Phillies

Scott Kingery punctuates breakout year with Minor League Gold Glove

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Scott Kingery punctuates breakout year with Minor League Gold Glove

A day after being honored at Citizens Bank Park as the Phillies' top minor-league position player of 2017, Scott Kingery on Tuesday won a minor-league Gold Glove award.

Kingery converted 98.9 percent of his defensive chances at second base this season, committing just six errors in 529 opportunities. 

The award punctuates an extremely impressive all-around season from the 23-year-old Kingery, who spent half the season with Double A Reading and the other half with Triple A Lehigh Valley. He hit .304/.359/.530 over 603 plate appearances with 29 doubles, 8 triples, 26 homers, 65 RBIs, 103 runs and 29 steals in 34 attempts.

Kingery isn't far away from the majors, but as you've likely read or heard, the Phillies will gain an extra year of team control if they keep him in the minors until mid-late May in 2018. The Phils went a similar route with Maikel Franco in 2015, keeping him in the minors until May 15.

Of Kingery's 132 starts this season, 112 came at second base. He also started four games at third base and two at shortstop at Triple A as the Phillies sought more positional flexibility.

When Kingery eventually arrives in the majors, it could come at the expense of Franco, who just hasn't hit enough to stave off high-upside players like Kingery and J.P. Crawford. Defensively, Crawford has acquitted himself well so far at third base in the majors.

Avoiding generic coach-speak, Gabe Kapler thrilled to beat Braves

Avoiding generic coach-speak, Gabe Kapler thrilled to beat Braves

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Pregame or postgame, before he's asked any questions, Gabe Kapler talks briefly about what's on his mind heading into or coming out of a contest.

On Wednesday, before any reporter had a chance to ask the generic, "So how big is this one?" question, Kapler offered this:

"This is a big game for us tonight, and I think it's worth noting that we're all thinking about it that way," he said. "There is a heightened sense of excitement, there's a heightened sense of urgency. Tonight's game means a lot to us. I wanted to demonstrate that that's the way we feel about it."

Kudos to Kapler for eschewing conventional coach-speak about each game carrying the same importance. In this case, it was true.

It was true because the Braves have had the Phillies' number all season, winning each of the prior three series. It was true because these teams don't meet again for 102 games, until the final 10 games of the season. The Phillies didn't want to sit around for four months thinking, "What do we have to do to beat these guys?"

On Wednesday, the Phils closed out a series win by beating the Braves at their own game, scoring all four runs with two outs against an Atlanta team that has been by far the best in the majors in that regard (see first take).

Dominance from Jake Arrieta and Seranthony Dominguez also helped the Phils to this 4-0 win, their second shutout in three nights.

"When [GM Matt Klentak] went out to get Jake Arrieta late, the thought process was he's good all-around. We've talked about his leadership characteristics, the way he's guided some of our young starting pitchers," Kapler said. 

"But really the reason Matt went out and got him and why we were so happy to have him tonight is because he can go through a lineup like the Braves' — the best in the National League to date — three times.

"Never once did we feel like he wasn't in complete control of the game. And that's why you go out and get a big-game pitcher like that. Because he can step up in these enormous moments."

The quirks of the Phillies' early-season schedule resulted in Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez each facing the Braves four times in their first 45 games. Arrieta, meanwhile, hadn't faced the Braves until tonight.

During his days with the Cubs, though, Arrieta dominated most of these Atlanta hitters. No Brave entered Wednesday's game with more than two hits off Arrieta.

And it's pretty clear that Arrieta is enjoying the pressure of Citizens Bank Park. After this gem, his ERA is 0.84 and his WHIP is 0.91 at home.

He got some help from a couple friends. Jorge Alfaro nailed another base-stealer, Ender Inciarte again, with a perfect throw to second. If Alfaro hesitates even slightly or doesn't have pinpoint accuracy on that 90 mph throw, Inciarte extends his major-league lead in steals.

Instead, a fast runner was erased in a key situation. Kapler noted that in conversations with other teams, it's becoming clear to him that the league is noticing Alfaro's defense and game planning for it. Wouldn't be surprising to see teams stop running on him for a little while.

Dominguez, once again, was magnificent. It seems clear that the Phillies will save for him whichever situation involves the highest leverage, whether that's the seventh, eighth or ninth. The four consecutive outs he recorded in a row put his season numbers at nine innings, one hit, zero runs, zero walks, nine strikeouts. He's essentially pitched a one-hit shutout, and after Wednesday's game, he admitted that even he is a little surprised at how strong this start has been.

But as they say, it all begins with starting pitching, and starting pitching is what will keep the Phillies competitive moving forward. We're at the point now where we can't just blindly write off the first seven weeks of the season as a fluke. The Phillies have enough talent offensively, in the rotation and bullpen to sustain these winning ways.

