Saturday, July 2, 2016

Phillies Stay Hot Against Defending Champs

GAME RECAP: Phillies Edge Royals 4-3

The Royals and Phillies are teams with very different objectives in 2016. The Royals are trying to defend their World Series championship, while the Phillies are trying to rebuild an organization that has fallen on hard times since being a force in the National League from 2007-11. They opened a three-game series Friday night at Citizens Bank Park with the Phillies winning the opener, 4-3. "It's good to bring the sticks to our ballpark," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. Odubel HerreraCody Asche and Maikel Franco provided the offense as Phillies right-hander Jeremy Hellickson allowed one run in six innings. Royals right-hander Ian Kennedy allowed three runs in five innings to take the loss. "We just couldn't get anything going against Hellickson," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We started off the game with two singles, but that fizzled out. He did a good job to keep us off balance with his changeup. That's his pitch. It's a good one." Said Kennedy of his outing: "Early on, it just felt like it was a struggle to get on top of the ball. My hand was under it a little bit. My fastball was good. My breaking ball wasn't as good as it was last start. It was kind of a constant grind. That's what it felt like." The Royals fell seven games behind the AL Central-leading Indians, who have won 14 straight. "Obviously, we're all paying attention, and we all watch baseball," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said of the Indians. "We see what's going on. You know coming into the season it's going to be tough. You don't expect to be leading [by] 10 or 15 games like we were last year. "It's going to be tough. But we just got to worry about what goes on here. If we play our game, then we'll be where we need to be at the end of the year."

  • Herrera looked like an All-Star against the world champions. He went 2-for-3 with a home run, two RBIs, one walk and two runs scored, which included his leadoff homer in the first inning that gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead. Herrera could be the Phillies' only representative at the All-Star Game next week in San Diego. He'll learn if he made the team Tuesday. When asked if he thinks he deserves to make the team, Herrera emphatically responded in English, "For sure." 
  • The Phillies have been scoring runs recently, and Asche and Franco are two reasons why. They have been hitting for the past couple weeks. Hitting third and fourth, respectively, they went a combined 3-for-6 with two RBIs and two walks. "I'm seeing more pitches, and I've tried to be more selective at home plate," Franco said of his recent hot hitting. "That's what's happening right now. If they don't want to pitch to you, just take the walk. Just try to be ready for a mistake."
  • "I think he's getting there. Little by little, he's going to get to where we want him to be." -- Mackanin, on Franco heating up at the plate after struggling through mid-June.
  • "It's been fun to watch. We've beaten some really good pitchers. Hopefully we can keep this up." -- Hellickson, on the Phillies' offensive improvement the past 10 games. They have scored 60 runs.
  • The Phillies snapped a seven-game losing streak at home. It prevented their first losing streak of eight or more games at home since they lost 10 consecutive games at Veterans Stadium from May 16 to June 16, 1972.
  • The Phillies challenged the call that Royals catcher Salvador Perez picked off Asche at first base to end the third inning. The replay officials in New York agreed and overturned it. Asche's hand beat the throw to the bag. He was safe, the inning continued and Franco hit an RBI single to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead.
Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (5-7, 4.45 ERA) tries to reverse a bad run Saturday at 5:50 p.m. ET in the second game of a three-game series against the Royals. Nola had been making a strong case to make the National League All-Star team through early June, but he is 0-3 with a 15.23 ERA in his last four starts.


