Gabe Kapler

Phillies learning how to win and Andrew Knapp has interesting reason why

Phillies learning how to win and Andrew Knapp has interesting reason why

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The Phillies have the look of a team learning how to win.

The rotation is thriving, the bullpen is getting better each game despite missing its two highest-priced arms, and the offense is alternating between putting up crooked numbers and doing just enough.

Friday's 2-1 win over the Pirates involved all three of those early-season themes: strong starting pitching, a bullpen that did its job, and timely hitting (see first take)

The Phillies are now 5-1 in one-run games, the best mark in the National League and second best in all of baseball, behind only the can't-lose Red Sox.

"I think it is an indication that a young team is coming together, that a young team believes in themselves when the game's on the line," manager Gabe Kapler said of the one-run wins.

"We've talked a lot in the clubhouse and in the dugout about how important it is for good teams to win one-run games. A couple things we talk about: one-run games and having big innings. We've done both of those things this season."

They sure have. On top of leading the NL in one-run wins, the Phillies also have 10 different innings this season with at least four runs. Entering Friday night, the entire rest of the National League had 56, which averages out to four per team.

Success or failure in one-run games is volatile and unpredictable. Teams that thrive one season sputter the next and vice versa.

But catcher Andrew Knapp had an interesting take on the early success in one-run games. The way he sees it, these habits were developed by this Phillies' core in the minor leagues. Remember, Double A Reading dominated when this core was there, and then Triple A Lehigh Valley did the same once the wave of promotions began.

"This group has won a lot of those games, even in the minor leagues. Playing together, we know how to win in a tough spot and stay in a game late," Knapp said. "For us, this is kind of something we've always done, but now we're doing it at the big-league level."

Two other fun Phillies stats to come out of Friday night:

• They've opened the season 7-1 at home for the first time since 1981.

• They've allowed one or no runs seven times now in just 19 games. Last season, it took exactly 80 games for them do it seven times.

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

Jake Arrieta looks like a $75 million man in domination of Pirates

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Jorge Alfaro looked and sounded like a kid who had just visited an amusement park for the first time. Wide eyes. Big smile. Let’s-do-it-again amazement in his voice.

“That was fun,” he said. “Just put a finger down and he hit the glove.”

Alfaro, the Phillies’ 24-year-old rookie catcher, was on the receiving end of a vintage Jake Arrieta performance Thursday night. In his third start with the Phillies, Arrieta, the 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner, dominated the Pittsburgh Pirates, the NL’s highest-scoring team coming in, with seven innings of one-hit, 10-strikeout ball to lead the Phillies to a 7-0 win at wintery Citizens Bank Park (see first take).

Arrieta’s fastball had sink, tail, run, whatever you want to call that Greg Madduxian downward, left-to-right darting action that makes it so tough to hit when it moves like that. He got 11 swing and misses on the pitch, 14 in all. In his previous outing Saturday at Tampa Bay, he struck out just one in 6 2/3 innings and got only four swing and misses.

Arrieta’s improvement might be as simple as this: He signed with the Phillies (for three years and $75 million) just five weeks ago. Though he’s made three starts with the Phillies, he’s really just finishing his spring training.

“I’m caught up now,” he said. “Other than being able to locate the changeup a little better, this was about as good as I’ve been.

“I knew I was going to be pretty crisp today in the bullpen when I had my sinker, glove side, going early. My timing was pretty much right where it needs to be. When I’m on time, when I get my foot down and I’m able to drive the ball downhill to my glove side, I know it’s going to be a pretty good day. Three starts in, to be able to do that as well as I did tonight is a good sign.”

Manager Gabe Kapler loved Arrieta’s sinker.

“It was moving all over the place,” he said. “Very impressive outing for him and a big emotional lift for our team.”

Arrieta came out in attack mode, striking out the first two batters of the game on fastballs that registered 94 and 93 mph, respectively. He kept on attacking after the Phils lit up Jameson Taillon for five runs in the second inning. Rhys Hoskins homered and Cesar Hernandez cleared the bases with a three-run single. Trailing runner J.P. Crawford got a great jump from first on a 3-2 pitch and followed third base coach Dusty Wathan’s wave home.

Kapler said it took “big stones,” on Wathan’s part to send Crawford and that the dugout was “fired up” after Hernandez cleared the bases.

With the way Arrieta was dealing, it was game over after that.

“Any time I get a multiple-run lead, I’m going to be aggressive,” he said.

The Phillies are 11-7 thanks largely to their starting pitchers. They’ve recorded a 2.40 ERA in their last nine starts. At home, the Phils are 6-1 and have outscored opposing clubs by 35 runs. There are nine more games to play on this homestand. It's off to a good start.

Gabe Kapler gives butt-kicking Carlos Santana a night off

Gabe Kapler gives butt-kicking Carlos Santana a night off

ATLANTA — Despite hitting just .136 over the first 16 games, Carlos Santana “has actually been kicking ass,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler says.

Nonetheless, Santana was not in the starting lineup for the first time this season when the Phils closed out a three-game series with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday night.

“Carlos is getting a blow just like anybody else,” Kapler said. “It’s a long season, long stretch of games.”

Kapler’s observation about Santana’s kicking backside is rooted in the exit velocity and launch angles that Santana’s batted balls have produced.

Santana ranks in the top 25 percent in the majors with an average exit velocity of 90.7 mph. Based on hit probability of his batted-ball metrics, Santana has an expected batting average of .274. The .138 gap between that and his actual batting average is the largest in baseball. 

“Unluckiest start in baseball,” Kapler said of Santana, who signed a three-year, $60 million contract with the Phillies in the offseason. “He’s squaring the baseball up. He’s still walking. He’s still having great at-bats. From our perspective, Carlos is having a great start to the season. It’s just the way that baseball is set up that it doesn't appear that way.”

Hitting the ball hard is little solace for a hitter when he looks up on the scoreboard and sees .136 next to his name.

“It’s really frustrating,” Kapler said. “As hitters, all we ever do is look up and see our stats on the scoreboard and they’re just so not indicative of our true talent, so not indicative of who we are as baseball players. As a player myself, I hated it because I could feel that I was having great at-bats and seeing the ball great and getting nothing to show for it. Inevitably, it starts to wear on your confidence even though it’s not even real. I imagine for ‘Los it's frustrating. For all of us watching, it’s frustrating, as well, because we think he’s been kicking ass and having a really strong start to the season.”

With Santana getting a rest, Rhys Hoskins started at first base and Scott Kingery in left field.