Phillies

Like a poorly located 0-2 fastball, this 2019 Phillies season is almost outta here

Like a poorly located 0-2 fastball, this 2019 Phillies season is almost outta here

CLEVELAND — This Phillies season did not go from highly promising six months ago to grossly disappointing heading into the final week on one 0-2 pitch.

But 16 of them?

That surely contributed to the disappointment.

The Phils began their final week of the season — and possibly the final week of Gabe Kapler’s managerial term — with what you might call a national embarrassment Sunday night. They made three errors, two of which were extremely costly, en route to a self-destructive 10-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians on national television (see observations).

The defeat left the Phillies' tragic number at 2. Their minuscule postseason hopes could be extinguished before Aaron Nola even gets to the bullpen to warm up for the second game of Tuesday’s doubleheader in Washington. If that happens, the right-hander should pitch four innings, which would get him over 200 for the season, and shut it down until Clearwater.

There are eight games remaining.

“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Kapler said. “Certainly we’re going to have to win every game. We’re going to have to win out. We understand that’s a tall task. We also understand that’s a possibility. There’s not a guy in that room that’s not going to fight to the very end.”

The Phillies have not had a winning season since 2011. They finish with five against a Washington club that is bearing down on an NL wild-card berth and three against a Miami club that has given them fits. The Phils will need to win three of the final eight to have a winning season.

It’s all kind of hard to believe considering the Phils were 11 games above .500 and 3½ games up in the NL East on May 29.

So many things went wrong for this club, from injuries to inconsistency and underperformance both in pitching and offense, and the front office had no cure at the trade deadline. Now, the club is getting ready to go home for an eighth straight October. That’s certainly not what owner John Middleton expected when he celebrated the offseason addition of J.T. Realmuto and doubled down with a $330 million payout to land Bryce Harper.

The Phils faced almost impossible postseason odds even before Sunday night, but that made the loss to the 92-win Indians no less galling.

It was a 1-1 game in the bottom of the fifth inning, but it didn’t stay that way long. Cleveland’s first two batters of the frame reached on errors by shortstop Jean Segura and pitcher Vince Velasquez. Ultimately, Velasquez got in position to get out of the inning unscathed. In fact, he was one strike away from doing that when Oscar Mercado unloaded on an 0-2 fastball and sent it over the left-field wall for a game-changing three-run homer.

The Indians padded the lead with six runs in the seventh, but the fifth inning was the ballgame and the Phils beat themselves.

“In order for us to win big games, we have to take the outs that they give us,” Kapler said. “We didn’t play our best defensive game. I don’t think there’s any way you can spin it other than just not on top of our game defensively.”

Last week in Atlanta, general manager Matt Klentak praised the Phillies’ improved defense. Since then, the team has racked up multiple-error performances in three of five games.

Mercado’s killer home run Sunday night was the 16th allowed by a Phillies pitcher on an 0-2 count this season. If that seems like a lot, it is. No team has allowed more 0-2 homers this season.

Velasquez started Mercado with a curveball for a strike then got another strike on a 96 mph heater. He went back on the gas on the next pitch and Mercado jumped it.

“I was just trying to go with an elevated fastball,” Velasquez said. “I mean, he was late on the [previous] fastball he swung at. I tried to challenge him with another fastball and he got the head out. I didn't get it up in the zone enough.”

Said Kapler: “I think Vinny will say if he went to a breaking ball right there he probably gets a swing and miss. If he elevates that fastball a little more he probably gets a swing and miss. To that point, Vinny was executing his pitches and he missed with that one.”

Phillies pitchers have allowed a club record 244 homers this season. That’s the second most in the NL. The old team record was 221.

These aren’t the kind of records a team wants to be setting. But this hasn’t been the kind of season the Phillies wanted or expected.

On to Washington as the lights grow dim.

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Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

Phillies to sign Matt Szczur, according to sources

The Phillies are about to sign a player with a resume chock-full of impressive — and important — accomplishments.

According to sources, Matt Szczur, the 30-year-old outfielder from South Jersey, has agreed to sign a minor-league contract with the Phils. The deal will include an invite to major-league spring training camp.

Szczur — pronounced SEE-zur — has spent parts of five seasons in the majors with the Chicago Cubs and San Diego Padres. He is a product of Lower Cape May Regional High School and Villanova University. He was a two-sport star at Villanova.

On the football field, Szczur was a dynamic receiver and return specialist for Villanova’s 2009 NCAA FCS national championship team. He racked up 270 all-purpose yards in the title game win over Montana and was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player.

On the baseball field, Szczur was an all-Big East player and a fifth-round draft pick of the Cubs in 2010. He played in 107 games for the Cubs team that won the World Series in 2016.

Szczur’s accomplishments extend beyond the playing field.

Off the field, he did something extraordinary when he took time off from his junior year baseball season at Villanova in 2010 to donate bone marrow that ultimately helped save the life of a young girl from Ukraine who had battled leukemia. Szczur’s life-saving gift started with his involvement in the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation. Talley was Szczur’s football coach at Villanova. Szczur has subsequently started his own charitable enterprise, the Szcz The Day Foundation.

Szczur hit .259 with five homers and 24 RBIs in 185 at-bats for the World Series champion Cubs in 2016. He was traded to San Diego in 2017. He spent parts of that season and the 2018 season in the majors with that club. He signed a minor-league deal with Arizona last season and hit .322 with eight homers, 28 RBIs and a .967 OPS in 44 games at Triple A Reno. His season was shortened by a quad injury.

