Phillies

1st-place Phillies about to match last season's win total — with 7 weeks to play

1st-place Phillies about to match last season's win total — with 7 weeks to play

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SAN DIEGO — There are still 46 games to play in this Phillies season and seven weeks of pennant-race baseball to navigate, but on the night this team beat the San Diego Padres, 5-1, to move a game up on the Atlanta Braves for first-place in the National League East (see first take), it’s worth providing this little progress report:

The Phillies’ record is 65-51.

They are one win away from matching their victory total for all of last season.

“It’s pretty awesome,” said Aaron Nola, who lived through a last-place finish and a 66-96 record last season.

“I mean, winning's a lot more fun. It's a lot more addicting. Chemistry is better. I think overall we're a lot better team than we were last year. We knew it coming into spring training. We knew it going into the season that we were going to be a better team.

“We're playing as a team. We're playing as a whole. Guys are coming through in the clutch throughout the whole team. It's not just one guy or two guys. It's everybody, one through nine.”

Nola has been a huge contributor all season and he was again with six shutout innings Saturday night.

He is 13-3 in 24 starts and has a 2.28 ERA, sixth-best in the majors. He has allowed just five earned runs over 33 innings in his last five starts away from Citizens Bank Park.

“He’s really good,” said shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, who joined the Phillies in a trade-deadline deal two weeks ago. “He is one of the guys you didn’t want to face when I was with the Mets.”

Nola survived some early command issues. He stranded six base runners in the first three innings before hitting a stride. He was backed by plenty of offense. The Phillies had been shut out in their previous two games and carried a 19-inning scoring drought into the contest. But things turned early as the club rallied for two first-inning runs against San Diego rookie Walker Lockett.

“It's always good when we score early,” Nola said. “We've been in kind of a rut a little bit. But we know what we have. It's just a matter of time that the offense turns around. It did tonight. They have confidence in themselves, and they know we're going to put up runs.”

Cesar Hernandez led off the game with a walk and scored on a triple by Nick Williams. Two batters later, Cabrera stroked an RBI double and the Phils were on their way.

Maikel Franco (No. 19) homered in the fourth and Hernandez (No. 10) clubbed one in the fifth to highlight a two-run inning. Rhys Hoskins singled and scored the second run in that inning. The hit snapped an 0-for-22 skid for Hoskins.

The four extra-base hits in the first five innings were as many as the Phils had in the first four games of the trip. They scored just seven runs in the first four games.

“We got some big hits,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Cesar's homer was huge. Mikey Franco's homer was enormous as well.

“Anytime you're able to jump on the opposition early with a guy like Aaron Nola on the mound, it gives you a lot of confidence. Our guys showed that in the dugout. I actually thought the energy in the dugout preceded the outcome. I thought that was kind of cool. Our guys were especially energetic going into today's game.”

The bullpen picked up three innings of one-run ball after Nola departed. Victor Arano continued his excellent work by cleaning up a potential mess in the seventh and Tommy Hunter and Seranthony Dominguez closed it out.

Dominguez’ fastball was consistently 97 mph and it touched 98.

The Phillies are 2-3 with one game remaining on the road trip. They will, at some point, blow past last season’s win total. They will look to equal it Sunday behind Jake Arrieta on their way, they hope, to bigger and better things.

“I think it's an indication and evidence that our players have developed,” Kapler said of the potential to equal last year’s win total with seven weeks to go in the season. “That's probably the most notable thing.

“It was a good team in spring training; we felt confident in that. But we also knew in order for us to have a really good year, we would have to have our players take some steps forward. I think we've seen that with a number of our guys. Nick Williams jumps out to me as a guy who has taken real steps forward from where he was at the beginning of the season. Our starting pitching has taken real steps forward. And maybe the bullpen has been even better than we thought it was going to be. Even more dependable than we thought it was going to be.”

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With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

ATLANTA — A one-sentence summary of the Phillies' series finale Sunday against the Braves? Sean Rodriguez was by far their best pitcher.

The Phillies were blown out, 15-1, in a game when they used an opener for the second time this season (see observations). Gabe Kapler told Vince Velasquez late Saturday night that he would get the "start," and the plan was to ride Velasquez for 50 to 60 pitches before turning to lefty Cole Irvin.

Velasquez, Irvin, Jerad Eickhoff, none of them came close to getting the job done. All three allowed consistently hard, loud contact. The Braves had nine extra-base hits and three more deep fly balls crushed to the warning track.

"We knew we were gonna bring Cole, we knew we had length out of Jerad and thought we could get 50 to 60 pitches out of Vince," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We did all those things, we just didn't do it effectively."

It was ugly from start to finish, and it again highlighted the Phillies' need to go get a starting pitcher right now. Not on July 10, not on July 20, not on July 31 but now. You can't force another team to trade with you, but let's forget for a minute about the top end of the market, the tier of Matt Boyd, Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke. The Phillies just need another reliable arm that can give them six innings, get through a lineup three times. Maybe that arm comes from the minor-league system.

While it's true that most teams have a shaky fifth starter, most teams also have a few trustworthy arms ahead of them in the rotation. The Phillies do not right now. Aaron Nola has a 4.89 ERA. Jake Arrieta has a 4.31 ERA. Nick Pivetta is trending in the right direction, and Zach Eflin has been very good for much of the season, but this quartet has not collectively performed like a playoff rotation.

One thing looks abundantly clear, though: The Phillies cannot continue with the opener experiment with this personnel. Velasquez doesn't have the command, Irvin and Eickhoff don't have the stuff to keep the Phillies in the game against a lineup as potent as the Braves'.

