Phillies

After Phillies play Power Ball in win over Braves, will front office now flex its muscles?

After Phillies play Power Ball in win over Braves, will front office now flex its muscles?

Coming out of spring training, the Phillies were projected to be a power plant capable of homering their way to victories. But on the cusp of August, Phillies hitters have not cleared the wall with the regularity that was predicted — or needed. The Phils have hit just 135 homers as a team and that’s below the National League average.

Home runs were not a problem Sunday, however. The Phils hit four of them and they accounted for all but one of their runs in an important 9-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park.

The victory was important because it helped the Phils avoid a series sweep after being hammered by a combined score of 24-9 in the first two games. It was important because it helped them remain a game back in the NL wild-card race and that alone might force the front office to address a hole or two as the trade deadline arrives Wednesday at 4 p.m.

“All our goals that we set at the start of the season are still here,” said J.T. Realmuto, who keyed the victory with a fifth-inning grand slam. “We’re one game out of a playoff spot right now with two months to go in the season. It just takes one run. We’re five, six, seven behind the Braves (in the division) — whatever it is. That’s a one-week stretch where we get really hot. Obviously, we feel like we’ve got the team here to really do something special. We’ve just got to put it together.”

Would adding a player or two provide a little jolt to the cause?

“It definitely doesn’t hurt,” Realmuto said. “It’ll tell us where the front office stands and what they see this team doing. But even if something happens, it’s up to the guys in this clubhouse to make it happen.

“I don’t think the front office needed too much convincing, one way or the other. One game out of the wild-card spot is a team that should push for the playoffs, in my opinion. The guys we have in this locker room, we feel we can do it already, but obviously a little help wouldn’t hurt.”

Monday is July 29 and the Phillies have a history of making big deals on that day. Former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. landed Cliff Lee in 2009, Roy Oswalt in 2010 and Hunter Pence in 2011 — all on July 29.

What will Matt Klentak do?

Whatever he does will probably be more modest than a Lee, an Oswalt or a Pence. Club president Andy MacPhail has indicated that the front office does not believe the Phillies are one piece away from the World Series and Klentak is on record as saying he will be protective of prospects.

Whatever the front office does must be complemented by strong play from the team that was assembled at the outset of the season, the team everyone believed could break a seven-year playoff drought.

The times when everything has come together in one day have been rare for the Phillies in 2019. Sunday was one of those days when things did come together. OK, Aaron Nola had a tough seventh inning and gave up a couple of homers as the Braves cut a six-run lead to two. But Nola was outstanding for six innings, the offense produced and the bullpen —  a big out by Adam Morgan on dangerous Freddie Freeman in the seventh and two scoreless innings from Nick Pivetta — was strong in victory. Bryce Harper, Adam Haseley and Rhys Hoskins all joined Realmuto with a home run.

“I’m pretty pleased with the way we swung the bats,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

The Phillies are 17-4 in games at home this season when they’ve hit multiple home runs.

“I think that sometimes we miss our pitch,” Kapler said when asked why he believed the team had not homered as much as projected this season. “We have the capability to put the ball in the air and hit the ball hard more frequently.”

Sunday’s win left the Phillies at five games over .500 with their next three games coming against another wild-card contender, San Francisco.

“We’re a game out of the playoffs right now,” Kapler said. “I think we’re positioned well to make a run. I don’t think the clubs that are battling for those positions are better than us. I think we have the capability with the talent we have in the room to make run.”

Adding some talent from outside won’t hurt. Will the front office do it?

We’ll know soon.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



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