Phillies

On 95-win pace, how much regression should Phillies expect moving forward?

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On 95-win pace, how much regression should Phillies expect moving forward?

Monday night's win was the Phillies' 40th game of the season and at the quarter-pole, they were on a 97-win pace with the sixth-best record in baseball.

Tuesday night's loss made the Phillies 24-17, which is impressive given the lackluster six-week stretches from Bryce Harper and Aaron Nola, the two players many considered their most important entering the season.

Harper is hitting .219/.370/.432 and leads the majors with 56 strikeouts. He is on a track to strike out 50 more times than he ever has. His 20 multi-strikeout games are three more than any player in the majors has.

Early-season struggles are not new to Harper. He entered last year's All-Star break hitting .214. Three of his last four Mays have been among his weaker months. The big difference this season is the strikeout rate. Harper averaged 141 strikeouts per 162 games in his first six seasons. But since the start of 2018, that rate has risen to 182 K's per 162 games. 

Phillies GM Matt Klentak isn't overly concerned, although few GMs would let on if they were.

"I don't love strikeouts offensively but I think strikeouts when they're balanced out with a high walk rate, are OK," Klentak said Tuesday. "You don't want to have your entire lineup doing that, that's where you need to have some balance with guys like Jean Segura and Cesar Hernandez and J.T. Realmuto, our more contact-oriented guys. 

"I also don't think Bryce is going to strike out at this clip all year. He has had stretches before where he's struck out a lot or struggled and he's always come back from that. ... Bryce is OPS'ing .800. He has had years where he's OPS'ed in the .800s. So what he's doing is not so out of whack with what he's done historically. 

"I do think we will see better stretches from him. ... Great players will typically find their groove."

Klentak made sure to point out that Harper is still contributing with walks, which is true. He leads the National League with 33. When he and Rhys Hoskins are slumping, they both provide value by using their disciplined eyes to get on base. In a lineup as deep as the Phillies', getting on base can be enough on some nights. This team is, after all, in the top five in the majors in batting average, OBP, OPS and extra-base hits with men on base. 

"It's hard for players to really get into prolonged slumps when they have the patience that Bryce has," Klentak said. 

Another encouraging factor for the Phillies is that they have not arrived at this 24-16 record with many unsustainably hot starts. Segura is hitting .308/.348/.446 compared to .308/.353/.449 the last three seasons. Andrew McCutchen's numbers are in line with where they were a year ago. Realmuto entered Monday with an almost identical batting average and OBP to last year, just with less power. 

The biggest regression candidates are Zach Eflin (2.47 ERA), Adam Morgan (1.26), Jerad Eickhoff (1.50) and Rhys Hoskins (hitting 30 points higher than the last two seasons). But those are balanced out by the expected positive regression from players like Harper and Nola. (Some of Eickhoff's regression occurred Tuesday night as he allowed two homers and his ERA rose to 2.65.)

"One of the things that we've seen is this team is capable of beating you in a variety of ways," Klentak said. "We haven't had a perfect first 40 games but by and large, it's been pretty good."

Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Maikel Franco has been basically unplayable for six weeks. Since a three-RBI game on May 1, he had gone 18 for 118 entering Monday's game. That's a 40-game stretch in which he hit .153 with a .206 on-base percentage and only two home runs.

He had lost starting reps to Sean Rodriguez. He lost playing time to newcomer Brad Miller. When Roman Quinn started in center, Scott Kingery played third base and Franco sat.

This happened last year as well. Franco lost playing time on separate occasions to J.P. Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Jesmuel Valentin. He reclaimed the job by finishing 2018 strong and getting out to the scalding start in April.

We're seeing the ebbs and flows of Franco play out again. On Monday night, he was a huge difference-maker, hitting the game-winning home run in an eventual 13-7 Phillies victory (see observations). A game-winner in a six-run win might not sound all too important but it was, as it put the Phils ahead 7-6 at the time and was the third time in five innings the Phillies were able to wrestle the lead away from the Mets.

In all, Franco went 3 for 4 with that mammoth blast to the brick wall in center field, two hard-hit singles, two runs scored, an intentional walk and two impressive defensive plays at third base, where he has been more sound than Kingery.

It felt like April again.

"We need this guy," Jean Segura said of Franco. "We are a different type of team when we have him because Maikey can change the dynamic of the game from one swing of the bat. We saw it today. One swing and he gives you the lead, swinging 3-0 there. For me, to have him next to me and to rely on is huge. Our lineup is gonna look better and more powerful when we have him in it."

What led to Franco starting this game?

"I was hoping it would remind him of how good he was just thinking about his at-bats against (Steven) Matz," manager Gabe Kapler said. "You could tell right when he stepped in the batter’s box that there was a determination and a focus that we had not seen in some time."

This particular Phillies lineup, utilized by Kapler for the first time, indeed looked powerful. You take it for what it is — one game, against a left-hander the Phillies have hit in the past, Matz. It was still the kind of night you needed to see from the Phillies, who had scored just 15 runs in their last seven games and looked lifeless offensively for the better part of two weeks.

Kingery led off for the first time and had three hits. He continues to show that he can not only play all over the field but also hit up and down the batting order.

