-hit games. "If you would have told me we were going to score [10] runs tonight with Nola pitching I would have been thrilled," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "I would have bet money on it."

  • Nola's struggles are eye-popping. He has allowed 22 hits, 17 earned runs, seven walks and has struck out 10 in 9 2/3 innings in his last three starts. He has a 15.83 ERA in that stretch, becoming the first Phillies' starter to pitch four or fewer innings and allow four or more runs in three consecutive starts since Gavin Floyd in April 2005. "I'm an even-keeled guy," Nola said. "If you talk to a guy who has three pretty rough starts, it gets kind of frustrating. It gets frustrating after the third one. I feel like it doesn't matter how even-keeled you are. It definitely is frustrating, but I'm going to try to put this one behind me and try to really focus on the positives."
  • It might surprise Phillies fans, but Peter Bourjos has been the Phillies' hottest hitter for the past couple of weeks. He hit a two-run homer to left field in the second inning to keep things going. He finished 3-for-4 with three RBIs. "I was thrilled at the offense," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "A lot of positives to take out of that. Hopefully, the fact that we hit as a team, it'll give us a boost of confidence. We got them and it takes a little pressure off of everybody to feel good going into tomorrow's game."
  • "I was just bragging about him before the game to [Twins broadcaster and Hall of Famer] Bert Blyleven, how his strength is his ability to locate pitches. I looked at the first couple of innings on the monitor -- I came in between innings -- I don't think he hit the mitt more than a couple of times. He was all over the place. He'll get that back. But something is missing right now." -- Mackanin, on Nola.
  • Kurt Suzuki now has 495 career RBIs, giving him sole possession of first place on the all-time RBI list for MLB players born in Hawaii, surpassing Shane Victorino.
Phillies left-hander Adam Morgan (1-6, 6.49 ERA) hopes to get healthy against the Twins. He appeared to be turning a corner earlier this month, allowing six runs in 12 2/3 innings against the Cubs and Nationals. But then he allowed seven runs (four earned runs) in 4 1/3 innings Friday against the D-Backs. First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 p.m. ET.


Nola Struggles – This is baffling. Keeping in mind that every starting pitcher is entitled to his share of clunkers, it is eye-popping that Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola has had three clunkers in a row, including Tuesday night's 14-10 loss to the Twins at Target Field. He allowed eight runs in just three innings against the Twins to give him a 15.83 ERA in his last three starts. "It's tough, man," Nola said. Nola has allowed 22 hits, 17 earned runs, seven walks and has struck out 10 in just 9 2/3 innings in that stretch. He is the first Phillies starter to pitch four or fewer innings and allow four or more runs in three consecutive starts since Gavin Floyd in April 2005. Les Sweetland had four consecutive starts like that in June 1930, which is a team record, according to "It must be mechanical," Nola said. "I must be rushing. I do feel myself rushing a little bit to the plate in the stretch and windup. It's just something I will try to tweak for the next start. I'm probably just trying to do too much with a pitch. "My body feels good. I'm all healthy. Arm and body feels healthy." Nola allowed four runs in the first inning, getting things started with a one-out walk to Robbie Grossman. Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier singled to give the Twins a 1-0 lead. Trevor Plouffe followed with a triple to make it 3-0. Nola has allowed 14 earned runs in the first inning in 15 starts this season. "I haven't really had a smooth first inning for a little while," Nola said. Nola avoided damage in the second inning, but walked Byron Buxton and Grossman. Freddy Galvis made a couple defensive miscues to contribute to a four-run third inning. Odubel Herrera had a ball tip off his glove for a double to allow two runs to score. But clearly Nola has not been the same pitcher he had been most of his young career. Nola has walked seven batters in his last 9 2/3 innings. He walked just 15 in 78 innings in his first 12 starts. His 1.73 walks-per-nine-innings average from Opening Day through June 10 ranked 10th among 109 pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched. "I was just bragging about him before the game to [Twins broadcaster and Hall of Famer] Bert Blyleven, how his strength is his ability to locate pitches," manager Pete Mackanin said. "I looked at the first couple of innings on the monitor -- I came in between innings -- I don't think he hit the mitt more than a couple of times. He was all over the place. He'll get that back. But something is missing right now." 

