Friday, July 22, 2016

Phillies Continue To Falter In Second Half

GAME RECAP: Marlins Manhandle Phillies 9-3

The Marlins are bringing plenty of confidence into a big series this weekend at home against the Mets. They beat the Phillies on Thursday night at Citizens Bank Park, 9-3, to win three games in the four-game series. After opening the second half of the season by going 5-2 on a seven-game road trip, Miami has moved within 4 1/2 games of the Nationals in the National League East, while maintaining a 1 1/2-game lead over the Mets for the second NL Wild Card. "One of the things you worry about, going into the break, we were playing pretty good," Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. "One of the things we talked about as a team was that we really needed to be ready to play when we start the second half." Marlins left fielder Christian Yelich sparked a four-run fourth inning when he hit a solo home run to left field, and Ichiro Suzuki picked up the 2,995th and 2,996th hits of his big league career with an infield single in the third and a single to right in the eighth. "It's been fun," Mattingly said. "It'd be a little different if we knew he was going to play every day, because you know it's just a matter of one day or something like that. But in our situation, it might not be that quick, or it could be quick. But it's been fun. He's been a great guy to watch." Marlins right-hander Tom Koehler allowed only two hits over eight masterful innings -- on homers by Ryan Howard in the fourth and Freddy Galvis in the eighth -- and also had an RBI single. The Phillies had high hopes entering the second half, but they have lost five of seven since the All-Star break, scoring just 17 runs on the homestand. "I've been concerned about the hitting all year," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. "It's a constant issue that we have to improve upon."

  • After allowing a career-high eight runs in 5 1/3 innings July 9 in Colorado, he allowed nine hits Thursday and has an 8.27 ERA in his last three starts. Mackanin thought Eickhoff needed to throw his curveball more, especially in the four-run fourth inning. Eickhoff agreed. "Looking back after the outing was over, there were definitely times I could have used it more," he said. "It was just unfortunate I wasn't able to realize that myself and throw that more in the game in that fourth inning."
  • Howard began his day in South Philadelphia, where the Phillies named their new Urban Youth Academy the "Ryan Howard Training Center." A few hours later, he hit his 14th homer. Howard and fellow first baseman Tommy Joseph have combined for 27 home runs this season.
  • "I don't know man, it's crazy. We were talking about it. I don't know if we try to do too much here at home, but every time we go on the road, we click, man. Everything goes good, you know? I don't know if it's a little bit of us trying to do too much here. And if we're trying to do too much, it's not going to happen. We have to just let it go and do what we have to do, and that's it." -- Galvis, on the Phillies averaging 2.9 runs per game at home compared to 4.3 runs per game on the road.
  • Entering Thursday, the Phillies ranked fifth in runs (228) and eighth in batting average (.260) on the road.
  • In the past two series at PNC Park, the Pirates have swept the Phillies twice, outscoring them, 23-9.
  • Pirates left fielder Starling Marte was scratched from Thursday's lineup due to flu-like symptoms and replaced with Matt Joyce, who played right field and hit a three-run homer. Gregory Polanco moved over to left.

In his second start since coming off the disabled list, Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole will try to return to form Friday in the series opener against the Phillies at PNC Park. After spending over a month on the DL with a right triceps strain, Cole returned July 16 against the Nationals, allowing five runs (four earned) in four innings. Before suffering the injury June 10, Cole had gone 5-3 over 11 starts after starting the season with two straight losses. In four career starts against the Phillies, he's 3-1 with a 2.31 ERA. The Phillies will counter with rookie righty Zach Eflin, who is 2-3 with a 4.14 ERA in his first seven starts. Since giving up nine runs on nine hits in 2 2/3 innings in his debut, Eflin has five quality starts and pitched a complete game against Atlanta on July 5.


Second Half Stumbles – The Phillies' high hopes for the second half have suffered a setback. They exited the All-Star break believing they could make a long-shot run at a National League Wild Card. Why not, they said? But after the Phillies managed just three hits and Jerad Eickhoff struggled Thursday night in a 9-3 loss to the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park, they have lost five of seven games since the break to fall to 44-53 and nine games behind the Marlins for the second Wild Card. "I'm not giving up hope for that Wild Card, because I've seen us better," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. But the Phillies still have to play 30 more games at home this season, which is not necessarily a good thing. They scored just 17 runs in the seven-game homestand against the Mets and Marlins, and they are hitting .218 with a .627 OPS and averaging just 2.9 runs per game at home. Their runs-per-game average ranks last in baseball, a half-run worse than the Braves. Conversely, the Phillies are hitting .260 with a .724 OPS and averaging 4.3 runs per game on the road, which ranks 22nd. "I don't know, man, it's crazy," said shortstop Freddy Galvis, who hit a solo home run in the eighth. "We were talking about it. I don't know if we try to do too much here at home, but every time we go on the road, we click, man. Everything goes good, you know? I don't know, it's crazy. "We don't hit the ball that good. I don't know if it's a little bit of us trying to do too much here. And if we're trying to do too much, it's not going to happen. We have to just let it go and do what we have to do, and that's it." The Phillies' pitching had been pretty good in the first six games of the homestand, posting a 2.84 ERA. But Eickhoff allowed nine hits, six runs (five earned runs) and struck out six in five innings. He threw two wild pitches and hit a batter in a four-run fourth inning. "Eickhoff, he's got one of the best curveballs in baseball," Mackanin said. "I didn't think he used it enough, especially in that fourth inning. It's a really good pitch for him. He got away from it for some reason." Eickhoff agreed with Mackanin's assessment. "Looking back after the outing was over, there were definitely times I could have used it more," he said. "It was just unfortunate I wasn't able to realize that myself and throw that more in the game in that fourth inning." Eickhoff can incorporate the curveball into his next start next week in Miami. But can the Phillies' offense pick it up on the road? "I've been concerned about the hitting all year," Mackanin said. "It's a constant issue that we have to improve upon. If we improved our hitting, we would have won more games."