"When he's right, it doesn't matter if he's playing left field or center field or shortstop or third base or second base," Kapler said. "It doesn't matter if he's hitting in the three-hole, the five-hole, seven-hole or one-hole. He's good enough. He's athletic enough. He's mentally tough enough to handle those transitions. What we're seeing right now is it doesn't matter what position he's playing or what lineup spot he hits in, he's just a good baseball player."

Segura, in the two-spot, had four hits for the first time as a Phillie. Segura's batting average had dropped from .325 to .268 in one calendar month but he raised it to .277 with four well-struck balls, including his eighth home run of the season.

The lack of the "good Segura" these last three weeks has loomed as large as the season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen. In conjunction, those two circumstances led to meager performances from the top of the Phillies' order.

"I'm coming back," Segura said with a smile. "It's a long season, still plenty of games left. I know what type of player I am, I know what I can contribute to the team. It's a tough division to play in and to be honest with you guys, being my first time in the East, it takes a tough stretch to step on it and keep going."

One win over the Mets won't cure all the Phillies' ills, nor will it greatly reduce the pressure on Kapler or GM Matt Klentak. If the Phils go cold Tuesday night, the same concerns will again be raised.

But for one night, we saw again what this Phillies lineup can look like when more than one or two guys are seeing the ball well. They had 19 hits in the win, with five players contributing multiple hits and every starting position player reaching base before one out was made in the fourth inning. 

All hail the curveball machine.

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Phillies 13, Mets 7: With another new lineup, Phillies have best offensive game of season

Phillies 13, Mets 7: With another new lineup, Phillies have best offensive game of season

The post-curveball-machine Phillies are 1-0 and hitting .442.

Behind 19 hits, the Phils beat the Mets, 13-7, on Monday night to snap a seven-game losing streak. It came hours after a group of Phillies — J.T. Realmuto, Brad Miller, Sean Rodriguez, Andrew Knapp — was on the field to do some early hitting against breaking balls, both from a live arm and the machine.

There was a whole lot of early scoring in this one, but Maikel Franco's two-run home run to center field off Steven Matz in the bottom of the fifth put the Phillies ahead for good. They erased Mets leads in the first, fourth and fifth innings.

After six innings, 33 of the 69 total batters in the game had reached base. J.D. Hammer's clean top of the seventh was the only 1-2-3 inning for either side all night.

Another new-look lineup for Gabe Kapler, with Scott Kingery in the leadoff spot, looked strong. Up and down the lineup, the Phillies made loud, powerful contact. It wasn't just limited to the top of the order — the Phils' 5-through-8 hitters were 8 for 17 with two walks, a homer, a triple and four RBI. Between the offensive breakout, the power and even the intentional walk to Franco in the eight-hole, it felt like April again.

With the win, the Phillies are 40-38. They avoided falling back to .500 for the first time since they were 0-0. The Mets are 37-42 and have lost nine of 14.

Confidence-builder for Franco

Franco needed a game like this. He reached base in each of his first four plate appearances, crushed a two-run shot off the brick wall past center field, and made multiple sterling defensive plays. On two different occasions, Franco charged a softly hit ball, barehanded it and fired to first base. Both resulted in outs, though one of the plays was overturned. Still, there are few third basemen in the game who make that particular play more effectively and consistently than Franco.

Franco thrives on confidence. He is perhaps more affected by it than any other Phillie. This night should result in more starts for him in the Mets series. It's not as if the Phils are bursting with better options.

Franco's home run came on a 3-0 pitch. According to the Phillies, Franco's five career home runs on 3-0 pitches are the most in Phillies history since that stat began being tracked. Chase Utley had four.

Big production up top

Expect to see this lineup for at least a few more games. Kingery had two hits in the leadoff spot, Jean Segura had his first four-hit game as a Phillie, Bryce Harper had two well-struck doubles and Rhys Hoskins went deep.

Harper's 23 doubles are second-most in the National League behind only Pittsburgh's Josh Bell. Harper also threw out Matz at third base from medium-deep right field in the fourth inning. 

Segura has shown signs lately of snapping out of a slump that saw him go 17 for 97 (.175) in the 25 games leading into Monday. Segura has a modest six-game hitting streak and is 9 for 25 over that span with two homers and two doubles. 

The Phillies need this version of Segura back. The season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen hurt badly by itself but it also coincided with Segura's cold streak and the result was so much less offense out of the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the Phillies' order. 

Eflin rocked

A night to forget for Zach Eflin, who allowed 11 hits, six runs and three homers over five innings. He had trouble putting Mets hitters away and the three home runs came on counts of 0-2, 1-2 and 0-1. 

The Phillies have not gotten a combination of quality pitching and quality hitting on the same night lately. Eflin's ERA rose from 2.83 to 3.26 in his worst start of the season.

Up next

It's a rare four-game series against the Mets in which the Phillies will not face Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard. The ace deGrom went on Sunday, and Syndergaard has a rehab start Tuesday before potentially being activated against the Braves this weekend.

Tuesday night at 7:05 — Jake Arrieta (6-6, 4.12) vs. Walker Lockett (0-1, 23.14)

Wednesday night at 7:05 — Nick Pivetta (4-2, 5.54) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (3-3, 3.75)

Thursday afternoon at 1:05 — Aaron Nola (6-2, 4.55) vs. Zack Wheeler (6-5, 4.69)

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