Phillies

Aaron Nola sharp, but Phillies whiff yet again with their No. 1 starter on the hill

Aaron Nola sharp, but Phillies whiff yet again with their No. 1 starter on the hill

BOX SCORE 

Aaron Nola delivered seven innings of one-run ball, but the Phillies hitters did not deliver enough offense in a damaging 2-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday night.

The loss dropped the Phillies to 3 ½ games back in the NL wild-card chase with just 15 games to play.

Incredibly, the Phillies are winless in Nola’s last five starts. That can’t happen in a playoff chase.

Nola and Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez hooked up in a tight pitchers’ duel. The teams traded runs in the seventh inning and the Red Sox went ahead against Hector Neris in the ninth. Neris allowed two singles, a one-out walk and a tie-breaking sacrifice fly to Andrew Benintendi.

The Phillies had just five hits in the game and went 0 for 5 with a runner in scoring position. They had a runner on second with no outs in the eighth but the top half of the batting order could not get him home.

Nola’s night

The right-hander rebounded from two straight shaky outings and delivered a gem. He rolled through the first six innings and allowed just three base runners, and none got past second base.

In the seventh, Nola wore down a little. He allowed a walk and a base hit to open the frame before Christian Vazquez smacked a curve ball to the gap to break a scoreless tie.

Nola then walked Jackie Bradley Jr., to load the bases.

With his pitch count rising toward 100, Nola was able to get out of the jam. He got a force at the plate for the second out then struck out the opposing pitcher Rodriguez for the third out.

Red Sox manager Alex Cora let Rodriguez hit with the bases loaded because he was at just 80 pitches and still had gas in the tank. Suffice it to say, Nola was happy with Cora’s decision. The Red Sox had Benintendi, Brock Holt and Mookie Betts on the bench as potential pinch-hit options. Cora put Benintendi to good use in the ninth.

Rodriguez coughs up lead

Rodriguez almost made his skipper look good for sticking with him. After allowing a leadoff single to Bryce Harper to open the bottom of the seventh, the lefty struck out Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery, who together swung at five pitches outside the strike zone. Kingery went down swinging at three changeups out of the zone.

Rodriguez was one strike away from getting out of the inning when he hit Adam Haseley with a pitch to load the bases. That brought up Maikel Franco. He worked a full count then took ball four to force home the tying run.

Rodriguez then exited and lefty Josh Taylor struck out pinch-hitter Phil Gosselin as the score remained tied at 1-1.

Trouble with the change

Rodriguez threw 105 pitches and got 19 swings-and-misses, 16 of them on his changeup. Phillies hitters did a lot of chasing outside of the strike zone and stuck out 12 times in 6 2/3 innings against Rodriguez.

Over the last three seasons, the Red Sox are 13-0 when Rodriguez starts an interleague game.

And another one

Catcher J.T. Realmuto showed off his quick release once again in gunning down his 37th attempted base stealer of the season. That’s the most in the majors. No Phillies catcher has thrown out more in a season since Darren Daulton gunned down 40 in 1993.

Franco starts

Back in early August, Franco was sent to the minors. One of the reasons given for the demotion was his lack of success hitting left-handed pitching. Entering this game, Franco was 4 for 6 with a double and a homer against left-handed pitching since his return from the minors. That earned him the start against Rodriguez.

Up next

The Phillies will send lefty Jason Vargas (6-7, 4.31) to the mound Sunday afternoon. He will face right-hander Rick Porcello (12-12, 5.83).

The Phillies flip-flopped Vargas and Vince Velasquez in the rotation. Velasquez will pitch Tuesday night in Atlanta. Manager Gabe Kapler said he made the move because Atlanta was so familiar with Vargas. Vargas lasted just three innings Tuesday night against Atlanta. The Phillies ended up winning that game, 6-5.

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Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Braves' signing of Will Smith has ripple effect on NL East and free agency

Two weeks into free agency, the Braves have been more active than any team. Their biggest move was Thursday's signing of left-hander Will Smith, the top reliever on the market.

Prior to that, Atlanta brought back three of its own would-be-free-agents in right fielder Nick Markakis, catcher Tyler Flowers and reliever Darren O'Day.

The Smith signing is definitely the highest impact move of the bunch and makes the Braves a lot better. His deal is for a reported $40 million over three years. He is coming off his first All-Star appearance and back-to-back stellar years. He was 6-0 with 34 saves and a 2.76 ERA for the Giants in 2019, he struck out 96 in 65⅓ innings and he held lefties to a .157/.167/.229 batting line. Read that again ... 157/.167/.229!

