Phillies

Phillies-Red Sox 5 things: Hey, they hit Chris Sale last season ...

Phillies-Red Sox 5 things: Hey, they hit Chris Sale last season ...

Phillies (21-44) vs. Red Sox (37-28)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After losing a pair of one-run games in extra innings in Boston, the Phillies were out of it from the jump Wednesday night. The Red Sox scored five early runs and never trailed in a 7-3 win.

Now comes the fourth and final meeting of the season with the Red Sox, and it's by far the toughest matchup yet.

1. K's for Sale
Red Sox ace lefty Chris Sale makes his second career start at Citizens Bank Park. This is usually the case for the Phillies, but runs will be tough to come by tonight.

Sale is having a dominant first year in Boston. He's 8-2 with a 2.97 ERA in 13 starts and he's struck out a major-league-leading 126 in 91 innings. 

From April 10 through May 19, Sale struck out 10-plus batters in eight straight starts. He's missed fewer bats lately but still struck out 31 over 25⅓ innings in his last four outings.

Sale is on pace for 314 K's, which would be the most in a season since 2002, when Randy Johnson struck out 334 and Curt Schilling whiffed 316. In fact, since 2002, the only pitcher to reach 300 in a season was Clayton Kershaw (301) in 2015.

Despite the mid-90s velocity, the ridiculous slider, the funky delivery and intimidation factor, Sale is not invincible. He's allowed three runs or more in each of his last four starts and gave up six runs two weeks ago in Chicago.

The Phillies hit him last season on one of his more erratic nights. Sale allowed six runs to the Phils in four innings on seven hits and three hit batsmen. Tommy Joseph went 2 for 2 with a double, a homer and three RBIs.

2. Altherr's sustainability
When Aaron Altherr was en fuego the first two weeks of May, we knew it wouldn't last forever. And he did hit a cold streak during which his swing elongated back to what it was before this season.

But he's settled back in, and even after coming back to Earth, Altherr has been a solid bat for the Phillies. 

He homered for the second straight game Wednesday, giving him 11 home runs and 36 RBIs. He's hitting .286/.360/.550

Asked Wednesday if he thinks Altherr can settle in to be a .290-ish hitter long-term, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said he does because of the adjustments Altherr has shown in 2017. 

If Mackanin is right, Altherr is going to be a very valuable player for years. Any team could use a .290-hitting outfielder with power, speed and above-average defensive instincts. Altherr is playing his way toward an All-Star nod.

3. Not a good matchup for Pivetta
We've seen a mid-90s fastball and a decent slider from Nick Pivetta in his six starts with the Phillies but he has a long, long way to go to earn a permanent rotation spot.

In 29⅓ innings, Pivetta has struck out 27 but walked 16. He's thrown first-pitch strikes to just 47.0 percent of his opponents, well below the MLB average of 60.3 percent. He has the lowest first-pitch strike rate of any NL starting pitcher with at least 20 innings.

The Red Sox are not the team a pitcher struggling with control wants to face. They have power, plate selection and the right type of aggressiveness. Most of these hitters will spit on Pivetta's first pitch if it's a bit off the plate but will be prepared to attack if he tries to just get one over.

The Phillies have yet to receive more than five innings from Pivetta, who has allowed 18 extra-base hits already.

4. Best of Betts
Imagine getting to watch Mookie Betts on a nightly basis. The guy has everything — he hits for average, hits for power, plays maybe the best right field defense in baseball and has game-breaking speed.

The Phillies have gotten an up-close look this week at his myriad of skills. Even though he went 0 for 6 on Tuesday, Betts is 8 for 16 with four doubles and two homers in the three games against the Phillies.

This is the kind of player you build a franchise around. The Phillies don't have anyone like Betts in their system. Granted, few teams do. But there's an enormous difference between the Phillies' young talent and the Red Sox. Guys like Betts and Xander Bogaerts completely transform a team. There's a difference between rebuilding your way to 85 wins and rebuilding your way to a championship. Some luck is involved in landing players like that, but Betts was a fifth-round pick back in 2011. Every team had multiple chances to grab him.

As Phillies fans continue to clamor for their prospects to be called up, it's worth mentioning that Bogaerts debuted at 20 and Betts at 21. 

5. This and that
• Maikel Franco followed his 6-for-9 run at Fenway by going 0 for 4 last night. 

• Cameron Rupp's last 17 games: 6 for 57 (.105) with a .164 on-base percentage. In 61 plate appearances, he has one extra-base hit, four walks and 22 strikeouts. He came up representing the tying run with two outs in the eighth inning last night and struck out. That's the kind of big spot in which the Phillies just haven't been able to produce this season.

• In Joseph, Freddy Galvis, Odubel Herrera, Franco and Rupp, the Phillies have five regulars with on-base percentages between .276 and .316. Meanwhile, the Red Sox have seven starters with OBPs of .345 or higher.

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.