Tampa Bay Rays

Crank up the tunes, fire up light show, Phillies are hot and having fun

Crank up the tunes, fire up light show, Phillies are hot and having fun

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Aaron Altherr reached into his back pocket for the skinny on how to play Denard Span with a right-handed pitcher on the mound. The card said “R-5” so Altherr moved five steps to his right. A moment later, he made the play of the game in the Phillies’ sixth straight win, a 10-4 victory over the Rays that locked up the team’s second straight three-game sweep Sunday (see first take).

“Everybody notices when it doesn’t work, but it goes both ways,” Altherr said of the defensive alignment strategies that the team is employing under new manager Gabe Kapler. “We pretty much stick to the card we get. The card stayed true to the yardage there that time.”

Altherr’s diving catch on Span’s hard-hit, sinking liner to right ended the sixth inning. It came with runners on second and third and the Phils up by two. Had Altherr not made the catch, the game would have been tied heading into the late innings. Instead, the Phillies exploded for five runs in the eighth, three on Altherr’s three-run homer.

For Altherr, the catch was sweet. So was the home run. He had been just 2 for 34 on the season before it.

“Hopefully that means some good things are coming,” Altherr said.

Plenty of good things have come to this team lately. The Phils have won eight of nine. Sure, they have come against weak teams in the Marlins, Reds and Rays, but you can only beat who the schedule maker sends your way. Tougher tests will come, but at least the Phils have cleaned up where they should. They have outscored teams, 37-18, during their six-game win streak. At 9-5, they are off to their best start since their last playoff season, 2011. The offense has been robust. The starting pitching has mostly been good. The bullpen has been excellent. On Sunday, it picked up five innings and allowed just an unearned run after Ben Lively departed.

Reliever Luis Garcia said he was “lucky” Altherr made the catch on the liner he served up to Span.

“The read, the break, the laying out and the positioning were all spot on,” Kapler said.

It was the second time in three games the Phillies' staff had an outfielder in the right spot to make a catch with the game on the line. Odubel Herrera benefited from positioning in Friday night's win (see story).

The Phils had two big innings. Long before the decisive eighth, they scored four in the third, three coming on rookie Scott Kingery’s double on an 0-2 fastball from lefty Ryan Yarbrough. Half of Kingery’s 14 hits are doubles and he has 12 RBIs, second to Maikel Franco’s 15.

“Sweeps are tough to come by,” Kapler said.

The Phils hadn’t had a three-game sweep against an American League East club since Baltimore in 2003. They celebrated this one. Then again, they celebrate all wins with loud music and a portable light-show machine that they take on the road. Tommy Hunter was the mastermind of the postgame celebration routine and Brother Gabe is all for it.

“These guys know how to keep it light,” Kapler said. “I think there are plenty of guys smiling in our clubhouse right now, in part because they’ve made it an intention to have fun. I think it’s important in baseball because there’s so much stress and so much pressure and so much on the line each night to pick your times to indulge and have a great time and these guys know how to do that.”

Phillies demolish Rays for rare AL East sweep

Phillies demolish Rays for rare AL East sweep

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — First with his glove and then with his bat, Aaron Altherr came up huge in helping the sizzling Phillies stay hot with a 10-4 win over the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday afternoon.

Altherr saved two runs with a diving catch in right field to end the sixth inning. Had he not caught Denard Span's first-pitch scorcher against reliever Luis Garcia, the Rays would have tied the game and who knows what would have happened the rest of the way.

Instead, the Phillies carried a two-run lead into the seventh inning then extended it to seven on the strength of a five-run eighth inning. Altherr highlighted that uprising with a three-run home run.

Altherr had been off to a frigid start — 2 for 34 — before the home run.

Altherr's offense and defense helped the Phillies sweep the Rays. It was the Phils' second straight series sweep and first in a three-game series against an American League East team since they swept Baltimore in June 2003. The Phils took three from Cincinnati last week and head to Atlanta for three Monday.

With six wins in a row, the Phils are now 9-5. That's their best start since 2011, the last year they made the postseason.

The Rays are 3-12.

