Phillies

10 big Phillies questions and answers ahead of opening day

10 big Phillies questions and answers ahead of opening day

Opening day is here, as are Jim Salisbury, Corey Seidman and Marshall Harris to answer 10 random but crucial questions about the 2017 Phillies.

Without further ado:

1. Who will be the first top prospect the Phillies call up?

Jim
Roman Quinn. If a starter breaks down in the outfield, he'll come -- and he might never leave. That's how electric he could be.

Corey
Jorge Alfaro. Catchers get banged up, catchers get hurt all the time. Alfaro is on the 40-man roster and the other catchers in the organization who aren't in the majors are not, so he's an easy, logical call-up if Cameron Rupp or Andrew Knapp require a trip to the DL.

Marshall
Jake Thompson. While I'm not wishing it to be a starting pitcher, stints on the 15-day DL happen that alter a team's rotation. Zach Eflin may not be ready by the time someone hits the disabled list.

2. What advice would you give one Phillies player?

Jim
Brock Stassi should reach out to Greg Gross, Del Unser and Lenny Harris and pick their brains about what it takes to be a successful pinch-hitter in NL -- prep, mindset. If he develops that skill to go with a good glove, he could stick around a while.

Corey
Maikel Franco should be in Howie Kendrick's ear, asking questions about his approach as well as those of his former teammates like Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Franco could learn a lot from Kendrick, a guy who's racked up almost 1,500 hits by thinking up the middle.

Marshall
Cesar Hernandez needs to carry the confidence of his spring training into the regular season, specifically the baserunning. He was 6 for 6 in stolen bases during spring training. If he's figured out how to weaponize his speed, look out.

3. Who will be the first Phillie traded?

Jim
Jeremy Hellickson doesn't fit long term into the rebuild and the Phils have starting pitching depth. The Phils need him to pitch well, but will probably still have to eat some of $17 million.

Corey
Michael Saunders. The Phillies have Aaron Altherr with Nick Williams and Roman Quinn not far behind. Saunders has a contract will look quite team-friendly if he hits in the first half the way he did last season. He's due $8 million in 2017 and has a $10.5 million club option for 2018, so a team could get 1 1/2 seasons of him or just a half-season. If he has 16 homers at the All-Star break, someone will come calling.

Marshall
Howie Kendrick is as good a candidate as anyone. The Phillies have other guys fighting for run on the major-league team. Don't be surprised if he's moved to make room for more Aaron Altherr at-bats or a Roman Quinn or Nick Williams promotion.

4. Who will be the next Phillie to sign an extension?

Jim
Does Manny Machado count? If not, I like Eick.

Corey
Agree, Jerad Eickhoff. He's been so solid so far, has shown no signs of wearing down and there's no type of health risk that sticks out. He's built like a 200-inning-per-year pitcher in the John Lackey mold. As long as he keeps it up, he'll be rewarded by the Phillies.

Marshall
Clean sweep. It doesn't have to be Jerad Eickhoff. But let's be real ... it should be Eickhoff. 

5. Will Cesar Hernandez reach 30 steals?

Jim
He will go into the final day of the season with 29 and get caught leaning.

Corey
I'm going under. Vegas set it at 25.5 for Hernandez, and I think he finishes with just about 25. He went 17 for 30 last season, a very rare feat of inefficiency. You figure he'll be better this season as he gets more acclimated to pitchers' times to home plate and their pickoff move, but I don't see a 13-steal uptick.

Marshall
I mean, he better. Hard to envision him having a successful season if he can't swipe 30. 

6. Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact?

Jim
Matt Stairs. Born to be a hitting coach. He will help some guys.

Corey
Howie Kendrick. I get the hesitancy from Phillies fans to believe he'll move the needle at all, but prior to last season, he was a mortal lock for a .290-plus batting average. He doesn't walk a ton, he doesn't hit a ton of extra-base hits, but he's a solid, Martin Prado-like bat.

Marshall
Joaquin Benoit. The Phillies desperately need bullpen stability. He's there as a safety net in case Jeanmar Gomez isn't ready to save 37 games again or picks up where he left off at the end of last season.

7. Who is the prospect you're most eager to follow this season?

Jim
I already have Sixto Sanchez alerts on my phone. The Phils have quantity of prospects in minors. He's the one with real star power.

Corey
Mark Appel just because this is really make-or-break time for the 2013 first overall pick. Last year was basically a lost year for Appel, who made only eight starts before needing elbow surgery. There is no longer prospect luster on Appel. Now he needs to work his way up or work his way out.

Marshall
Roman Quinn. If he can stay healthy, he's the guy I can see gaining the most fans quickly because of the way he plays the game. Yes, "the right way."

8. Who will be the Phillies' leader in saves?

Jim
Jeanmar Gomez will have another good run and lead the team in saves even though Hector Neris will take over the role at some point.

Corey
Hector Neris. I see Gomez keeping the job for about six weeks, then losing it Joaquin Benoit, who the Phillies showcase as a setup man-closer combo ahead of the trade deadline. Benoit pitches well, gets moved, Neris moves into the role and finishes with about 20 saves to lead the team.

Marshall
Last season, I said Jeanmar Gomez and was correct. This year, I will say Hector Neris and probably be wrong. But I'm not afraid to be wrong, clearly.

9. What will the Phillies' average game time be?

Jim
2:55, but I hope I'm heavy.

Corey
3:02. I think the league average is around 2:56.

Marshall
3:10 but I'm praying for Ricky Bo's sake they're all under 2:45.

10. How many wins?

Jim
75-87. They will be better, but runs are still a concern and division is better.

Corey
76-86. They won 71 games last year and should unquestionably be better this season -- better lineup, better bullpen, a lot of prospects on the cusp. But I can't give them a 10-win upgrade to get to .500 because they were a bit lucky last season. The 2016 Phillies were 28-23 in one-run games, one of only two teams in the majors to finish under .500 overall but over .500 in one-run contests. (The D-backs were the other.)

Marshall
79-83. I'm being optimistic the starting pitching keeps them in games and a couple of hitters take huge steps forward.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

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MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).