What happens Friday when this rotation spot comes up again?

"We have a lot of work to do, a lot of discussions to have," Kapler said. "No question about it, we have to be better and we'll discuss it more on the flight to Washington, D.C., and get our ducks in a row.

"We haven't pitched our best recently. I think that we have a better level of play in us in totality and I have trust in our starting pitchers — Nick, Jake, Nola, obviously Eflin has been outstanding. We have a group of guys who have a track record of success and Nick has been sensational since he's back from the minor leagues. There's some confidence there."

The Phils clearly don't have a ton of confidence in Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff as starting pitchers or else one of them would have the No. 5 starter's job. Actions always speak louder than words.

Irvin's ERA is 6.84, Eickhoff has allowed 18 home runs in his last 28 innings, and Velasquez hasn't been able to take his team deep into games.

Who is next? Ranger Suarez? Enyel De Los Santos? Ramon Rosso? Adonis Medina? The decision won't be made for several days.

"I think we'll rebound from this with ease," Velasquez said. "I think it's just one of those games where these guys are hot and we've got to tip our caps off to them and keep moving forward. 

"They had a solid month, and we're right on their tails. I don't think it's one of those things where we should necessarily give up as a pitching staff or as an offensive team."

The Braves have been the hottest team in the NL, winning 24 of their last 34 games. And Velasquez does have a point — as well as Atlanta has played of late, as many injuries as the Phillies have, the deficit is only 2½ games. They can make that up in a series. 

But to do so, they need the starting staff to carry them for a bit. It hasn't been able to the way it was the first half of 2018. With so many key relievers injured, with Andrew McCutchen out for the season and Jay Bruce and J.T. Realmuto banged up, that is the unit that must step up. 

Can they do it? Can they keep the Phillies in the game against Patrick Corbin Monday, Max Scherzer Wednesday and Stephen Strasburg Thursday? If not, the gap between the Phillies and the Braves will only grow wider.

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Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

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ATLANTA — The Phillies' need for another starting pitcher has not been more glaring than it was Sunday afternoon in a totally embarrassing 15-1 loss to the Braves.

With no fifth starter currently on the Phillies' roster, Gabe Kapler went with Vince Velasquez as an opener in Sunday's series finale and it did not work.

Velasquez hit Ronald Acuña Jr. on an 0-2 pitch to begin the game, before Dansby Swanson singled and Freddie Freeman hit a two-run double. In all, Velasquez allowed four runs in 2⅓ innings before giving way to Cole Irvin.

Irvin didn't fare any better, giving up a long two-run homer to the second batter he faced, Josh Donaldson, then giving up loud contact the next few frames. Irvin gave up six runs in 3⅔ innings as the Braves built an eight-run lead that only grew and grew.

Jerad Eickhoff, formerly the No. 5 starter, entered next and allowed two more home runs. Eickhoff has been taken deep an astonishing 18 times in his last 28 innings.

The Phillies didn't hit, didn't play good defense and definitely didn't pitch well.

They need to quickly figure out the back of this rotation. Granted, the next time the fifth spot in the rotation comes up is against the lowly Marlins Friday at Citizens Bank Park, but the league just isn't being fooled by Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff.

Other options would be Enyel De Los Santos, Ranger Suarez or a pitching prospect like Adonis Medina, who is on the 40-man roster and is on a nice little roll at Double A Reading, going 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his last five starts.

The Phillies are 39-32 and 2½ games behind the Braves in the NL East. The Braves are 24-10 in their last 34 games, six games better than the Phillies over that span.

The Phils have lost 10 of their last 16.

Down two starters

The Phillies were without starting catcher J.T. Realmuto and leftfielder Jay Bruce in this one. Realmuto exited Saturday's game after taking a foul ball to the groin and Bruce left with hamstring tightness. Both are day to day and will avoid the injured list. 

It's possible one or both are back in the lineup Monday, though it could be Tuesday.

This is what a deep lineup looks like

Back when the Phillies had Andrew McCutchen and there was still hope/optimism about Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, they had what looked like one of baseball's deepest lineups. That is no longer the case. On Sunday, the Phils' 5-through-8 hitters were Cesar Hernandez, Nick Williams, Franco and Andrew Knapp. Not going to scare anyone.

The Braves just have a much better lineup. In order:

1) Acuña Jr. is a beast. 

2) Swanson has an OPS over .800.

3) Freeman is one of the two best hitters in the National League. 

4) Donaldson is a former MVP and a dangerous right-handed bat that is starting to get hot. 

5) Nick Markakis is a clutch left-handed hitter who rarely strikes out. 

6) Austin Riley will be in the Rookie of the Year conversation and might win it.

7) Ozzie Albies has blazing speed and at .281, has a higher batting average than every Phillies starter except Scott Kingery.

It helps that the Braves have had eight fewer injuries than the Phillies, none to their current starting lineup. But the gap in offenses right now is impossible to overlook.

Up next

The Phillies are in D.C. to play four games against the Nationals, who are 9-5 in June. The Phils will face all three of the Nationals' top starting pitching trio.

All four games are at 7:05 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Monday: Jake Arrieta (6-5, 4.31) vs. LHP Patrick Corbin (5-5, 4.11)

Tuesday: Zach Eflin (6-6, 2.81) vs. Erick Fedde (1-1, 3.68)

Wednesday: Nick Pivetta (4-1, 5.00) vs. Max Scherzer (5-5, 2.81)

Thursday: Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.89) vs. Stephen Strasburg (7-4, 3.75)

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