Bryce Harper will face Smith many times over the next three years. The teams meet 19 times per season and you'd figure Smith will face Harper in a high-leverage situation whenever the game is late and close. Harper is 0 for 8 with five strikeouts lifetime against Smith. Smith will also factor into plenty of matchups with Juan Soto.

The Braves tried various closing formulas in 2018. They went through Arodys Vizcaino, A.J. Minter, Luke Jackson, Shane Greene and Melancon. For most of the season, the ninth-inning was a weakness, yet the Braves still won 97 games. 

Melancon will return in 2020 and could still close, but Smith is another very good option if he falters. It would probably make more sense for the Braves to try to use Melancon as the ninth-inning guy to free up Smith for high-leverage spots against lefties in the eighth or even seventh inning.

Why did Smith sign so quickly? For a couple reasons. First, $40 million over three years is a sweet contract for a reliever. He may not have beaten this deal even by waiting. But his representatives also effectively leveraged Thursday's qualifying offer deadline against teams interested in Smith. There was at least a threat that Smith could accept the Giants' one-year, $17.8 million qualifying offer if a better alternative was not presented by Nov. 14. That created more urgency on the Braves' part.

Removing Smith's name from the free-agent relief market further depletes an already light market. The top two potential free-agent relievers were set to be Smith and Aroldis Chapman, but Smith is a Brave in mid-November and Chapman returned to the Yankees on a new deal.

With Smith off the board, the top free-agent reliever might be longtime lefty starter Drew Pomeranz. In 25 appearances with the Brewers after a midseason trade, Pomeranz had a 2.39 ERA and 0.91 WHIP with 45 strikeouts in 26⅓ innings. He's generated a ton of buzz this winter and should also find a lucrative multi-year contract.

Chris Martin, Sergio Romo, Will Harris, Daniel Hudson and Dellin Betances are the best free-agent bullpen arms left. There are also trade candidates like Ken Giles, Raisel Iglesias and maybe Ian Kennedy if the Royals eat most of his remaining $22.5 million.

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Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

Why J.T. Realmuto’s contract extension with the Phillies might take some time

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona — The Phillies went into this offseason prioritizing a contract extension for All-Star catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Even as the Phils pursue pitching and possibly a third baseman, they are quietly trying to hammer out that extension, according to multiples sources. 

But the extension might not come before the New Year. It might not even come before the opening of spring training.

Don’t panic. Realmuto solidified his status as the top catcher in baseball by winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards in 2019. The Phillies very much want to prevent him from becoming a free agent after next season and Realmuto, for months, has professed his affection for the Phillies and Philadelphia as well as his desire to stick around.

“Everything I’ve experienced in Philadelphia has been awesome so I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the rest of my career there,” he said in July. 

In order to preserve some payroll flexibility for the 2020 season, it is possible that the Phillies could sign Realmuto to a one-year contract this winter — he projects to make about $10.5 million in his final arbitration year — then subsequently finalize a separate multi-year extension that would kick in at the start of the 2021 season. The extension could be finalized and announced later this offseason or even in spring training.

Realmuto, who turns 29 in March, is projected to get an extension of four or five years with an average annual value of $20 million or more. By starting the extension in 2021, the AAV of Realmuto’s deal would not count toward the 2020 payroll and thus affect luxury-tax calculations. For tax purposes, the Phillies currently have about $116 million committed to nine players for 2020. Even with Realmuto’s 2020 salary still to be determined and raises due to a number of other players, the Phils do not appear to be in jeopardy of reaching the $208 million tax threshold in 2020 and have the room to pursue top free agents. But pushing Realmuto’s extension back to 2021 would allow for even more room under the tax threshold and that could come in handy this winter or even at the July trade deadline.

After the 2020 season, the Phils will gain some payroll flexibility as Jake Arrieta’s $25 million AAV and David Robertson’s $11.5 million AAV come off the books just as Realmuto’s extension would kick in.

The Phillies have never exceeded the tax threshold. Teams exceeding it for the first time pay 20 percent on every dollar they go over. Last month, owner John Middleton offered his thoughts about exceeding the tax threshold.

“I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team,” Middleton said. “That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

Other than expressing a desire to extend the relationship, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has steadfastly declined comment on the status of talks with Realmuto on a possible extension. Klentak continued that tack at this week’s GM meetings.

“We love J.T.,” Klentak said. “Every week, it seems like he’s winning a new award. What all of that is doing is confirming what a lot of us have felt for a long time. This guy is the real deal. He can do everything. At some point in this offseason, we will likely talk to him about trying to keep him in the fold beyond his control years and hopefully we’ll line up on something.”

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