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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Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

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USA Today Images

Former Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz leaves on the high road

When the news broke that he had been let go as Phillies pitching coach earlier this week, Rick Kranitz's cell phone started dinging.

And dinging.

And dinging.

From all over the country and Latin America, stunned Phillies pitchers sent well wishes.

"I heard from all of them," Kranitz said Friday from his home in Arizona. "It meant a lot. It was nice to know they were thinking of me.

"That's the thing I'm going to miss the most, the relationships I've built with these guys. The players are the ones who do it but I was always happy to be able to guide them through the good times, the tough times, the emotional times. I've been in the game for 40 years and the relationships have always been what means the most to me."

Kranitz, 60, was pushed aside in favor of Chris Young. Kranitz had been with the Phillies for three seasons, first as bullpen coach, then as assistant pitching coach and finally as head pitching coach in 2018. Teams don't typically let coaches go in mid-November, particularly after saying seven weeks earlier that the entire coaching staff would be returning. In this case, Young, 37, had received interest from other clubs and rather than risk losing him the Phillies promoted him from assistant pitching coach to head pitching coach. Kranitz was told that he was free to seek employment with other organizations, though the Phillies will still pay him through 2019.

The whole thing seems cold, but Kranitz is taking the high road. He's a big boy. He's been around — he'd previously been pitching coach in Miami, Baltimore and Milwaukee — and understands the business of baseball and these days the business of baseball is more new school than old school. That doesn't mean it's better. It's just the way it is for now.

"I was surprised and very disappointed when I first got the news," Kranitz said. "I'd built a lot of good relationships with this group. I believe in every one of these guys and I believe the future is bright for the Phillies. I wanted to see it through."

The news that Kranitz had been let go broke on Wednesday. That night, Aaron Nola finished third in the NL Cy Young voting. For three years, Kranitz had been influential in Nola's development.

"I was so proud of that young man," Kranitz said. "He deserves everything he gets. He's a class individual and the Phillies are lucky to have such a special young pitcher — not just a pitcher but a person. I could not have been prouder. I'm thankful to have gotten the chance to watch him, grateful to be able to see special times."

Kranitz began his pro career as a pitcher in the Brewers' system in 1979. He would like to continue to work and surely some team will benefit from his wisdom. But in the meantime, he intends to spend his unexpected free time focusing on the people who have always been there for him, his wife Kelly and their four children.

"We have four grandkids and one on the way in March," Kranitz said. "So I'll be around for the birth and that makes me happy. 

"This game has been great to me. The Phillies were great to me. It didn't end great but my experience with the city and the people in that organization was great. Now it's time to shift my focus to my family and give back to them."

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

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What would spending 'stupid' money look like for Phillies this offseason?

Phillies owner John Middleton recently reiterated what he's been saying for years: The Phillies will spend aggressively this offseason.

This time, he was a bit more colorful about it.

"We're going into this expecting to spend money," Middleton told USA Today at the owners meetings this week. "And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.

"We just prefer not to be completely stupid."

#LetsGetStupid

You know the usual suspects: Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. But the Phillies' needs go beyond offense and there is a top-tier left-hander on the market who could boost this rotation (see story).

Harper turned down a $300 million offer from the Nationals, so it's safe to assume he's expecting a deal closer to the $350-400 million range, one with an annual value in the neighborhood of $40 million.

It's hard to gauge where Machado's price tag will be and whether his October comments affected his market. Will he get slightly less than Harper because of it? Will he get more than Harper because of the position(s) he plays?

Including guaranteed contracts, projected arbitration figures and the raises due to pre-arbitration players, the Phillies' 2019 payroll is in the vicinity of $110 million right now. But that figure is cut in half in 2020 and next-to-nothing in 2021, when the only two guaranteed deals on the Phillies' books belong to Odubel Herrera and Scott Kingery.

Aaron Nola will have to be paid sometime before 2022, and Rhys Hoskins before 2024, but the Phils still have so much wiggle room. 

Team president Andy MacPhail has been sure to remind Middleton and others that there is baseball to be played beyond 2019. But it's not often a free-agent class has headliners like this. 

The Phils could feasibly afford both Harper and Machado, but things would get extremely tricky down the road when Harper, Machado, Nola and Hoskins are combining to make about $120 million per year between the four of them. Those are the kinds of long-term issues this front office has to consider and will consider.

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