Ben Lively did not have a good start. He lasted just four innings, gave up seven hits and three runs. He allowed two runs in the first on a solo homer by Span and an RBI triple by Mallex Smith.

The Phillies' offense came alive against Tampa Bay lefty Ryan Yarbrough in the third inning. The Phils scored four runs in the frame, three of which were unearned after an error by shortstop Daniel Robertson. Rookie Scott Kingery had the big hit in the inning, a three-run double with two outs. Kingery hit an 0-2 fastball over the centerfielder's head to clear the bases. Seven of Kingery's 14 hits are doubles and he has 12 RBIs in his first 13 big-league games.

In addition to Kingery and Altherr, the bullpen came up huge for the Phillies. It picked up five innings after Lively left and allowed just an unearned run.

The stickiest spot came in the sixth when the Rays, trailing by two runs, had runners on second and third with two outs and the lefty-hitting Span at the plate. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler called for the right-hander Garcia, but he did not exactly fool Span. The Rays' leadoff man smoked a first-pitch liner to right. Altherr was well positioned. He took a few steps forward and made a diving catch, saving two runs.

• The Phils move on to Atlanta for three games beginning Monday night. Pitching matchups:

Monday night — RHP Aaron Nola (1-0, 1.96) vs. RHP Julio Teheran (0-1, 7.07)

Tuesday night — RHP Nick Pivetta (1-0, 2.70) vs. RHP Mike Foltynewicz (1-1, 2.93)

Wednesday night — RHP Vince Velasquez (1-1, 3.52) vs. RHP Brandon McCarthy (2-0, 3.31)

Phillies smell the coffee, win fifth straight in blowout fashion

Phillies smell the coffee, win fifth straight in blowout fashion

BOX SCORE

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are no victory cigars in Gabe Kapler’s office. No, Brother Gabe had a coffee-scented candle burning on his desk after his Phillies pummeled the Tampa Bays Rays for their fifth win in a row and seventh in the last eight games Saturday night at Tropicana Field.

While the candle was pleasing to the manager’s olfactory sensations, it wasn’t nearly as satisfying as what his eyes saw over the previous three hours, especially in the second inning when the Phillies jumped Tampa Bay ace Chris Archer for six runs en route to a 9-4 win (see first take).

“It's difficult to square a guy like Archer up consistently any time, let alone have it all come in one big inning,” Kapler said. “Up and down the lineup, we had contributions and a lot of loud contact. Our guys did a good job getting hits with two strikes. Guys did a good job of putting the barrel on the ball and we were able to have a big inning.”

Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta approved of the big inning. It helped him cruise to his first win with his new club.

“Being able to put up a six-spot on a guy like Archer who has tremendous stuff in his home ballpark,” Arrieta said. “The potential of this offense is what we’re showing right now.

“Now we’ve got a chance for another sweep. Back-to-back sweeps and seven of eight, five in a row — we’re feeling pretty good, as we should, and this is the type of environment that we want to have consistently in this clubhouse. We’re having a blast.”

Arrieta went 6 2/3 innings in his second start with the Phils. He didn’t have blow-away stuff — he got a swing and miss on just four of 88 pitches — but was economical with his pitches and had good sink. He got 14 outs on ground balls.

“My put-away stuff needs to get a little more refined,” Arrieta admitted. “That will come.”

The Phillies are 8-5. Their starting pitchers have recorded a stingy 2.69 ERA over the last 10 games. Eight of those games have been against Miami, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay, three of the worst teams in the majors. Those teams entered Saturday with a combined eight wins and ranked in the bottom six in the majors in OPS.

Are the Phillies’ starters this good or are they feasting on poor lineups?

“I think it has much more to do with our pitchers executing their pitches,” Kapler said. “Our guys have the kind of stuff that will match up well against anybody in baseball. So I would lean toward our guys just have natural stuff and ability and the ability to execute.”

Rookies J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery both had a big night. Kingery had a pair of RBI doubles and Crawford stroked an RBI double and a booming solo homer to right. Both of Crawford’s hits came on two-strike sliders against Archer, whose ERA after four starts is 7.84. There's nothing sweet smelling about that.