Phillies

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

BOX SCORE

In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.

For Phillies, a reunion with Pat Neshek makes sense

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AP Images

For Phillies, a reunion with Pat Neshek makes sense

ORLANDO — The Phillies' bullpen showed signs of coming together late last season. Over the final 33 games, the team's relievers put together a 2.54 ERA. Only the Cleveland Indians' bullpen had a better ERA (2.41) over that span.

Despite those improvements, general manager Matt Klentak has arrived at these winter meetings intent on strengthening that unit. Sources say the club would like to add one or two veterans to the bullpen and that team officials have discussed a reunion with free agent Pat Neshek. Sources say the Phils have also expressed interest in free-agent lefty Jake McGee.

The Phils would also like to add a starting pitcher. That could come in a trade, possibly involving Cesar Hernandez or Freddy Galvis.

Bringing back Neshek would make a lot of sense. Klentak has an affinity for the right-hander, and why not? In his first two offseasons as Phillies GM, Klentak added a number of veterans designed to serve as stabilizing forces as the team navigated a rebuild. The Phils got little from pitchers Charlie Morton and Clay Buchholz; both suffered season-ending injuries early in their time with the club. The Phils got mixed results (and no high draft pick) from Jeremy Hellickson in a season and a half with the club. Howie Kendrick contributed nicely but was often hurt. Michael Saunders flopped. Peter Bourjos was somewhere in the middle.

Among Klentak's big-league pickups, Neshek has been the one overwhelming success. Klentak acquired the side-arming reliever in a salary dump deal (the Phils added his $6.5 million salary) from Houston in the fall of 2016 and Neshek delivered a stellar season in 2017. He pitched in 43 games (40⅓ innings) for the Phillies and gave up just five runs while walking five and striking out 45. At the trade deadline, the Phils turned Neshek into three prospects by sending him to Colorado, where he was a teammate of McGee's. In Colorado, Neshek continued to shine. He finished the season with a 1.59 ERA in 71 games. Overall, he pitched 62⅓ innings and gave up just 11 earned runs while walking six and striking out 69.

Why wouldn't the Phillies want a guy like that back to help set up for Hector Neris and complement Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan and Edubray Ramos, all relatively young relievers who showed breakthrough signs in 2017?

Given Neshek's success last season — he was the Phillies' lone All-Star — and his track record, he would probably require a two-year contract. But even at 37, Neshek has shown the durability that would make that a sound investment, especially if there was not a no-trade clause. That way, the Phils could deal Neshek for young talent if they were not in the race. And, of course, they could hang on to him if they were in the race.

Matt Klentak has veteran relievers on his wish list and Pat Neshek makes sense.

Again.

5 Phillies-specific matters to watch during Winter Meetings

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USA Today Images

5 Phillies-specific matters to watch during Winter Meetings

ORLANDO, Fla. — Matt Klentak checked off the biggest item on his offseason to-do list when he hired new manager Gabe Kapler in late October. Other than that, it's been a relatively quiet offseason for the Phillies general manager, who is entering his third year on the job.

Things are expected to pick up for Klentak and the Phillies this week as baseball's Winter Meetings get underway at Disney. Heck, things should pick up for the entire industry now that the winter's two marquee talents — Shohei Ohtani and Giancarlo Stanton — have found landing spots. Ohtani, the Japanese phenom, signed with the Angels. Stanton was traded from the Marlins to the Yankees.

As the meetings get going, here are five Phillies-specific matters to keep an eye on:

Middle infield
The Phillies have a young shortstop (J.P. Crawford) and a young second baseman (Scott Kingery) on the way and any clubs looking for a shortstop or a second baseman know the Phillies are willing to deal Freddy Galvis and Cesar Hernandez. In fact, the Phillies have already received offers for both of these players, though none worthy of pulling the trigger on. The Phillies could go into the 2018 season with Galvis and Hernandez on the roster and mix in Crawford at three positions while Kingery percolates in Triple A. But it seems more likely the Phils will move one (maybe both) of their incumbents. Hernandez has three years of contract control so he could have more value than Galvis (he'll be a free agent next winter) on the trade market. The Angels have long liked Hernandez and the Mets are looking for second base help. The Padres are looking for a stopgap shortstop as they wait for prospect Fernando Tatis Jr., but there are free agents out there (Zack Cozart, Alcides Escobar) that would not cost the Padres talent in a deal.

Bullpen
The Phillies' bullpen showed signs of coming together in the second half of last season, but the team would still like to add a veteran who knows his way around the late innings. A Pat Neshek reunion has been discussed internally. A reunion with free agent Juan Nicasio might make sense.

Starting pitching
At the general managers' meetings last month, Klentak acknowledged the need to add a starting pitcher. The Phillies will look to mine the second tier of the free-agent market and will also look to get pitching in a deal for Hernandez or Galvis.

A blockbuster deal
The Phillies' farm system has improved to the point where they have the depth to jump in full-force if the Orioles make Manny Machado available or the Marlins look to trade Christian Yelich. Both players have big fans in the Phillies' front office. The Phils could also bid for a pitcher such as Chris Archer or Gerrit Cole if they become available.

Rule 5 draft
The Phillies have the third pick in Thursday's event and will have room on their roster after outfielder Cameron Perkins and infielder Engelb Vielma clear waivers Monday. The Phillies sneaked outfielder Carlos Tocci through the Rule 5 draft last year. They could lose him this year.

First base coach
The Phillies still have one opening on their coaching staff. Juan Samuel, most recently the Phillies' third base coach, could still end up being retained on the staff and move over to first base. Kapler, in continuing to introduce himself to his new charges, recently met with Phillies players in the Dominican Republic. Front office man Jorge Velandia, a longtime member of the player-development staff, accompanied Kapler on the trip. The Phillies brass likes Velandia's impact in the front office, but he could be an intriguing possibility as the first-base coach. He interviewed for the managerial job before Kapler was hired.

Gabe the Babe
Craig Calcaterra, founder of the HardballTalk blog on NBCSports.com, unveils his annual list of baseball's most handsome managers during the winter meetings. This hilarious feature is hotly anticipated by many in the baseball establishment. Pete Mackanin ranked eighth last year and it was a big topic of conversation in the Phillies' war room. So where will the hunky Kapler land in his first year of eligibility? Keep an eye out for Calcaterra's fifth annual list.