Phillies

With touching sendoff, Phillies send Pete Mackanin out with a day he'll never forget

With touching sendoff, Phillies send Pete Mackanin out with a day he'll never forget

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Lineup card in hand, Pete Mackanin began his final pregame walk to home plate as Phillies manager. A ripple of applause rose in the stands and swelled with every step Mackanin took. By the time he was done handing his lineup card to the umpires, the applause had become a standing ovation and it accompanied Mackanin all the way back to the dugout, where his players, without planning or coaxing, spilled out to salute him on his last day as the team's skipper.
 
"I almost started crying," the 66-year-old baseball lifer said when it was all over Sunday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park. "It was really special. It meant a lot to me. I looked at (bench coach Larry) Bowa and said, 'Is this for me?' He said, 'Yeah, tip your cap.' I didn't know what to do.
 
"My wife and son were in the stands in the second row and I couldn't look at them. I knew my wife would be crying. I didn't want to start crying myself."
 
Three days after being told he would not manage the club in 2018, Mackanin's team blew out the New York Mets, 11-0, in the season finale (see observations). The beginning and end of the game dripped with symbolism, from the touching sendoff of the outgoing manager to the eighth-inning, three-run, inside-the-park home run by Nick Williams, one of the exciting rookies that helped the growing team post a 37-38 record after the All-Star break.
 
"What a way to end that game with an inside-the-park home run," Mackanin said. "A great day for the Phillies, a great day for me. It was really special, probably one of the best days of my career.
 
"I can't remember all the run scoring, but it's been a special day for me. I want to thank the fans for coming out all season."
 
Mackanin took over as Phillies manager when Ryne Sandberg resigned in late June 2015 and recorded a 174-238 record as skipper. The rebuilding team endured a difficult first half this season, going 29-58 before the All-Star break, but played well under Mackanin down the stretch. The Phils went 16-13 in September.
 
For the season, the Phillies were 66-96 and finished third from the bottom in the majors. They will pick third in the draft next year.
 
The strong finish was not enough to save Mackanin's job. General manager Matt Klentak came aboard in October 2015 and inherited Mackanin as skipper. They had a good working relationship, but Klentak said Friday he wanted a new voice and new style to lead the team. Mackanin will stay on as a front-office adviser.
 
"We have a lot of good-looking young talent that we can be proud of and look forward to the future with," he said.
 
Some of that young talent was on display Sunday. Maikel Franco, who has yet to put his talent together in a consistent way, slugged a three-run home run, his 24th of the season and 49th over the last two. Odubel Herrera clubbed his 42nd double. Williams punctuated the day with his inside-the-park homer. Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta survived five walks and a hit batsman to register five scoreless innings and seven strikeouts in earning the win.
 
Williams finished with 12 homers and 55 RBIs in 83 games. Rhys Hoskins sputtered to the finish line. He went just 7 for 52 (.135) with 19 strikeouts and 11 walks over the final two weeks, but, oh, those 18 home runs in his first month in the majors electrified the town and helped the Phillies do a lot of winning over the final weeks of the season.
 
"One thing I'm real happy about is the players never quit," Mackanin said. "They played hard and played with energy. I'm real proud of them for that.
 
"Some of the players who were with us from the beginning of the year showed improvement and with the emergence of a couple of the young guys, it gave us a spurt of energy and a more positive attitude. Looking forward, if you combine those two things then there's a lot of things we can feel good about going into next year."
 
Mackanin said he would keep the lineup card from his last game as Phillies skipper as a memento.
 
And, of course, that pregame salute from the fans and the players will always hold a special place in his heart.
 
"I'll remember it forever," he said.

Phillies’ win over Braves wasn’t just another game to Gabe Kapler

Phillies’ win over Braves wasn’t just another game to Gabe Kapler

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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 three hours before the Phils and Braves played their rubber match. "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, what he said rang true.

It was true because the Braves have had the Phillies' number all season, winning each of the prior three series, and because these teams don't meet again for 102 games — the last week of September. 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 helped the Phils to this 4-0 win, their second shutout in three nights and sixth of the season.

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

"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 this game.

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 of him.

And so far, Arrieta is enjoying the pressure of close games at Citizens Bank Park. After this gem, he's 3-0 with a 0.84 ERA and 0.91 WHIP in five home starts.

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 like the Phillies will save for him whichever situation involves the highest leverage, whether that's the seventh, eighth or ninth. The four consecutive outs Dominguez recorded in a row put his season numbers at 9 innings, 1 hit, 0 runs, 0 walks, 9 strikeouts. He's essentially pitched a one-hit shutout, and after Wednesday's game, he confessed that even he is a little surprised at how eye-popping his first month has been.

But as they say, it all begins with starting pitching, and starting pitching is what will keep the Phillies competitive moving forward. They're 11-5 since May 5, largely because the rotation has a MLB-best 1.59 ERA over those 16 games.

We've reached a point where we can't just blindly write off the first seven weeks of the season as a fluke. This Phillies team has enough talent offensively, in the rotation and bullpen to sustain winning ways.

After finally conquering the Braves in this fourth try, 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 (see story). 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. 

Kingery did strike a ball hard in his final at-bat but was robbed of extra bases by Ronald Acuña Jr.

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)