Keeping An Open Mind – General manager Matt Klentak said the Phillies have been "very active" with trade discussions over the past few days. That is not surprising, because they have a host of players who could help a contender. The list begins with Jeremy Hellickson, Peter Bourjos and Jeanmar Gomez. Of course, Klentak acknowledged that many of the Phillies' conversations have led nowhere. But while he said Thursday that he would not handicap the chances of a trade before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, it would be very surprising if the Phillies remained status quo. "We're open-minded to ways to improve our club, both for now and into the future," Klentak said. The Phillies have incentives to move Hellickson, Bourjos and Gomez. Hellickson and Bourjos are free agents after the season, and moving them would allow the Phillies to get a longer look at Triple-A Lehigh Valley right-hander Jake Thompson, their No. 2 prospect who is 6-0 with a 0.58 ERA in his last nine starts; outfielder Aaron Altherr, whose rehab assignment ends Wednesday; and possibly Lehigh Valley outfielder Nick Williams, who is the organization's third-ranked prospect. Gomez is having a nice season as a closer, but the Phillies might want to move the former middle reliever while his stock is highest, especially because they have internal options to replace him in Hector Neris and Edubray Ramos. But Klentak insists the Phillies are not pressured to trade anybody, which is true only in the sense they will not give away players just to make room for their prospects. They want something of value in return. "Sometimes when you feel compelled to make a trade, that's when you make a bad trade," Klentak said. "But I will say that it helps when we have players in the Minor Leagues who are putting themselves in position to be able to contribute and potentially back-fill an opening. That gives me more confidence as I enter the trade market. "I can also envision a scenario where a lot of the guys are still here and the prospects are still in Triple-A. We're open to it." Thompson seems to be the closest to a promotion, especially with so many teams interested in Hellickson. Williams and shortstop J.P. Crawford -- the club's top prospect -- seem likely to be September callups. "We will make a spot if we need to," Klentak said. "But right now we haven't felt the need to create a spot. So we just have to see if it naturally evolves that way." Trade talks seem to naturally evolve into something tangible shortly before the Trade Deadline. It always has been that way, and it might be no different this year. So while Klentak sounded like nothing is imminent, it seems something will happen. "There's been quite a lot of action on a number of players," he said. "I take it as a very positive sign that other clubs have interest in a lot of our players. And it's not just the pending free agents. This time of year there are plenty of teams fishing on our younger more controllable players, too -- who I don't have any great desire to trade. But that doesn't stop a lot of the GMs from calling and asking about them. "I think that's a good sign, it kind of confirms what we all see with our eyes, that we've got some pretty darn good young players on this team."

