'Action steps have to come' for Phillies after Brewers show what a top-tier offense looks like

'Action steps have to come' for Phillies after Brewers show what a top-tier offense looks like

There's no doubt that this week's series against the Brewers was a measuring stick for the Phillies and they came up short. After winning the opener, they were outscored 22-6 by a top-tier Milwaukee team that has one of the best lineups in baseball.

Phillies pitching struggled nearly every time through the Brewers' order Tuesday through Thursday. Christian Yelich hurt them. Ryan Braun killed them. Yasmani Grandal came up with runners in scoring position all week and made the Phils pay with a pair of three-run homers. Mike Moustakas had productive ABs. On Thursday, even Brewers pitcher Zach Davies got into the act with a double and an RBI bunt single.

The Phillies start another series with the Brewers a week from Friday. In between are three home games against the Rockies and four with the Cubs at Wrigley Field. This is a grueling stretch, the Phillies' toughest of the season.

And adjustments need to be made for them to maintain their lead on the rest of the NL East.

"Action steps have to come following a series like this," manager Gabe Kapler said, choosing not to expand until he had a longer look back at these four games. "You can't just sit on your hands and hope it's going to get better for the next series.

"We have to play very good baseball to beat teams like Milwaukee, Colorado and Chicago. We don't have the margin for error, most teams don't, when you play the best teams in the league."

This series highlighted a few things. It showed how much work the Phillies have to do to be a consistent, upper-echelon team. It showed how much better Yelich is than every hitter in the NL, including Bryce Harper. It showed that the Phillies, right now, just don't have enough players clicking at the plate.

"When we were really clicking or clicking better, as an offense, you'd get production from each part of the lineup — top, middle and end," Kapler said. "Right now, we're not getting that."

Kapler switched things up atop his order for the first time all season on Thursday, batting Harper second and Jean Segura third. It did work early. Segura homered in his first at-bat and drove in a run with a groundout in his second AB. Harper and Andrew McCutchen each reached base and scored a run in their second at-bats. 

The benefit of that 1-2-3 is that McCutchen and Harper each reach base at an extremely high clip and Segura is money with runners in scoring position with his ability to hit a ball wherever it's pitched and use the whole field.

The hindrance of that 1-2-3 is that, when J.T. Realmuto starts, it gives the Phillies three right-handed hitters in a row batting 3-4-5. That would make things a bit easier for opposing managers late in games.

The Phillies couldn't muster nearly enough offense against a Brewers team that scored at least one run in seven of nine innings Thursday (see observations). Get past Yelich and you have to deal with Braun. Get past Braun and the powerful lefty Moustakas and switch-hitting Grandal are waiting.

Zach Eflin fared better against the Brew Crew than Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Arrieta, but not by much. Eflin allowed four runs in five innings, walking two, hitting a batter and striking out seven. He kept the Phillies in the game and the score close but the bullpen did not.

Eflin said the pitches that hurt him most were those intended to leak back over the outside or inside corner but instead caught too much plate. He has earned the benefit of the doubt by excelling in six of his nine starts and bouncing back in a strong way after his only clunker April 13 in Miami.

Now, the Phillies move on to the Rockies, who are well-rested after off-days Monday and Thursday but may not have Trevor Story, who bruised his knee Wednesday in Boston. The Rockies are 20-22 but have a dangerous lineup, one nearly as potent as the Brewers'.

"If you don't do your job, you're going to get your butt kicked," McCutchen said of the Brewers series and the tough games that await the Phillies. "That's plain and simple. We can all agree here that we didn't play our best baseball and in return, we got our butt kicked. Nothing to cry over, we just have to show up and be ready to go tomorrow."

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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. 


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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