All-Star Game symbolized sad state of the Phillies in a season where so much was expected

All-Star Game symbolized sad state of the Phillies in a season where so much was expected

CLEVELAND — Bryce Harper’s reputation preceded him to this All-Star Game. Unfortunately for the Phillies, his performance in the first half of the season did not follow.

Harper’s image is on All-Star signage around downtown Cleveland and he’s all over the official souvenir game program. Major League Baseball projected that he would make his annual trip to the Midsummer Classic – hence the signage – but he did not make the final cut. Those fancy All-Star spikes that Under Armour had ready for Harper were never shipped.

Harper’s pictorial presence, along with his real-life non-presence at Tuesday night’s All-Star Game, is a sobering symbol of how this season has gone so far for the Phillies.

Much was expected.

Not enough has been delivered.

Coming out of Clearwater, you didn’t have to think too hard to envision the Phillies having four, maybe five, All-Stars.

Harper. Rhys Hoskins. Aaron Nola. Jake Arrieta. David Robertson. Andrew McCutchen. Jean Segura. J.T. Realmuto ...

Pick two, pick three, pick four – the Phillies figured to be well represented.

But when the players lined up for introductions Tuesday night, only Realmuto was there. He’s been good, but not great. Ditto for Hoskins. And ditto for Harper and Segura. Robertson and McCutchen have been hurt and Arrieta, who may now be hurt, as well, has been inconsistent.

The second half of the season begins Friday night, but it’s difficult to feel good about the Phillies. They got off to an exciting start, played through injuries in the bullpen and inconsistencies in the starting rotation, and raced out to a nice lead in the NL East. But since the start of June, they’ve gone in the wrong in direction and only been able to consistently beat the train-wreck New York Mets. The Phils blew a 3 ½ game lead over Atlanta and a 10-game lead over Washington and now trail both teams in the standings. They are 6 ½ games out of first place and they have just one starting pitcher (Nola) that can consistently be counted on to keep them in games. The Nationals, who have three of them, come to Philadelphia for a three-game series on Friday night. They are 28-11 in their last 39 games and will be looking to step on the Phillies’ collective throat.

After that, the Phils host the Dodgers, baseball’s best team, for four games. The Dodgers swept the Phils earlier this season out west.

The Phils have lost 21 of their last 35 games and all their holes have shown during that span. They are not catching the Nats and Dodgers at a good time and a poor showing could be enough to convince the front office that now is not the time to trade away young talent for a long-shot playoff run. As it stands now, the Phillies actually might have too many holes to adequately fill at one trade deadline.

The cure to what ails the 2019 Phillies lies within.

Harper, Realmuto, Hoskins, Nola, Segura, Scott Kingery, Hector Neris, Zach Eflin and others still have the same talent that most felt good about coming out of Clearwater. These are the same guys that helped the Phillies win a lot of ballgames in the first two months of the season and they’ve been joined by Jay Bruce, his productive bat and healthy will to win.

Remember how much fun the first couple of months was, with the big crowds at Citizens Bank Park and all those spirited handshakes after home runs? That emotion is gone now. Losing will do that to a team. Over the last six weeks, the Phillies’ chemistry seems to have dried up. The team seems to have lost its fight. Players don’t seem to take losing personally.

It’s time for this group of Phillies to show they are more than just a collection of track records. They need some consistency. It is certainly possible offensively and it starts with Harper. He needs to take ownership of this team, show some sneer, and have the big second half he had last year in Washington. A hot Harper could rub off on others in the lineup.

The pitching is more worrisome. Nick Pivetta, Vince Velasquez and Eflin have talent. But it’s time, way beyond time, that they find real consistency and reliability. Who knows what the second half will bring for Arrieta, who may or may not be able to pitch through an elbow issue, and may or may not be effective. Nola has been brilliant his last four starts, but the team’s seven-year playoff drought won’t end on his back alone. If the Phils don’t get some big performances from Pivetta, Velasquez and Eflin, Madison Bumgarner or Zack Greinke or Robbie Ray or Marcus Stroman or Walter Johnson is not going to make a difference.

The last six weeks has left us with very little confidence, very little reason to believe that this team can make a run.

But the schedule remains plentiful with 72 games left. A good couple of weeks out of the gate, some good health in the bullpen, a trade or two, and maybe this team can make a run.

Time will tell.

In the meantime, the All-Star break continues and we are left to ponder the sad reality symbolized in all these Bryce Harper banners in Cleveland: This Phillies season of great expectations has featured too much underperformance and that’s disappointing.

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Watch Lenny Dykstra attack Bagel Boss Guy at cheesesteak shop in chaotic and hilarious fashion

Watch Lenny Dykstra attack Bagel Boss Guy at cheesesteak shop in chaotic and hilarious fashion

You don't really need a lot of info about the above video to enjoy its pure insanity.