Getting A Chance To Play – Pete Mackanin has rested players, shuffled lineups, benched icons and even ordered hitters not to pick up their bats before a game to clear their heads, but nothing has jump-started the Phillies' offense. Maybe continuity could help. "I'm going to try to get as close to a set lineup as I can instead of the back and forth," Mackanin said before Tuesday night's 14-10 loss to the Twins at Target Field. "I've been in that position where you play a day, you don't -- it's tough. I'm going to try to zero in on who I want to play. It might be [Tyler] Goeddel, it might be [Cody] Asche, it might be [Peter] Bourjos, it might be whoever else we have. I don't want to keep switching all the time. I'd like to keep somebody in there at least five days a week. I'm not there yet." He might be leaning toward Bourjos in right field at this point, which might surprise some, considering he was hitting .192 with a .501 OPS in 161 plate appearances through June 11. But Bourjos is the team's hottest hitter lately, and the Phillies can hardly afford to put their hottest hitter on the bench. Bourjos smacked a two-run home run to left field in the second inning and finished the night 3-for-4 with three RBIs. He is hitting .526 (10-for-19) with two doubles, one triple, one home run and five RBIs in his last nine games. Asche, who started in left, went 3-for-5 Tuesday to make a case for himself. Andres Blanco, who went 0-for-5, still should see more playing time as Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis struggle. Maikel Franco went 2-for-5 with a three-run homer in the eighth inning. The Phillies badly need him to get going. "He looked better," Mackanin said about Franco. "We worked on it in extra batting practice today. He knows what he has to do. He knows he has to get under control. For the most part, he was." The Phillies scored six runs in three innings against Twins right-hander Tyler Duffey. It was just the fifth time this season the Phillies had scored more than four runs against a starting pitcher, but it was not enough. They tied a season high with 10 runs. They set a season high with 14 hits. "If you would have told me were going to score (10) runs tonight with [Aaron] Nola pitching I would have been thrilled," Mackanin said. "I would have bet money on it."

It’s The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse – Mickey Moniak has come a long way since tee-ball. On June 9, the Phillies made Moniak the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 Draft and Tuesday, they introduced Moniak at Citizens Bank Park. In between, Moniak has come to appreciate Ted Williams, his own genealogy and pressure. The newest Phillie will be under heaps of it, just as each of the previous 51 top picks have. Moniak, who turned 18 last month, will report to the Phillies' Gulf Coast League affiliate in Clearwater when its season begins Friday. He hopes to see his friends, Phillies' second- and third-rounders Kevin Gowdy and Cole Stobbe, there soon. "There are some I's to dot and T's to cross with several of the others," general manager Matt Klentak said. "I think it's reasonable to expect something else later this week." In the GCL, the Phillies will begin to uncover whether they've hit a boom -- think Alex Rodriguez, Chipper Jones and Ken Griffey Jr. -- or bust. It is what Moniak has done between tee-ball and Draft day that gives the Phillies confidence in the former, though Moniak's journey began long before he played shortstop as a youngster. Bill Moniak grew up in a small Pennsylvania town of about 1,500 people. "They said, 'How'd they find you?' Well," Bill said, "I said there's a lot of scouts running around there, oh yeah. Yeah, right." But the eldest of three Moniak baseball men made it from Youngsville to Boston. Although he never played in a Major League game, Bill has been able to pass on hitting advice from Williams onto his son, Mike, and Mike's son, Mickey. Williams was the Red Sox's hitting coach during the years Bill was with the organization. "I learned it from a young age," Mickey said. "My grandpa would always tell stories of the Minor Leagues and Ted Williams and all this stuff. … After hearing it hundreds of times, I think I picked it up at some point. There's been a lot of approach and a lot of baseball talked with my grandpa over the past 18 years." It's tough for Bill not to see a little bit of Ted in Mickey. If there's one aspect of his game more raved about than his glove, it's Moniak's hit tool. A scout once saw Moniak swing and miss once over a 13-game stretch. Moniak likens himself to Jacoby Ellsbury. Others compare him to Christian Yelich, and Moniak understands. Of today's players, Moniak aspires to be like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. But in doing so, he applies Williams' advice of yesteryear. "One of the main things I've take from [Bill's] Ted Williams talks is it's about approach," Moniak said. The hitter owns the pitcher until two strikes. "0-0, he makes a good pitch, outside corner -- let him have it. 0-1, makes another good pitch, so what?" But with two strikes, it's about not letting the pitcher win. "You get on the plate and choke up a little bit," Moniak continued. "You've gotta think in your head, the pitcher's not gonna beat you. You're gonna put the ball in play and make the defense work. Do every little thing to get on base and help the team win." Moniak doesn't believe he was born with any more baseball IQ than his peers without baseball in their genes. His father, Mike, also played at San Diego State, but was more intent on surfing San Diego's beaches, Bill says, than playing baseball professionally. Mickey, however, is all baseball. Mike tried to get him to play basketball, just to give him a break from the diamond. But Mickey always said no. Despite athleticism that leads to lauding of his defensive talents in center field, Moniak was a single-sport athlete at Costa Canyon High. He became the fourth freshman since the school opened in 1996 to make the varsity baseball team as a freshman. It was then, his freshman year, that Moniak began to see scouts in the crowd. And he played for Team USA's 15U team that summer. "That's when I realized, 'All right, there's a possibility I could keep working at this and maybe I'll get somewhere with it.' I just kept working, kept trying to get better, and this is where it's ended up," Moniak said, unable to hold back a grin as he stood in the underbelly of Citizens Bank Park.

