Phillies-Nationals observations: Hiccup in 6th inning leads to loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Hiccup in 6th inning leads to loss


WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals moved closer to clinching the National League East when they rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to beat the Phillies, 4-3, on Thursday night.

Starter Aaron Nola gave up seven hits and three runs (one was unearned) over 5 1/3 innings and did not get a decision.

The Nats (86-54) scored three times in the sixth to take the lead.

The Phillies are 53-87, worst in the majors.

• Washington centerfielder Michael A. Taylor made the play of the game when he leaped at the wall to steal at least extra bases and maybe a homer away from Andres Blanco leading off the seventh. The play came with the Nats up, 4-3.

• Former Phillie Ryan Madson, now 37, pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Washington and struck out two. He came over from Oakland in a deadline deal and has pitched extremely well for the Nats, racking up 12 scoreless innings. He has allowed six hits and a walk while registering 17 strikeouts. He's still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun (see story). The Nats also got closer Sean Doolittle in that trade. He notched his 16th save in as many chances for Washington.

• It's all about the future and with that the Phillies' starting lineup featured four prospects who opened the season at Triple A — Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P Crawford and Jorge Alfaro. Nola was the pitcher and Odubel Herrera the centerfielder. All of these players project to be part of the team's core moving forward. At 25, Herrera is the oldest of the group. 

Two more potential pieces of the future were in the spotlight on Thursday as the team announced the Paul Owens Award winners for 2017. Second baseman Scott Kingery, 23, won the award as top position player in the Phils' minor-league system and right-handed pitcher Tom Eshelman, 23, was the top pitcher (see story). Eshelman, a control artist who came to the Phillies from Houston in the Ken Giles trade, went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts at Double A and Triple A this season. He had a 0.973 WHIP, struck out 102 and walked just 18 in 150 innings. Kingery, a second baseman, hit .304 with 29 doubles, eight triples, 26 homers and a .889 OPS between Double A and Triple A. 

Both players project to get to Philadelphia sometime next season. Don't bank on Kingery arriving on opening day, however. His potential free agency could be delayed until after the 2024 season if he spends about a month in the minors and that makes good baseball sense, especially for a rebuilding team. He'd be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season if he spent a full season in the majors next year. With Kingery coming, the Phillies are expected to listen to offers for Cesar Hernandez this winter.

• Crawford played his third straight game at third base in place of Maikel Franco. Manager Pete Mackanin said Franco would return to the starting lineup Friday night with Crawford moving to either shortstop or second base.

• Crawford flied out four times in four at-bats. He is 1 for 11 in three games. 

• A day after Mackanin said he wanted to see more of Alfaro, the rookie was behind the plate, paired with Nola for the first time. Nola had previously worked with Cameron Rupp 16 times and Andrew Knapp seven times. Pairing him with Alfaro was noteworthy and made sense; Alfaro is out of minor-league options and will be on the roster next season, possibly as the No. 1 catcher, so he needs to get reps with Nola. Alfaro smacked a solo homer, but also was charged with a passed ball. His defense is a work in progress.

• Adam Morgan was charged with one run in the sixth and took the loss. He gave up the go-ahead hit, a two-run single, on an 0-2 pitch to leadoff man Trea Turner. Morgan has pitched brilliantly lately and his fastball is up to 97 mph. He's got stuff now. So why give Turner a pitch over the plate on 0-2? Why not try to get him to chase out of the zone?

• The Phils played some tremendous defense on the left side of the infield in the fifth inning with shortstop Freddy Galvis going deep in the hole to make a play and Crawford making a nice pick to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to get Nola out of trouble.

• The Phillies' first two runs came on homers by Alfaro and Tommy Joseph. Joseph's homer snapped an 0-for-14 skid.

• Some health news on three pitchers: Vince Velasquez had surgery Tuesday to address a circulation problem in his hand. He will be ready for spring training. Jerad Eickhoff, shut down for the season with nerve irritation in his right hand, has checked out fine in visits to two doctors. He will probably do some throwing in Clearwater in October. Zach Eflin, out with a shoulder impingement, is throwing in Clearwater. The Phils have not ruled him out to start another game before the season is over. Meanwhile, outfielder Aaron Altherr passed his base-running test. He could get some at-bats before the series ends. He is recovering from a hamstring strain.

• Herrera has a 20-game hitting streak, longest in the majors this season.

• Jake Thompson (1-1, 4.50) pitches against Washington ace Max Scherzer (13-5, 2.19) on Friday night. It will be a tough assignment for the Phillies. Scherzer is second in the majors in ERA and strikeouts (232). Clayton Kershaw has the best ERA at 1.95 and Chris Sale leads in strikeouts with 270. Scherzer is 8-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 career starts against the Phillies. He has struck out 101 and walked just 16 in 88 1/3 innings.

Trades, a pennant race and maybe a big award await Phillies in 2nd half

Trades, a pennant race and maybe a big award await Phillies in 2nd half

Are you ready for a pennant race, Phillies fans?

Of course, you are.

It has been too long.

The Phillies get back to work Friday night and for the first time since 2011 find themselves in legitimate position to make a run at a postseason berth. They lead the National League East by a half-game over the Atlanta Braves and 5½ over the Washington Nationals.

As the players return to town for a weekend series against the San Diego Padres, let’s look ahead at a few of the important storylines that will unfold as the pennant race begins.

The Manny hangover

Fans are disappointed that the team did not land slugging infielder Manny Machado in a trade. The front office has to be disappointed. But the disappointment cannot seep into the clubhouse. This mostly young Phillies team has displayed resilience and toughness all season and that must continue as the intensity of the games increases.

