Saturday, September 3, 2016

Another Series, Another Loss

GAME RECAP: Braves Bash Phillies 8-4

Freddie Freeman and Matt Kemp came up big Friday night in an 8-4 victory over the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. They went a combined 5-for-8 with five RBIs, which included Kemp's three-run home run in the fifth inning to tie the game and a couple of clutch hits in the ninth against Phillies closer Jeanmar Gomez to give the Braves the lead for good. After Ender Inciarte and Adonis Garcia started the ninth with singles, Freeman doubled to score Inciarte to give the Braves the lead. Kemp followed with a single to score Garcia for an insurance run before Atlanta tacked on two more for good measure. "Those guys, they're hitting, man," Braves manager Brian Snitker said. "They're getting good at-bats, too. Matt, he hit the homer, but that add-on run was just a good piece of hitting. He's just an RBI guy. Some guys have a knack for driving runs in. He and Freddy drive runs in. They love those situations. Ender, big hit leading an inning off. The top of the lineup guys just keep doing it." Gomez has been one of the Phillies' better stories this season, transitioning from middle reliever to closer. But he has an 11.57 ERA (nine earned runs in seven innings) in eight appearances since August 14. "I feel really good," Gomez said. "My velocity is the same and my pitches are moving. I threw a lot of good pitches." "You don't really think you're gonna score four in the ninth off of one of the best closers in the game," Freeman added. "It was nice for us to do that." Joel De La Cruz allowed four runs over five innings for the Braves while Jeremy Hellickson went six innings and also allowed four runs. "The guys give me a four-run lead, that's got to stand," Hellickson said. "For me to make that mistake in that situation definitely overshadows the rest of the game. It doesn't really matter what I did in the other 17 outs. Guys give me a 4-0 lead we have to win that game."

  • Howard and manager Pete Mackanin talked before the game about comments Mackanin made earlier this week about Howard's playing time. Howard said they cleared the air and then continued his strong second half with a 2-for-4 performance. He doubled to score the team's first run in the first inning.
  • A.J. Ellis hit a three-run home run to right field in the second inning to hand the Phillies an early 4-0 lead. It was Ellis' first homer since joining the Phillies last week in a trade with the Dodgers. Ellis, who had two RBIs in his Phillies' debut last weekend against the Mets, has five RBIs in three games. He later doubled in the ninth inning. "It felt good to get us a lead there, some separation," Ellis said. "Felt good about our team there with Helli going. Give the Braves credit. They battled back."
  • "We've got to bunch hits together. When we jump out quick like that and score four runs, it looks like a good sign, but we just didn't add on. We couldn't bunch hits together. The offense is an issue. We've got to improve." -- Phillies manager Pete Mackanin, on the team's offensive struggles.
  • Howard's .957 OPS is the 11th best among National League players since June 22 (minimum 100 plate appearances).
  • The Phillies challenged a play at first base in the seventh inning. They thought David Hernandez might have picked off Inciarte, but replay quickly showed Inciarte beat the throw. The replay official in New York confirmed the call.
  • Franco ventured so far away from the second base bag in the eighth that Galvis motioned at him to get back even as he was taking a 99-mph fastball in the dirt. Braves catcher Tyler Flowers saw the same and fired to second. Franco barely skedaddled back in time. The Braves challenged and the call was upheld.
Phillies right-hander Vince Velasquez (8-6, 4.21 ERA) pitches the second game of a three-game series. The Phillies are monitoring Velasquez's innings, so it is unclear how many more starts he will make in 2016. But he certainly hopes to build upon last weekend's start against the Mets at Citi Field, when he allowed one run in five innings.


Howard Stay Hot – Ryan Howard said everything is cool with Phillies manager Pete Mackanin. "I don't think we were ever not cool," Howard told on Friday at Citizens Bank Park. Howard and Mackanin felt the need to clear the air in a meeting before an 8-4 loss to the Braves. Howard then went 2-for-4 with a double in the first inning that scored the game's first run. A potential issue between Howard and Mackanin first surfaced Wednesday, when Howard expressed his frustrations after Mackanin said he planned to play Howard less in the final month of the season, which is expected to be Howard's last in a Phillies' uniform. The Phillies have a $23 million club option for Howard for 2017, but they are expected to take a $10 million buyout instead. Howard told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I think there comes a time when there needs to be more dialogue and more of an understanding of, 'Why now?' Now, when you've got three weeks left in the season? Why now? I'm going out and hitting and playing better and all of sudden it's another wrinkle." Howard seemed particularly perturbed that Mackanin addressed his playing time with the media before talking to him. Plus, he is hitting .304 (28-for-92) with five doubles, nine home runs, 21 RBIs and a .992 OPS in 32 games since July 3. "I wouldn't say I was frustrated," Howard said on Friday. "I was just speaking my truth." Said Mackanin: "He's going to get more playing time than he thinks. It's a matter of getting [Tommy] Joseph a few more at-bats against right-handers down the stretch." There is a delicate balance to be struck here. On one hand, Howard is not returning in 2017 so the Phillies prefer to play Joseph more because he is expected to be the team's first baseman in 2017. But on the other hand, Howard is the greatest first baseman in franchise history and the only remaining member from the 2008 World Series championship team. It could be bad form to have an iconic player like Howard leave the organization with a bad taste in his mouth. "I don't want him to leave here on a bad note," Mackanin said. "He deserves respect."