Signing Offense – It was just over a year ago that the Phillies signed their No. 1 Draft pick, Cornelius Randolph. Scouting director Johnny Almaraz said at the time that he was the best high school bat available. It was about 11 months ago that the Phillies officially announced the signing of Jhailyn Ortiz. He was rated by as the top international prospect for 2015. "The consensus among scouts is that the raw power (he) shows as a 16-year-old is rarely seen on the international market," the story noted. At a press conference Tuesday at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies formally introduced first overall Draft pick Mickey Moniak. "We felt as an organization that he was the best high school bat in the country and rated him as one of the top three bats overall," Alamaraz said. This is not a recording. It is, however, a connected series of moves that can only cheer the fans. And the timing for Moniak's unveiling couldn't have been better. The Phillies ended a dispiriting homestand Monday. Dispiriting not so much because they lost all six games, but because they scored a total of nine runs. And mostly because this can't be shrugged off as just a bad week or running into some hot pitchers. Somebody's got to be last in the Major Leagues in runs scored. Yep, it's the Phils. Team officials are adamant that much of this is coincidental, that in the Draft they have targeted the best talent and that it just turned out to be top-ranked hitters the last two seasons. But it's also true that an organization that has rarely spent big on international free agents spent a reported $4 million to sign Ortiz. And that with Randolph ($3.2 million for the 10th overall selection) and Moniak ($6.1 million) they have spent $13.3 million for three players they hope will add juice to the lineup. It wasn't that long ago that the preferred method of team-building seemed to be loading up on pitching, then concentrating on pitching, followed by adding more pitchers. That seems to be changing and, coincidence or not, the Phillies find themselves on the cutting edge of this evolution. "I don't view [spending big on three hitters since last year's Draft] as a trend," general manager Matt Klentak said. "But I will say that oftentimes the best hitters come from the top of the Draft. If you study baseball history, you'll probably find that there's some truth to that." Is it getting harder to find good hitting? "Throughout baseball history, the game has ebbed and flowed," he continued. "We've had dead-ball eras, live-ball eras, steroid eras. Right now we're going through an era that seems to be more dominated by pitching and defense. Certainly, the defensive shifting is suppressing run scoring. So, not just the Phillies, but all teams, are refocusing on their commitment to offense and different ways to add offense. "No matter what era this was, we probably still would have taken Mickey Moniak, but I do think there's some truth to the idea that teams are desiring to add offense." Alamaraz sees the same thing. "As far as amateurs are concerned, yes, it's getting tougher every year," he said. "Position players, there's a smaller pool of them and it's tough to get them. So if you don't get them early you're probably not going to get them at all." There is hope, then, although it must be pointed out that Moniak, Randolph and Ortiz aren't going to be leading a cavalry charge down Broad Street any time soon. All are teenagers, so it will be at least a few years before they're ready to make an impact at the big league level. There are also no guarantees any young player will develop in the ways scouts envision. But the commitment the organization has made gives the team a chance to be ahead of the curve down the road, especially if offense continues to become an increasingly precious commodity. It's not just the Big 3, either. The Phillies' third pick this year was infielder Cole Stobbe, considered a plus hitter. A year ago they took second baseman Scott Kingery in the second round and third baseman Lucas Williams in the third, two more high-ceiling bats. "As people who watch the game every day know, if you have a lineup capable of hitting in certain counts and making hard contact, you have a chance to score runs," Alamaraz said. "I'm not the type of scouting director who likes players who swing and miss. I like guys who make consistent hard contract and that's what we're going after." The Phillies have invested in hitters the last couple years. Pitching may still be the name of the game. But as many teams are learning the hard way, it still takes some offense to win.

Today In Phils History – In 1944, after 14 innings of scoreless baseball, Ron Northey hit a solo homerun in the 15th to win the game for the Phillies. The Phillies weren’t so lucky in 1959 when Sandy Koufax struck out 16 in the Los Angeles win. 3 years later, Stan Musial’s big day against the Phillies, a homerun and 3 singles, move him last Ty Cobb for the MLB record for career total bases. 20 years later and Pete Rose’s double moved him into 2nd place on the all-time hits list with 3,772. Most recently in 2010, Jamie Moyer surrendered a solo blast to Cleveland's Russell Branyan (part of an 8 inning, 1 run performance) which was the 505th home run he had yielded in his career, tying him with Robin Roberts for most ever.

The Phillies are currently 30-42 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 54-56-3 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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