Machado is still a great long-term fit for this team at shortstop for a while, then over to third base and ultimately at first base as he finishes a long contract. The Phillies had two windows to get him. One has closed. But one remains open as Machado will test the free-agent market in the offseason. The Phils were reluctant to empty their prospect vault for him, but you know they will write a big check this winter.

Machado might end up loving Los Angeles and look to stay there. But, for now, he looks like just a short-term fit with the Dodgers, who lost shortstop Corey Seager to injury and are desperate to win a World Series with a ripe core. Machado is from Miami. He has told friends that he wants to play on the East Coast with a team that has spring training in Florida. He has “a thing” for the Yankees so they will be a team to watch. But the Phillies fill a lot of his criteria, too, and winning the division, or at least making the postseason, will help make Philadelphia attractive to Machado. The money will be huge wherever the guy goes. He wants to win and though he’s focused on winning with the Dodgers, he’s watching what happens the rest of season in other potential destinations.

What's plan B?

In pursuing Machado, the Phillies were trying to upgrade their offense. Yes, the team sees pitches, grinds out at-bats and walks, but the overall offense is below average. The team batting average is just .236 and the slugging percentage .390, both in the bottom third in the majors. The lack of offense hurt the Phils on their recent 11-game road trip. They surely could have finished better than 6-5 if they hadn’t averaged under three runs over the final 10 games and been shut out twice.

Improving the offense is a must. Shortstop might be the spot to do it as the pursuit of Machado confirmed. Minnesota’s Eduardo Escobar has been mentioned as a trade target and that would make sense. Landing a shortstop could improve the bench as Scott Kingery could be used in the super-utility role that was envisioned for him at the start of the season.

Message to Maikel

Maikel Franco sat. He was dropped to eighth in the batting order and that can be humiliating for a player no matter how much importance is placed on the spot in a carefully constructed lineup.

Whether the message was intentional or not, Franco seems to have gotten it. He is in the midst of his most productive stretch of the season, hitting .352 with a 1.106 OPS in 22 games since sitting out on June 22 in favor of utility man Jesmuel Valentin. Now, the possibility exists that Franco has, at least for now, played himself out of trade-bait status. If he continues to produce, he could be better than any of the third basemen on the trade market that are viewed as upgrades.

It’s still difficult to see Franco being part of this front office’s long-term plan, but in the short term he might be the best option.

Other ways to improve

Unable to improve the offense with the addition of Machado, the Phils could look for an overall upgrade by improving their run prevention. Bullpen is clearly an area the team would like to address with the addition of a top arm. The team pursued Zach Britton, the Orioles’ lefty closer, in a Machado package and will stay on him. Brad Hand was on the Phils’ radar before he was dealt to Cleveland. Pittsburgh’s Felipe Vazquez, another lefty, and Mets closer Jeurys Familia could also help shorten games.

Yet another way to help the bullpen would be to acquire Toronto’s J.A. Happ in a trade. That could conceivably turn Vince Velasquez or Nick Pivetta into a power-armed bullpen piece.

The importance of Jake

With an average age of 26 years and 7 months, the Phillies are the youngest team in the majors. They have arrived in a pennant race a year before most expected, but that does not mitigate the need to capitalize on that unexpected position. All of this makes it imperative that Jake Arrieta continue to produce quality starts. He has allowed just four earned runs over 19 innings in his last three starts and the Phils have won all three.

Arrieta is 32. He has pitched in pennant races and won a World Series and a Cy Young Award. Aaron Nola has emerged as the ace of the Phillies’ staff, but Arrieta’s experience and presence will be vital in the second half. Pennant races have a different intensity that much of this team has never felt. Arrieta’s been-there-done-that experience will be valuable. Carlos Santana’s, too.

From the day he arrived, Arrieta has said he wants to lead and is comfortable doing that. Fittingly, he gets the ball Friday night and the game will be a tone-setter.

Awards race

The Phillies will give Nola a few extra days of rest coming out of the All-Star break — he won’t face the Padres this weekend — and that is smart given his importance to the team’s postseason chances. When he was drafted No. 7 overall out of LSU in 2014, Nola was projected to be a quick-riser who could eventually be a quality mid-rotation starter. He has become so much more and has a legitimate chance to become the Phillies’ first Cy Young Award winner since Roy Halladay in 2010. With 2½ months to go, Nola is right there in the conversation with Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, who has won the last two NL Cy Young Awards.

Nola is tied for the NL lead with 12 wins and is second in ERA (2.30), innings (129), quality starts (16) and pitchers WAR (5.9). He has allowed the fewest home runs per nine innings (0.42). He is third in opponent batting average (.199) and WHIP (0.98) and fourth in strikeouts (131).

Seranthony Dominguez, Gabe Kapler’s favorite bullpen kill shot, is on his way to garnering a serious look for NL Rookie of the Year, and Kapler himself is in position to get votes for NL Manager of the Year. The Phils won just 66 games last season. They are on pace for 90 under the first-year manager.

More on the Phillies

The making of 'World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies'

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The making of 'World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies'

On this special edition of At The Yard, Jim Salisbury chats with Sean Kane and Brian Brennan, the makers of "World Champions: The Story of the '08 Phillies." They discuss how the documentary was put together, deciding which parts to keep and take out and their overall memories from that magical season.

1:30 - How did this documentary get started?
4:00 - Difficult decisions made producing the documentary.
7:30 - Favorite interviews conducted.
14:00 - Chase Utley's parade speech.
20:00 - Importance of the 2007 season leading up to 2008.
26:00 - Final out of the World Series.
30:30 - Favorite stories.

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