Honoring Howard – Ryan Howard's baseball future beyond this season is unclear. His physical presence in the only city he's called home during his exemplary career is not. The new Phillies Urban Youth Academy was formally unveiled Thursday, and it was announced that the facility will be called the Ryan Howard Training Center. The first baseman won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 2005 and the NL Most Valuable Player Award in '06, when he hit 58 home runs to establish the franchise's single-season record. "It's been our passion to give back to our community, especially when it relates to baseball and education," Howard said, standing next to his wife, Krystle, at the dais. "It's an extreme honor to be part of something we hope will help thousands and thousands of kids." Howard then turned from the audience filled with dignitaries -- including Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney, councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Phillies chairman David Montgomery and Major League Baseball's vice president for youth and facility development Darrell Miller -- to address the RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) travel teams that were standing in the back of the room. "Always believe in your dreams and make them your priority," Howard told them. "This facility is an open door for every baseball player and softball player to follow their dreams. ... Please take advantage, have fun and always believe in yourselves." In addition to the complex in the shadows of the Center City skyline, players have access to the field complex at Franklin Delano Roosevelt Park near Citizens Bank Park that was opened last year. The 7,500-square-foot training center was added to the existing Marian Anderson Recreation Center, and it includes four retractable batting cages, plus space for fitness training, educational and vocational programs. It will be utilized by more than 8,000 boys and girls. The Howards were honored for their contributions through the Ryan Howard Big Piece Foundation. The project was also supported by MLB, the Phillies, Phillies Charities, the Baseball Tomorrow Fund, the City of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Mayor Kenney, who grew up in South Philadelphia, remembered playing baseball in the streets as a kid until the cover came off the ball, taping it up and then playing some more. "This is what our children deserve," Kenney said, indicating the state-of-the-art facility. "Every precious child is put on this earth to meet his potential. And that potential can't be met if they don't have the resources they need." Kenney also pointed out that Howard's contributions toward rehabilitating the baseball fields in the city's Hunting Park neighborhood triggered further improvements, and crime has decreased 89 percent in the area. Several speakers mentioned that the Phillies are known for their community spirit, and Montgomery also reflected the feelings of those who have been involved since the project was first conceived in 2007. "The first word that comes to mind is 'finally,'" Montgomery said, eliciting knowing chuckles from the audience. "This is an exciting day for the Phillies. A long journey has come to a very, very successful conclusion." Miller has been closely involved in the effort since the beginning. "It's an honor to see a dream accomplished," Miller said. Miller followed that with an eloquent riff on how baseball mirrors everyday life, and he concluded with the observation that the most important single word in the English language is "we." "We did it," Miller said. "And we're not done." "I don't think there's been anything like this in my long tenure as a city official," added Philadelphia managing director Michael DiBerardinis. "This is about opportunity to grow and learn in your neighborhood." DiBerardinis cited a survey that found the playing surfaces at FDR Park are the best playing fields in the northeastern United States. After the speeches, Howard was presented a framed bat signed by the senior members of the Phillies' RBI program, and he threw the pitch for the "first hit" in the new batting cages. "I want [the young people] to know I believe in them," Howard said. "Why? Because I was just like them."

Ichiro Inching Closer – Ichiro Suzuki and the Marlins were scheduled to land back in Miami around 3 a.m. ET on Friday, following a 9-3 win over the Phillies. By the time they hit the road again, there are overwhelming odds it will be with more than just a few wins against National League East and Wild Card rivals. Suzuki on Thursday slapped a pair of singles to move him within four hits of becoming the 30th Major Leaguer to reach 3,000. He returns home for 10 games at Marlins Park with 2,996 hits. It would not be surprising if he reached the milestone even before a weekend series with the Mets is over. Miami wrapped up a 5-2 road trip to start the second half on Thursday. "I heard that Donnie [Mattingly, Marlins manager] said I was going play for seven more years," Ichiro said, with a smile, through interpreter Allen Turner. "I should be able to get four more in seven years." It may not even take seven games. All Mattingly has to do is put Ichiro in the lineup. In four of his past five starts, Ichiro has recorded at least two hits, including Thursday and a 3-for-4 game on Sunday against the Cardinals. After an infield single in the third, he nearly added another in the sixth, when second baseman Andres Blanco and first baseman Ryan Howard made a nice play to retire him. It's no secret that the Marlins would like him to reach 3,000 in front of the home crowd -- Mattingly said "probably" with a chuckle, when asked if he'd take him out with a 5-for-5 start to Thursday's game. Mattingly has put Ichiro atop the lineup card only five times in the past 17 games. But he could see that many starts just over this homestand. "It's been fun," Mattingly said. "It'd be a little different if we knew he was going to play every day, because you know it's just a matter of one day or something like that. But in our situation, it might not be that quick, or it could be quick. But it's been fun. He's been a great guy to watch." While it's very likely that No. 3,000 will come in Miami, it remains to be seen with what flair Ichiro will do it. Will he join the last two to reach the milestone, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, by putting the ball over the wall? Or will he do it in a manner more apropos to his career, the same way he got his 2,995th and countless other hits -- by legging out an infield single? Regardless, there is almost certainly history to be made, in addition to a pennant race with games against the Mets and Cardinals, at Marlins Park over the next 10 games.

Today In Phils History – In a 1918 exhibition game to benefit the family of William Weart, a Philadelphia sportswriter and editor who died during the 1917-1919 flu pandemic, the Phillies only recorded 1 hit in a 1-0 loss against the Athletics. George Harper was sent back to the dugout in 1925, and later struck out on 3 pitches, when umpires found nails in his bat. 5 years later, pitcher Phil Collins hit homeruns in consecutive at bats against Pittsburgh. Eddie Sawyer, who was working for a golf ball company at the time, returned for his second tour with the Phillies in 1958 replacing Mayo Smith at manager. In 1964, 1B Danny Carter broke his arm in a collision with Joe Torre. 2 years later, on the same day that the Phillies sold Dallas Green to the Mets, Gaylord Perry fan 15 Phillies to set a new Giants record. 3 years later, Phillies owners Bob and Ruly Carpenter, GM John Quinn, manager Bob Skinner, and players Grant Jackson and Mike Ryan represented the Phillies during President Richard Nixon’s White House reception commemorating the 100th anniversary of baseball. With a single off of the Giants’ Matt Cain, Shane Victorino became the 1st player born in Hawaii to reach the 1,000 career hit milestone. Finally, happy birthday to Sparky Lyle (1944) and Mike Sweeney (1973).

The Phillies are currently 44-53 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. All time, the Phillies are 53-57-1 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.

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