After Ken Giles talks trash, Astros fall again to Rangers

After Ken Giles talks trash, Astros fall again to Rangers

As Ken Giles learned on Tuesday, if you're going to talk trash, you have to be able to back it up. 

After allowing the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to heated-rival Texas on Monday, the former Phillies closer had some intersting comments.

"We have more talent than this team does, I believe," Giles said. "We shouldn't be losing these kind of ball games and stuff like that, so we're gonna go out there tomorrow and just put them to the ground."

Well, it didn't work out too well for Giles. The Rangers topped the underwhelming Astros again on Tuesday, 4-3. Giles did not pitch in the game. 

The Rangers had Giles' comments posted on the locker room bulletin board before Tuesday's game and Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus suggested Giles should "shut up and play." 

The Astros and Rangers are quickly developing a heated rivalry — one that Texas has dominated, winning eight straight vs. the Astros and 12 straight at home. 

Giles is off to a slow start in 2016, posting a 5.76 ERA, giving up 16 runs and nine walks in 25 innings pitched. 

For pitching staff's sake, Phillies must improve MLB's worst defense

For pitching staff's sake, Phillies must improve MLB's worst defense

ATLANTA — Over the last couple of seasons, there have been frequent cries to move Vince Velasquez to the bullpen. Velasquez’s big fastball and difficulty navigating the middle innings have fueled these cries.

But the Phillies are committed to developing a starting pitcher.

And manager Gabe Kapler thinks the best is yet to come from the 26-year-old right-hander, who is 8-11 with a 4.63 ERA in 29 starts this season.

Kapler uses the Fielding Independent Pitching metric (FIP) to support his opinion. FIP measures everything a pitcher can control — in simple terms, it eliminates defense. Among big-league starters with more than 140 innings pitched this season, Velasquez ranks 23rd with a FIP of 3.65. Nick Pivetta is a few notches down at 3.72. Jacob deGrom leads the majors at 2.02 and Aaron Nola is sixth at 2.77.

“FIP is more predictive of what will happen next year than ERA is and that’s why we look at FIP more than ERA,” Kapler said. “ERA tells the story of what happened including defense. FIP tells us what might happen going forward.”

Kapler pointed out that Velasquez’s FIP is in the neighborhood of Charlie Morton (3.65), Kyle Freeland (3.77), Zack Greinke (3.79) and David Price (3.90).

“Most of the people in that range are really good at their jobs,” Kapler said. “This is something that I have to explain to Vince — you’re OK. If a team doesn’t value a guy with a low FIP and a high ERA, they’re not paying attention. Those guys get snatched up and asked for in trades. They’re in high demand because the expectation is that with an improved defense and a little bit of luck, you get a much better pitcher and maybe a superstar pitcher.”

By mentioning FIP, Kapler shined light on one of the Phillies’ biggest flaws: Defense. According to FanGraphs, the Phillies rank last in the majors in defensive runs saved (DRS) at minus-127. By comparison, the Braves, the team the Phillies are looking up at in the NL East standings, rank third best in the majors at plus-60 DRS.

“I acknowledge our defense has not been great,” Kapler said.

“If we caught the ball as a team better this year, if we made plays better as a team, that includes everything you can think of defensively, I think our pitchers would stand out even more than they have.”

Desperate to try to stay in the NL East race, the Phillies have recently prioritized offense over defense. The idea backfired on Thursday night as two instances of substandard infield play resulted in two runs behind Velasquez in the first inning. But Kapler took a similar tack Friday night. Looking for offense, he used Rhys Hoskins in left field, Carlos Santana at third base and Justin Bour at first base.

Next year, defense must be re-prioritized. It must get better. It will help the pitching staff.

“There are a number of things that we will dive into, that we will improve, that we will focus on to help our collection of defenders to be the best version of themselves,” Kapler said. “Quickness, agility, mobility, athleticism. If we get to two more ground balls, if we have two more throws that are this much better ... this is very much a game of inches. We have plenty of guys who have an opportunity to improve.”

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An indefensible decision by Gabe Kapler in Phillies' biggest game in years

An indefensible decision by Gabe Kapler in Phillies' biggest game in years

There have been plenty of head-scratching moves made this season by Gabe Kapler, but most of the time, even if the decision was uncommon, the logic was easy to see. 

Kapler’s decision Thursday night — in a must-win game — to use Luis Garcia in the eighth inning with the Phils trailing the Braves by a run? Indefensible. 

In that situation, a one-run deficit has to be treated like a tie. With how shaky Atlanta’s bullpen has been lately, a one-run deficit is far from insurmountable. It’s the kind of scenario that calls for a team’s best or hottest reliever. Worry about the ninth or 10th innings if/when they arrive. 

But instead of using Seranthony Dominguez or a locked-in Hector Neris, Kapler used Garcia, who allowed three runs in his previous outing and had allowed 11 runs in his last 10 2/3 innings. 

Garcia allowed four runs in the eighth and the Phils lost handily. 

After the game, Kapler explained that the Phillies liked how Garcia profiled against the bottom of the Braves’ order, righties they believed Garcia could handle. 

But it wasn’t exactly the bottom of the order. It was the Braves’ 5-6-7 due up. And, quite frankly, it hasn’t mattered this season whether a Phillies pitcher is facing the top or bottom of Atlanta’s order. Kurt Suzuki has killed the Phillies. Ryan Flaherty has killed the Phillies. Johan Camargo has hit them. Dansby Swanson has hit them. There has been no pocket of the lineup the Phillies have handled. 

Edubray Ramos, Victor Arano and Tommy Hunter had already been used. Pat Neshek was unavailable after pitching the previous two nights. But still, Garcia is clearly behind Dominguez and Neris in terms of recent performance. Neris has a 2.57 ERA with more than two strikeouts per inning in 16 appearances since returning from the minors. Even if you burn one in the eighth, you still have the other. 

This decision from Kapler was equivalent to a manager saving his ace in Game 6 of a playoff series so he can pitch Game 7. Well, you have to get to Game 7 first. That’s the priority. Especially when said manager is treating every game like Game 7 of a playoff series, removing starting pitchers in the third or fourth inning and optimizing platoon matchups all night. 

Kapler managed Thursday night with his back against the wall … until the bottom of the eighth. 

The Phillies’ playoff hopes are on life support. Two more losses in this series and the division goes to the Braves. 

If and when that happens, we’ll remember two instances — opening day and Thursday night — in which Kapler’s team lost an important game with one of its lesser relievers on the mound. 

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