Herrera Makes His Case – All-Star voting closed Thursday night. The selection show is on Tuesday. In between, on Friday, Odubel Herrera continued to make his case to be the Phillies' representative at the Midsummer Classic in San Diego on July 12. Barely a season-and-a-half removed from not earning a spot on the Rangers' 40-man roster, Herrera led off the Phillies' 4-3 win with his ninth blast of the season, over the left-center-field wall at Citizens Bank Park. Herrera, a native of Venezuela, speaks to the media through a translator. When asked if he thought he was deserving of a trip to San Diego, Herrera responded in English: "For sure," he said, before cracking his signature mile-wide grin. He finished the night 2-for-4 with a walk and flashed every part of his game Friday night. When the Phillies took Herrera in the 2014 Rule 5 Draft, he was a scrawny, free-swinging second baseman. Now, he's a burgeoning All-Star center fielder -- who now wears his socks high. Those bright red socks were a blur in the third, when Herrera swiped second and advanced to third on a rare errant throw from catcher Salvador Perez. That came on the heels of his 43rd walk of the season, a category in which he long ranked among the best in baseball. Herrera still leads the Phillies in bases on balls but has fallen outside the top 10 in the Majors. A half-inning earlier, Herrera, an outfielder for less than two years, ranged back near the track in right-center and made a leaping grab at the wall, robbing Kendrys Morales of extra bases. Always adding a pinch of flare to the game, the 24-year-old let his momentum carry him face-first to the ground, where he lay for a moment with the ball in his glove. His leadoff home run was the first of his career, but it was his ninth long ball of the season. In 537 plate appearances last season, he put only eight balls over the wall. It took him exactly 200 fewer to break that number this season. "This is his second year in the big leagues," manager Pete Mackanin said. "The type of hitter he's going to become is going to include some more power. It's just a matter of time before he settles in. He doesn't try to hit home runs, but if you make a mistake to him, he can do it." Herrera's nine home runs don't lead the Phillies, but they come close. And he leads the team in a handful of other offensive categories: WAR, runs scored, average, on-base percentage, to name a few. Only Maikel Franco and Ryan Howard have more home runs. Although Herrera did not crack the top 15 among National League outfielders in fan voting, he has put up an All-Star first half for a team that would struggle to provide a nominee without him. Closer Jeanmar Gomez, who has 22 saves and a 2.82 ERA, would likely be the second choice. But Herrera is the type of player Major League Baseball wants to feature in its Midsummer Classic. He plays with passion and energy, flipping his bat not only on his nine home runs but nearly every other plate appearance, too. With three multi-hit games in his last five, Herrera is making a late push for the All-Star squad (and has raised his batting average back above .300). But neither Selection Tuesday nor the game itself are on Herrera's mind. "I don't have that in mind," Herrera said of the All-Star Game through a translator. "I would love to be part of the All-Star Game. If that happens, great. But if it doesn't, it's OK."

Surging Duo – Cody Asche and Maikel Franco hit third and fourth Friday night against the Royals at Citizens Bank Park. That look could continue for a third consecutive game Saturday. "As long as Asche is hitting," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said after Friday's 4-3 victory. "He's swinging the bat extremely well -- as good as I've ever seen him swing it. That's why I put him in the three spot. He looks good at the plate." Asche and Franco entered the season on very different missions. Asche knew he needed to play well to remain part of the team's future. Franco wanted to establish himself as not only the team's third baseman of the future, but one of the better third basemen in the National League. The season had not been kind to them early. Asche spent the first two-plus months on the disabled list with a strained right oblique. Franco's batting average hit a season-low on June 23 at .235. But both have been swinging hot bats lately. Asche doubled to score Peter Bourjos in the fifth inning to give the Phillies a 3-1 lead. He went 1-for-3 with one double, one RBI and one walk. He entered the night hitting .354 (17-for-48) with nine doubles, one home run, eight RBIs and a .977 OPS in his previous 14 games. Franco took a 3-2 fastball on the outer half of the plate and smacked it to right field for a two-out single to score Odubel Herrera from third base in the third inning to give the Phillies a 2-1 lead. Franco went 2-for-3 with one RBI and one walk. He entered the night hitting .294 (10-for-34) with three doubles, one triple, two home runs, eight RBIs, seven walks, six strikeouts and a 1.046 OPS in his previous nine games. "I'm more comfortable," Franco said. He points to his eight walks, including two intentional walks, in his last nine games as evidence of that. "I'm seeing more pitches, and I've tried to be more selective at home plate," Franco said. "That's what's happening right now. If they don't want to pitch to you, just take the walk. Just try to be ready for a mistake." The Phillies scored 57 runs on their 5-4 road trip through Minnesota, San Francisco and Arizona. Their 6.33 runs per game average ranked sixth in baseball in that time. It was a windfall for a team that averaged a mere 3.11 runs per game through its first 71 games, putting them on pace to be the lowest scoring team in baseball in a non-strike shortened season since 1972, when the Angels (2.93), Rangers (2.99) and Indians (3.03) fared worse. Asche and Franco are a big reason for the turnaround. "We played really good on the road," Franco said. "Today we won against a tough team, and it allows you to gain more confidence."

Today In Phils History – Wes Covington came to town on this day in 1961. The following season, future Phillies pitching coach Johnny Podres tied a MLB record by striking out 8 consecutive Phillies… the Phillies would lose both games of the double header striking out 19 times in total. When Podres was the pitching coach for the Phillies in 1993, the team concluded the second game of a double header at 4:40am making it the latest ending game in franchise history. 6 years later, Scott Rolen hit 2 homeruns including an inside the park sprint en route to a 14-1 thrashing of the Cubs at the Vet. Finally, happy birthday to 2 modern day Phillies pinch hitters So Taguchi (1969) and Greg Dobbs (1978).

The Phillies are currently 36-45 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. All time, the Phillies are 44-68-1 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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