Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1

Instant Replay: Phillies 5, Cardinals 1


Aaron Nola had everything working Thursday in his most impressive start of the season,  allowing just one run on four hits over 7⅓ innings with a season-high eight strikeouts.

Nola had remarkable, Greg Maddux-like movement and command of his two-seam fastball, especially with two strikes. He fooled the Cardinals all afternoon by starting it outside to hitters from both sides of the plate and having it run back over the outside corner for called third strikes. Of his season-high eight strikeouts, five were looking.

He also had his good, tight curveball working. When Nola pitches like this, he looks like a legitimate No. 2 starter or perhaps even more.

Leaning on Nola, the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1, to avoid a sweep. It was still a series loss, though, their 17th in 24 series this season.

The Phils are 23-48; the Cards are 33-38.

Starting pitching report
Nola consistently worked ahead and stayed ahead of Cardinals hitters, throwing 20 of 27 first-pitch strikes.

Nola improved to 4-5 on the season with a 4.32 ERA. It's been an up-and-down season for him but this was the kind of start that can really get a starting pitcher into a groove.

His most impressive sequences came against Cardinals leadoff hitter Matt Carpenter, who may be the most selective hitter in the majors after Joey Votto. In Carpenter's second at-bat, Nola froze him with a two-seam fastball that darted back over the plate at the last second. The next time up, Nola struck out Carpenter swinging on one of his best, sharpest curveballs of the day.

Nola was on his way to potentially the first complete game of his career before running into some trouble in the eighth inning. He allowed a leadoff homer to second baseman Paul DeJong and walked Carpenter with one out before being lifted for Pat Neshek.

Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez had just an OK afternoon by his standards. He allowed three runs (two earned) over six innings with four strikeouts. Both earned runs came on solo home runs. Martinez was also a victim of poor infield defense in the fifth inning when the Phils scored an unearned run.

Martinez is 6-6 with a 2.87 ERA. He entered Thursday with the fifth-highest strikeout rate among NL starting pitchers.

Bullpen report
Neshek has been money in the bank all season, even if there are frustrating restrictions with his usage. He entered for Nola in the eighth inning and needed just five pitches to induce an inning-ending double play from Tommy Pham. 

In 31 appearances, Neshek has a 0.63 ERA. He's one of only two pitchers in baseball this season to allow two runs or fewer in 20-plus innings. Neshek has allowed two in 28⅔ innings. Dominant Yankees setup man Dellin Betances has allowed two in 22⅔.

Luis Garcia got the final three outs in a non-save situation, but he was set to enter even before the Phillies tacked on their final two runs in the eighth.

Garcia on June 7 in Atlanta allowed five runs in two-thirds of an inning in a 14-1 Phillies loss. Aside from that game, he has a 1.65 ERA in 24 appearances. He might be the Phils' closer for a little while with Hector Neris scuffling.

At the plate
Freddy Galvis (7) and Tommy Joseph (11) each hit solo home runs. 

Galvis' homer was his 21st of the last calendar year. The only National League shortstop with more over that span is MVP candidate Corey Seager (23).

Joseph added a two-run single for insurance with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the eighth. It was the kind of hit he needed — entering that at-bat, Joseph was hitting .204 in 122 chances this season with men on base.

In the field
Cardinals second baseman DeJong had a rough fourth inning. He dropped a throw from Martinez which could have started a double play but instead placed runners on first and second with no outs.

Three batters later, DeJong couldn't handle a flip from shortstop Aledmys Diaz which would have resulted in an inning-ending forceout. Instead, everyone was safe, and the dropped ball allowed a heads-up Andres Blanco to score all the way from second. The error on the play was charged to Diaz.

On the bases
Odubel Herrera committed a baserunning gaffe for the second straight game. He was picked off of third base with one out in the fourth inning, erasing an RBI opportunity for Daniel Nava.

This just 17 hours after Herrera ran through Juan Samuel's stop sign and was thrown out at the plate by about 30 feet in the ninth inning of a tie game.

Up next
The Phillies head out West for four games in Arizona followed by two in Seattle.

They will face left-handers Patrick Corbin and Robbie Ray, and then right-handers Zack Greinke and Taijuan Walker. 

The Phillies haven't yet named a starter for Friday's game.

Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

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Recent Manny Machado-centric moves made by Yankees and White Sox are meaningless

Baseball, basketball, football, no matter the sport, rarely does a star free agent’s decision come down to anything other than money and winning. 