Ruf Future – Nobody hit left-handed pitchers better in baseball last season than Nelson Cruz and Darin Ruf. Both posted a 1.107 OPS against lefties. The Phillies often mentioned Ruf's prowess against them, but after he hit just .158 in 31 games this season they optioned him to Triple-A Lehigh Valley, where he remained until the Phillies recalled him Friday. "That was tough," Ruf said before the team's series opener against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. "It kind of opens your mind. I told myself some days, 'Man, I led Major League Baseball in OPS against left-handed pitching last year and I can't find a job.' I'm thinking to myself, 'Why is that?' You just have to remind yourself it's a long process. Hopefully if I take care of business [in Triple-A] I'll be back and maybe in an expanded role beyond that. You've just got to stay positive and take advantage of the at-bats you're getting there." Ruf hit .294 with 18 doubles, two triples, 20 home runs, 65 RBIs and an .885 OPS with the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, so he earned the promotion. But Ruf also could have wondered if he had fallen out of favor with some people in the organization, which is why the offense-starved Phillies never recalled him earlier. Ruf's future with the Phillies should be interesting to watch. He posted a combined .946 OPS against lefties from 2012-15, but became a forgotten man as Tommy Joseph flourished as his replacement at first base. Joseph figures to be the team's first baseman next season. Ruf is out of options. The Phillies could choose to keep him on the 40-man roster, but if they put him on outright waivers and he clears before the Dec. 2 tender date he can elect to become a Minor League free agent. If that happened it would not be surprising to see Ruf move on. But if the Phillies tender him a contract and later decide to put him on outright waivers and he clears, they can keep him in the organization. Of course, he could not be optioned to the Minor Leagues once the season starts. "No idea," Ruf said, asked if he knows where he'll be in six months. "You never know in this game. Find a fit with a good team and hopefully things will work out.” Japan could be an option, but Ruf prefers to play in the big leagues. "I think I can help this team in some sort of role," he said. "It's just if they have a role that they see me succeeding in and helping them in." The Phillies also recalled right-hander Colton Murray and left-hander Patrick Schuster from Triple-A. They also activated infielder Andres Blanco from the disabled list. He had been sidelined with a broken left index finger.

Phillies Stand Up – It's harder for him to watch baseball now. It reminds him of how good he used to be. How fast he used to throw. "Now my fastball is my offspeed pitch," Colby Atkinson said from a suite overlooking Friday's Phillies-Braves game at Citizens Bank Park before cracking a smile. Atkinson, now 17, was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2013. A patient at Nemours Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, Atkinson was one of about a dozen pediatric cancer patients from the Philadelphia area invited to take part in the Phillies' contribution to Major League Baseball's Childhood Cancer Awareness Day. It's part of MLB's partnership with Stand Up To Cancer, for which it has raised nearly $40 million. Atkinson instead now prefers to watch football. He's the only student on the coaching staff at Smyrna (Del.) High School. Baseball, however, is Atkinson's passion. It's what he grew up playing. And it was part of his coping method when he first got his diagnosis and began undergoing treatment. That, and poking fun at his mom. "How he deals with stress is through humor," said Virginia Atkinson, his mother and the donor who provided his bone marrow transplant. "A lot of time at my expense." "I'm a momma's boy," Colby jokes. Part of Atkinson's physical therapy routine was playing catch at the hospital. Exactly one year and one day after receiving his bone marrow transplant, he was back on the diamond, showing off a nasty curveball. On Friday, he stepped foot onto a bigger diamond -- the one at Citizens Bank Park. Atkinson greeted Phillies players and participated in pregame ceremonies to raise awareness of pediatric cancer. Although Atkinson was the recipient of these awareness events, he and his mother have also used baseball as a tool to raise awareness. Only four percent of cancer research funding, Virginia points out, goes to treating childhood cancers. Cancer is the leading cause of death in the United States for children 15 and under. An estimated 250,000 people 20 or under are newly diagnosed each year. So now Smyrna-Clayton Little League sells "Go Gold" shirts. It also hosts a hit-a-thon every June to raise money, and every player, coach and umpire wears a gold ribbon either on their hat or jersey. Gold was displayed prominently at Citizens Bank Park and around the league on Friday. Where breast cancer has pink and prostate cancer has blue, pediatric cancer's color is gold. One fan was doused in metallic gold body paint, holding a sign supporting childhood cancer victims. Dozens of players across the game sported gold wristbands. Every jersey was accented with a gold ribbon. Just like at Smyrna-Clayton games.

Today In Phils History – Grover Cleveland Alexander won both ends of a double header against the Dodgers on this day in 1917 only walking 1 on the day. 3 years later, George Smith loses for the 1st of what would be 14 consecutive losses against the Dodgers tying a MLB record. In 1957, the Phillies beat the Dodgers in what would be the last MLB game to be played in Jersey City, NJ. Steve Carlton threw his 8th shutout of the year in 1972 tying a team record. 5 years later, the Phillies extended their home winning streak to a franchise record of 16 games. In 2002, following a Marlon Anderson strikeout, the Expos turned a triple play against the Phillies for the final such play in Montreal history. Notable debuts on this day include Dick Allen (1963), Grant Jackson (1965), Gavin Floyd (2004), Shane Victorino (2005), and Miguel Gonzalez (2014). Finally, happy 29th birthday to Domonic Brown.

The Phillies are currently 60-74 this season putting them on pace to beat most preseason predictions. All time, the Phillies are 52-64-0 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.

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