Phillies

Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Aaron Nola tries to get back on track for good

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Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Aaron Nola tries to get back on track for good

Phillies (53-86) at Nationals (85-54)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

In an attempt to capture their second straight series victory, the Phillies began to rally against the Mets on Wednesday after facing a 6-0 deficit.

The Phils cut that lead in half in the top of the sixth inning, but the game was called in the bottom frame after a 57-minute rain delay. 

After dropping two of three to the Mets, the Phillies will go from facing one of the worst teams in baseball to the class of their division in the Nationals. 

•With seven games remaining between the two clubs, the Nationals hold a 7-5 advantage over the Phils in the season series. The last time the Phillies came out on top of the season series with the Nats was in 2014 when they went 11-8. Since, the Phils have gone 17-33 against Washington.

•Aaron Nola has hit a bit of a rough patch in what has otherwise been a strong season for the right-hander. After a string of 10 consecutive starts where Nola allowed no more than two earned runs, he was tagged for five and seven runs, respectively, in two straight mid-August starts. He appeared to snap out of that funk in his start against the Braves on Aug. 28, when he allowed one run on five hits over seven innings. 

But Nola was roughed up yet again in his last start, allowing six runs on 10 hits in a loss to the Marlins. Nola will look to get back on track for good against a team he had success against earlier this season. In his only start against Washington, back on April 14, he held a daunting Nationals lineup to just one run over five innings.

•That daunting Nationals lineup has been without Bryce Harper, who is hitting to the fine tune of .326/.419/.614 in 2017, since Aug. 12, when the superstar outfielder went down with a knee injury. It's unclear when Harper will return, but a very strong pitching staff and a deep lineup have kept the Nats afloat in Harper's absence. They're 16-9 since and trail the reeling Dodgers (who have lost nine of 10) by seven games for the top spot in the National League.

•Giancarlo Stanton and Paul Goldschmidt have gotten most of the of buzz for NL MVP, but Anthony Rendon deserves to at least be in the conversation. Rendon is hitting .303/.403/.539 with 23 home runs and 91 RBIs on one of the best teams in baseball. Oh yeah, and he's currently leading all of MLB in WAR (6.5), per FanGraphs.

•Three of the top five ERA leaders in all of MLB hail from the Nationals' pitching staff, in Max Scherzer, Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. The Phillies are currently scheduled to face just Scherzer from that uber-talented trio in this four-game series, but the Nationals have yet to announce their starter for Sunday's game.

Tanner Roark will take the mound for the Nats on Thursday. After boasting a 2.83 ERA across 33 starts last season, Roark has struggled in 2017. His ERA has risen to 4.48 and his WHIP is over 1.3. The good news for Roark? He's been better than his season averages across three strarts against the Phillies this season, pitching to a 3.06 ERA and 1.019 WHIP.

•On Wednesday, J.P. Crawford started at third base over Maikel Franco for the second straight game since being called up. Pete Mackanin plans on getting Crawford as much playing time as possible down the final stretch of the season and, while Mackanin said Crawford will get time in the middle infield as well, it will be interesting to see just how many more starts Franco gets in the final 23 games. Franco, who is slashing .223/.278/.387, has been substantially worse than Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis this season. 

•Bryce Harper had the best hair in baseball. Notice that last sentence says had and not has. Harper on Wednesday reveled his new look and it was a far cry from his awesome flow. 

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.