It features former MLB All-Star Lenny Dykstra and Chris Morgan, aka Bagel Boss Guy. The former Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets outfielder is fighting the guy known for being rude in a bagel shop and going viral. The boxing bout is set in Atlantic City in September and they were promoting it today at Tony Luke's cheesesteak shop in South Philly.

Both of them said mean stuff. But the parts that succeeded in grabbing our attention enough to post a video about it were Lenny taking a swipe at Bagel Guy and a bottle being thrown in return.

But wait for it ... it gets better. Just when you thought you'd seen it all, Lenny takes a running dive across a table at Morgan. It's rather impressive. And hilarious.

Perhaps the best part about the whole thing: Lenny is wearing a shirt that simply says "GET PAID" on the back.

Indeed. Get paid, Lenny.

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2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

2019 Red Sox should provide Phillies valuable lesson about starting pitching

The 2018 Red Sox went wire to wire and won the World Series. The 2019 Red Sox have a 1.8 percent chance to make the playoffs because of how brutal their starting rotation has been. 

A rotation that the Phillies and any other team in need of several starting pitchers should take note of.

The Red Sox allocated more than $90 million to their starting pitchers this season, the most in baseball in terms of total dollars and percentage of payroll dedicated to starting pitchers (40 percent).

They extended Chris Sale in March (five years, $145 million), just before his worst major-league season which is already over because of an elbow injury. Sale's deal kicks in next year, and the Red Sox won't admit it but they're almost certainly regretting it already.

They paid Nate Eovaldi $68 million this past offseason and have gotten nothing in return. Eovaldi, who received that contract only because of 22 dominant innings in the 2018 postseason, has been a disaster. Injuries have limited him to just 36⅓ innings and he has struggled as a starter and reliever to the tune of a 6.69 ERA.

Rick Porcello, in the last of a four-year, $82.5 million contract, won the Cy Young award in the first year of that deal and has been bad ever since. His ERA is 5.49 this season and is three percent below league-average the last three years. 

Boston doesn't win the 2018 World Series without David Price. But what if Price's contract, which pays him $96 million the next three seasons, along with the rest of these deals prevent the Red Sox from retaining Mookie Betts? Betts will want more money than Bryce Harper and deserves it. That situation will be interesting to monitor.

Going out and buying a rotation does not always work, and it almost never works long-term. Think about what happened with Roy Halladay. Two great years the Phillies probably would not trade for anything, then two rough years. Cliff Lee? Three very good years upon his return, then he was MIA the final two seasons.

Good pitchers are certainly worth a lot of money but it has to be the right pitcher and the right contract length. Gerrit Cole, a free agent this winter, could command $200 million and his market will be robust. Teams will be tantalized by his continued improvement and insane strikeout rate, which is the perfect way to combat the juiced ball.

But after Cole, no other pitcher on the free-agent market this winter can really be considered a "safe" bet. Confident in Madison Bumgarner the next four years? Cole Hamels the next two? Will a team have any idea which version of Zack Wheeler, Wade Miley, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi or Alex Wood they are getting?

Not to say the Phillies should avoid the starting pitching market. They cannot. It's not even an option. They need 60 percent of a starting rotation and probably more than that since few teams ever go through 162 games with the same five starters. 

But going out and spending $200 million on Cole, $40 million on Hamels and another $40 million or so on one of the mid-rotation pieces will not guarantee that the Phillies turn into a 95-win team in 2020. 

The Red Sox best starting pitcher this season has been Eduardo Rodriguez, a 26-year-old, cost-controlled lefty they acquired from the Orioles at the 2014 trade deadline for a half-season of Andrew Miller. That's the kind of trade no team in the Orioles' position ever wants to make anymore, because the Rodriguezes of the world, if they pan out, become the most valuable pieces in baseball. Young, cheap arms without wear and tear who can approach 200 quality innings.

The Phillies need to find their Rodriguez — none of Nick Pivetta, Zach Eflin or Vince Velasquez turned into one — as much as they need to sign a recognizable name. Splurging on Cole seems unlikely only because the Phillies just committed more than $400 million last offseason and if they sign Cole, it would limit the number of times they can add another superstar during this window.

The Padres, who were just in town, had a couple intriguing arms the Phillies should (and probably will) call about this winter: lefty Joey Lucchesi and righty Dinelson Lamet. San Diego has a lot of young pitching but is in need of offense at positions other than first base, shortstop and third base. 

Pittsburgh's Joe Musgrove is another mid-rotation piece under cost control who could better help a team like the Phillies than the Pirates.

As thin as the Phillies are on pitchers, they must be creative this offseason, not just free-spending.

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