The Phillies are set at the corner outfield spots with Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper and Adam Haseley is going to get a chance to hold down the center field spot with Roman Quinn in the picture as well. Szczur will give the Phillies some outfield depth and his ability to play center field is a plus. He is an excellent defender at all three outfield positions and could push for a spot on the big club as active rosters will expand from 25 to 26 men in 2020.

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Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

Winter meetings complete, what’s next for Phillies?

SAN DIEGO — A year ago, Phillies officials left the winter meetings with much of their offseason work still in front of them.
 
Manny Machado was still a front-burner free-agent item. Bryce Harper was still in the background and J.T. Realmuto was headed to Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, New York … anywhere but Philadelphia.
 
You know the rest of the story.
 
Spring training had already begun by the time the Phillies settled their offseason last year. A year later, Phillies officials departed the winter meetings on Thursday with their heavy offseason lifting complete.

The Phils signed free-agent pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million contract last week and free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius to a one-year, $14 million deal at the meetings this week. The signings left the Phils about $5 million under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold for the coming season and the club will be mindful of that. It’s likely — though not certain — that any further moves the Phillies make will qualify as tweaks.
 
Here are a few things to keep an eye on over the remainder of the offseason.

The starting rotation

Aaron Nola and Wheeler give the Phillies a “1 and a 1-A,” as manager Joe Girardi said.

Jake Arrieta is healthy and will be ready to go Day 1 of camp and Zach Eflin will hold down a job. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez are slated to battle for the fifth job, though it would not be surprising to see the Phils bring back Drew Smyly on a minor-league deal to join the fight. The Phils were keeping an eye on Rick Porcello to see where his market was headed, but he signed for one year and $10 million with the Mets. Lefty Wade Miley could be someone to keep an eye on, depending where his market goes. The Phils are committed to having top prospect Spencer Howard start the season in Triple A, but he could have a major impact as the season goes on. The Phils will watch Howard’s workload — because of injury, he pitched under 100 innings last year — so adding bargain depth is a must.

The bullpen

At the moment, it looks like a fairly unchanged unit. The Phils are banking on Adam Morgan and Seranthony Dominguez being healthy again and Hector Neris, Jose Alvarez and Ranger Suarez carrying a heavy load again. Pivetta, Velasquez or both could be used in the ‘pen, depending on the depth that is added in the rotation. If the Phils want to push the tax, they could make a play for former Yankee Dellin Betances. Someone from the system like Garrett Cleavinger or Connor Brogdon could surprise in spring training. How about Tommy Hunter? The Phils put a lot of time into his rehab after elbow surgery last year. Could he be a fit on a bargain deal? Ditto for Jared Hughes and Mike Morin.

The bench

Former All-Star and .300 hitter Josh Harrison has been signed on a minor-league deal. He can play anywhere and figures to have a good chance to make the club. Phil Gosselin, another jack of all trades, is coming back on a minor-league deal and the team has shown some interest in free agent Matt Szczur. Brad Miller remains a free agent and a potentially good fit. Jay Bruce will add power off the bench. Andrew Knapp returns as backup catcher but it would not be surprising to see the Phils sign one or two more veteran catchers to push for work and add depth. Remember, Girardi has said he’d like to keep Realmuto to between 120 and 130 games so he is fresh in October. “That’s where the prize is,” Girardi said. Austin Romine would have been a nice fit, but he signed with Detroit. 

Trades

While it appears as if most of the team’s major moves are done, general manager Matt Klentak and his group will continue to stay engaged on the trade front and you never know if one could materialize. Nick Williams could be dealt. Miami has long liked him. Velasquez could be dealt for some salary relief, particularly if the Phils are able to add starting pitching depth. The Phils would surely listen on Jean Segura, but he has three years and $45 million left on his deal so that would not be easy.
 
Could the Phils make a major trade?
 
After seeing the Realmuto deal come together so quickly last February, it can’t be ruled out. Even something crazy is possible. By crazy we mean Kris Bryant. Yes, he’d be a nice fit as the Phils make a quick push at a title before he becomes a free agent. But it’s a real long shot and it would probably cost top prospect Alec Bohm, and it would definitely push the Phillies over the luxury tax threshold, though managing partner John Middleton has said he would go over it for the right championship-caliber opportunity. Maybe that’s Bryant. There will continue to be buzz about him and the Phillies will continue to be connected to him as long as there is.
 
J.A. Happ could be another guy to watch on the trade front. The Phils made him an offer last winter and he signed with the Yankees. The Yanks are now eager to move his $17 million salary and might attach a good prospect to the package to help make the deal. Happ would put the Phillies over the tax, but, given the Phils’ need for more pitching, it might it be worth rolling the dice on the left-hander having a bounce-back year if and only if the Yanks attach a good prospect or two to the deal. 

What about Herrera?

The end of the winter meetings begins to put spring training in focus and the Phillies have a big decision to make before then: Do they bring Odubel Herrera to camp? Do they release him? The Phils would eat most of his salary to trade him, but there has been no interest.
 
We dealt with the Herrera situation more deeply in this story.

Realmuto's extension

Sometime before spring training, the Phils are expected to pursue a contract extension with Realmuto.

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