Phillies

Phillies' bullpen turns in another scoreless effort in win over Nationals

Phillies' bullpen turns in another scoreless effort in win over Nationals

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The Phillies have been a lot more fun to watch in the final weeks of the season and players such as Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Nola are only part of the reason.

In the simplest terms, the Phillies have been more fun to watch recently because they are winning more.

The bullpen is a big reason why the Phillies are winning more. The bullpen logged 4 2/3 scoreless innings in a 7-5 win over the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night (see observations). The Phils lost the opener of the series Monday night then took the next two to win the series. The bullpen picked up four scoreless frames in Tuesday night's win. Nine of the bullpen's 12 outs in that game came via the strikeout.

Over the last 30 games, the Phillies' bullpen has allowed just 30 earned runs in 107 2/3 innings for an ERA of 2.52. That's the fourth-best mark in the majors over that span. Only the Washington, Boston and Cleveland bullpens have performed better over that span — and all three of those teams are headed to the postseason.

The bullpen's success has helped the Phillies post a 35-37 record after the All-Star break. With three games remaining in the season — all against the Mets — the Phils have a chance to finish over .500 in the second half of the season. That would be a significant accomplishment considering the team was 29 games under .500 before the All-Star break.

The list of relievers who have stepped up in the second half includes lefties Adam Morgan and Hoby Milner and right-handers Edubray Ramos, Luis Garcia and closer Hector Neris. Even recent call-up Victor Arano has shined lately. All of these relievers figure strongly in the team's plans for next season.

Neris sputtered in the first half of the season because he couldn't find his splitter. He has it again. It makes his 96-mph fastball better. He struck out two and picked up his 20th straight save since June 28 on Wednesday night.

"Caballo," said Garcia, looking over at Neris after the game.

Indeed. Neris has been a horse.

Garcia has been pretty good, too. Phillies officials used to say Garcia's stuff was just as good as Ken Giles'. Really. It was just that Giles threw more strikes and kept his composure on the mound better. Over the last few months, Garcia has made great strides in both areas. He has given up just 11 earned runs over 47 2/3 innings (2.08 ERA) since June 14.

The last few days have offered a good portrait of Garcia. He failed to protect a one-run lead in the eighth inning in Atlanta on Saturday night. Instead of knocking him out of that role, manager Pete Mackanin stuck with Garcia in the eighth and used him to protect leads in that inning on Tuesday and Wednesday. Garcia responded with two scoreless innings.

"You have to trust guys and you have to keep their confidence level up," Mackanin said. "Louie has pitched so well most of the year that it’s pretty obvious that I have to go to him."

Garcia's performance in Wednesday night's win was impressive because he got the third out in the eighth with the potential tying run on third base and the go-ahead run at first base. Dangerous Ryan Zimmerman was up in that situation. Garcia pumped a 99-mph fastball by him for strike two then came back with a wicked slider off the plate for the strikeout. End of threat.

The emergence of this band of Phillies' relievers has coincided with the departures of veterans Pat Neshek and Joaquin Benoit through trades. Back in 2006, young players such as Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley stepped out of the shadows after veteran Bobby Abreu was traded. This situation is similar.

"We got an opportunity and we have to take advantage of it and make a name for ourselves," Garcia said. "Next year, we want to be in this same place. We want to be like those guys."

Phillies starter Mark Leiter Jr. gave up five runs in 4 1/3 innings but his mates rallied with three two-out runs in the bottom of the fifth to take the lead and the bullpen did the rest.
 
Hoskins kept the fifth inning alive with a two-out walk and Altherr and Herrera knocked in the runs with a two-run triple and RBI double, respectively.

Phillies score 10 runs and win but still leave behind a sour taste

Phillies score 10 runs and win but still leave behind a sour taste

Such an enigmatic group, these Phillies.

How crazy is it that on an afternoon when the Phils scored 10 runs to finish off an unlikely series victory, the leftover taste was a sour one because of the bullpen.

Gabe Kapler tried to show confidence in Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second straight game. It worked Saturday but not Sunday.

After needing eight pitches in a 1-2-3 save Saturday, Neris allowed four runs and two homers in two-thirds of an inning to turn a 10-5 lead into a 10-9 game (see first take)

Kapler was forced to turn to Jake Thompson, who threw one pitch to get the save.

At this point, how can Kapler go back to Neris late in a close game? He attempted to use Neris in low-leverage situations — prior to Saturday, each of his last six outings came in games well in-hand — but it hasn't worked. 

Neris has a 6.00 ERA and has allowed eight home runs in 27 innings. To put that in perspective, Aaron Nola has allowed six home runs in 95⅓ innings. 

Neris' velocity was crisp Sunday, reaching as high as 98 mph. But the location, again, was off. Too many pitches in the middle of the plate.