After finally conquering the Braves in this series, they'll also have some added swagger.

"I said before today's game that this game was different and I meant it," Kapler said. "It felt like it in the dugout, it felt like it in the ballpark and that was a special performance by Jake."

Phillies take a page out of Braves' book to notch key series win

Phillies take a page out of Braves' book to notch key series win

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The Phillies took a page out of the Braves' book Wednesday night, scoring all of their runs with two outs en route to a much-needed series win.

The Braves have been a remarkably clutch team this season. They lead the majors in batting average, OBP and slugging with runners in scoring position, and they've scored 119 runs with two outs. Entering Wednesday night, that was 17 more than any team in baseball and 47 more than the Phillies.

In the series finale, it was the Phillies' situational hitting that stood out.

The 4-0 win makes the Phillies 28-19 and the Braves 29-19. Yet again, the Phils are a half game out of first place.

The Phils and Braves will not meet again for 102 games. They'll face each other Sept. 20-23 in Atlanta and then in the final series of the season Sept. 28-30.

Arrieta dazzles
Jake Arrieta continues to dominate at Citizens Bank Park. He cruised through his first six innings before running into trouble with two outs in the seventh. With runners on second and third, Gabe Kapler made the call to Seranthony Dominguez after a conversation on the mound and Dominguez made his manager look good with a swinging strikeout of Preston Tucker.

Arrieta pitched 6⅔ scoreless innings to lower his season ERA to 2.45. He's been especially locked in at home with a 0.84 ERA and 0.91 WHIP.

Arrieta struck out seven, his second-highest total as a Phillie. 

His biggest jam occurred in the second inning when the Braves put runners at second and third with nobody out. Just like Vince Velasquez last night, Arrieta worked his way out of that jam unscathed with two groundouts and a strikeout.

Arrieta still has the highest groundball rate in the National League, just south of 57 percent. The league average is 43 percent.

Dominant Dominguez
Dominguez has essentially pitched a one-hit shutout to begin his MLB career.

He retired all four batters he faced Wednesday on a strikeout and three groundouts.

Dominguez's numbers this season: 9 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts.

The Phillies have a good one. And it's great to see that they're utilizing him in whichever situation has the highest leverage, whether it's the seventh, eighth or ninth inning.

The 4-5 combo
Aaron Altherr and Carlos Santana were the offensive heroes in this one. Santana singled twice, including an RBI infield single to plate the Phils' first run. Altherr walked twice, extending the inning for Santana's RBI hit and scoring on Maikel Franco's double an inning later.

Santana has made up for his poor April. Since May 1, he's hit .271 with a .999 OPS, five doubles, a triple, six homers and 19 RBI in 19 games. He's also walked four more times than he's struck out.

Nick Williams also provided a key insurance run with a pinch-hit RBI double in the eighth. Williams is 8 for 18 (.444) as a pinch-hitter this season with two homers, a double and seven RBI.

Alfaro's impactful arm
Jorge Alfaro gunned out yet another runner at second base, making the perfect throw necessary in the seventh inning to nab Ender Inciarte, who leads the majors with 18 steals. 

Alfaro has thrown out nine would-be base-stealers to lead the National League. He's one behind Jonathan Lucroy for the major-league lead.

Alfaro also has the strongest throwing arm of any MLB catcher (90.5 mph) for the second straight season.

Difference-making defense behind the plate.

Kingery's woes continue
Scott Kingery continues to expand the strike zone with swings at breaking balls he has no chance of hitting. In his first at-bat Wednesday, he chased breaking balls low and off the plate on consecutive pitches to basically strike himself out.

Kingery has swung at 39 percent of pitches outside the strike zone in his rookie season, fifth most in the National League.

He's hitting .213 on the season with a .263 OBP, 40 strikeouts and eight walks.

A little help?
Rhys Hoskins, in the midst of a 20-game slump, threw his hands up in the air in a "What do I gotta do?" kind of way after a deep lineout in the fourth inning. Hoskins hit a ball about 320 feet to the corner in right field but Nick Markakis made an impressive running grab.

All in all, it was a decent night at the plate for Hoskins, who went 1 for 3 with a walk and that lineout.

Up next
The Phillies are off Thursday before playing a three-game, interleague series this weekend against the Blue Jays.

They'll see an old friend on Sunday.

Friday — Zach Eflin (1-0, 1.56) vs. Sam Gaviglio (1-0, 0.93)

Saturday  Aaron Nola (6-2, 2.37) vs. Joe Biagini (0-3, 7.71)

Sunday — Nick Pivetta (4-2, 3.23) vs. J.A. Happ (6-3, 3.97)