Manny Machado is making visits this week. He was in Chicago with the White Sox on Monday and will also visit Yankee Stadium before coming to Philly for a visit Thursday. 

And while Machado makes the rounds, speculation is rampant that his other suitors are making moves to entice him. 

First, there was the White Sox trading for first baseman Yonder Alonso, whose sister is Machado's wife and who lives in the same complex as him in Florida.

Then, there was the Yankees’ adding outfielder and future Hall of Famer Carlos Beltran to their front office. Beltran shares an agent with Machado. 

Let’s be real. Neither development matters. Machado is not going to turn down extra money or extra years under contract because the White Sox now employ his brother-in-law, or because Beltran is now consulting with the Yankees. 

This is Machado’s chance at a historic, life-changing payday. The money, realism of contending and position he’ll play are what matter most. 

If Machado picks the Yankees, it will be because that’s where he’s always wanted to play. If he picks the White Sox, it will be because he’s a crazy person.

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Michael Brantley's contract makes Andrew McCutchen's look like an overpay, but here's why it made sense for Phillies

Michael Brantley's contract makes Andrew McCutchen's look like an overpay, but here's why it made sense for Phillies

Michael Brantley was still on the board last week when the Phillies agreed to a deal with Andrew McCutchen at the winter meetings.

The Phils had interest in Brantley as well, but they valued McCutchen's durability over Brantley's solid left-handed bat.

The Phillies, as you know, signed McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million contract.

Brantley, on Monday, agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with the Astros.

The first reaction was some surprise that McCutchen's deal not only beat the overall value of Brantley's but that McCutchen also got slightly more per year. These are similar players. McCutchen is seven months older, and Brantley is coming off the better season.

Seeing the deal Brantley received, some will say the Phillies overpaid McCutchen. They may have, but in this case, it's acceptable for a couple of reasons:

1. McCutchen unquestionably improves the Phillies

2. It's a three-year deal that won't prevent the Phils from making any future moves

Don't lose sight of that second point. The Phillies have a ton of money and did not weigh themselves down with this move. They also wouldn't really have weighed themselves down by beating the Nationals' six-year offer for Patrick Corbin, but there is a substantial difference between giving a 29-year-old pitcher with past injuries $150 million and giving a 32-year-old outfielder with no injury history half the years and one-third the price.

Back to McCutchen vs. Brantley.

McCutchen has a few distinct advantages over Brantley. The most obvious one is durability. McCutchen has missed a total of 65 games in the last nine seasons. Brantley has missed 242 the last three years alone.

The defensive metrics peg McCutchen and Brantley as equals when playing the corner outfield. Eye-test, I'm still giving McCutchen the advantage because of his instincts, ability to glide to the ball and his versatility. You must also factor in that the last two places McCutchen played the corner outfield most — AT&T Park and PNC Park — are among the most spacious and challenging outfields in baseball.

Brantley is a solid outfielder, too, but you can't put him in center field in a pinch at this point like you can with McCutchen. Brantley hasn't played center since 2015. 

Brantley gets the slight baserunning advantage, and he's obviously the better bet to hit .290 or .300. Yet the last two years, despite the fact that Brantley has out-hit McCutchen .305 to .267, McCutchen has the higher OBP — .366 to Brantley's .362.

Brantley strikes out less. McCutchen has more power. Brantley's left-handed bat may have balanced the Phils' lineup better. But McCutchen hits righties better than Brantley hits lefties.

Add up all these tiny advantages for McCutchen and you get a player the Phillies just felt more comfortable with. Then comes the "adult in the room" aspect of what McCutchen will bring the Phillies. He gives them an experienced voice in the clubhouse and another source of leadership they badly needed. It had gotten to the point the last year and a half where every game, good or bad, Rhys Hoskins was basically left to speak on behalf of his teammates. He won't have to do it alone in 2019.

If the Phillies were in the position of a mid-market team like the Rockies, Pirates, Reds or Royals, giving McCutchen $50 million over three years would have been a bad move because it swallows up so many of your resources. But on this team, in this city, with this future payroll and in an offseason when the Phillies are clearly shifting to win-now mode, paying a slightly higher price to get the guy they wanted made sense.

Boiled down to its simplest form, that $16.7 million per year the next three years won't stop the Phillies from improving elsewhere.

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