The Phillies have a 4.56 ERA in the ninth inning. That's fourth-worst in the majors and second-worst in the NL, ahead of only the Marlins. Remove Neris from the equation and the Phils' ninth-inning ERA is 3.52.

The Phillies' bullpen was supposed to be a strength. But Pat Neshek hasn't pitched, Neris has fallen flat, Tommy Hunter is only starting to get into a groove and Luis Garcia is on the DL after several rough outings in a row.

Kapler must be careful of overusing Seranthony Dominguez, who factors into their ninth-inning plans far beyond this year. But aside from Dominguez, the only relievers the Phillies have who've been reliable more often than not are Edubray Ramos and Victor Arano. 

It's a precarious position to be in, yet the Phils are 12-6 in one-run games this season. Only the Mariners, Yankees, Brewers and Braves have a better winning percentage in such games. 

Nick Pivetta is on the hill Monday at home against the Cardinals. The Phillies badly need a long outing from him after their starters accounted for just 57% of the innings in Milwaukee.

It would be the perfect time for Pivetta to get back on track after allowing 13 runs in his last 14 innings and failing to pitch into the sixth four starts in a row.

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Maikel Franco picks up Aaron Nola for unlikely Phillies series win

Maikel Franco picks up Aaron Nola for unlikely Phillies series win

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The Phillies didn't get the kind of start from Aaron Nola they've been accustomed to but were still able to finish off an impressive series win Sunday by beating the Brewers 10-9.

As bad as they looked Friday night, this turned out to be a strong week for the Phils, who have won four of six games and two straight series over the Rockies and Brewers. 

The Phils are 37-32 and have been at least two games over .500 every day since April 13. The Brewers still own the best record in the National League at 42-29.

After this quick trip to Milwaukee, the Phillies are back home Monday through Wednesday against the Cardinals before going to Washington for the weekend. After that, they have an eight-game homestand.

Franco connects

Maikel Franco hasn't played much lately but got the start Sunday with J.P. Crawford playing shortstop in place of Scott Kingery.

In his second at-bat against right-hander Chase Anderson, Franco connected on a hanging, middle-in curveball for a two-run homer to left field.

In the seventh inning, Franco gave the Phillies some insurance with a rare single to right-center in a high-pressure situation. Franco's line drive drove in two more runs as he completed a four-RBI day. 

In nine career games at Miller Park, Franco is 14 for 30 (.467) with four homers and 14 RBI.

He's never going to be a high-OBP guy, but Franco can still pound mistakes here and there. The Phillies think Crawford has more upside offensively and defensively, but right now, Franco is the more effective option between the two because of this ability to occasionally run into a two-run homer.

The league knows what Franco is. He's likely never going to have significant trade value because of his .298 career on-base percentage in just under 1,900 plate appearances. But he does have mid-20s home run power. He has nine this season after hitting 24 last season and 25 the year before.

Neris … not so good

Kapler turned to Hector Neris in the ninth inning for the second day in a row and this time, it didn't work.

Neris gave up four runs with the Phillies up by five and was pulled with two outs for Jake Thompson.

Neris allowed home runs to Jesus Aguilar and Eric Thames, with Thames' three-run shot coming at the literal four-hour mark of the game — 4:00:00.

This game lasted 4 hours and 3 minutes, making it the Phils' longest non-extra-inning game since July 6, 2015 at Dodger Stadium.

The Phillies' ERA in the ninth inning this season is now 4.56 — fourth-worst in the majors and second-worst in the NL ahead of only the Marlins.

Hoskins stays hot

After demolishing a 431-foot home run Saturday, Rhys Hoskins hit another two-run shot to left in his first at-bat on Father's Day.

This one wasn't hit quite as hard but was a majestic, high shot that just kept carrying and carrying.

Hoskins is seeing the ball well. In a later at-bat, he hung with a low-and-away curveball and just missed the barrel, flying out to left field.

Since fracturing his jaw, Hoskins is 11 for 30 (.367) with three doubles, four homers, 11 RBI and four walks in nine games.

Williams' decisive blow

The half-inning after Nola exited his shortest start in over a year, Nick Williams delivered the key blow for the Phillies, a two-run single up the middle with the bases loaded.

Williams has had a productive week, going 6 for 13 with two doubles, a homer, four RBI, two walks and two hit by pitches in his last five games.

Up next

Pitching matchups for the Cardinals series:

Monday: Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.25) vs. Miles Mikolas (7-2, 2.43)

Tuesday: Vince Velasquez (5-7, 4.74) vs. Luke Weaver (3-6, 4.52)

Wednesday: Jake Arrieta (5-5, 3.33) vs. Michael Wacha (8-2, 3.24)

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