Phillies

Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

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Phillies president Andy MacPhail weighs in on team’s rise to contention, cost of trades, attendance

MIAMI — Phillies president Andy MacPhail is surprised by the team’s success.

“I was hoping for and expected that we would have meaningful, measurable progress and I think what we’ve done to this point exceeds meaningful, measurable progress,” he said before Saturday’s game against the Miami Marlins. “Just the fact that we’re a game-and-a-half in first place exceeds my expectations.”

With the team’s window of contention opening a year before many expected, club officials are reacting.

“We’re in a different situation than we anticipated and we have to act accordingly,” MacPhail said. “I know (general manager) Matt Klentak and his group is doing exactly that. We’re in a position where we need to try to augment our current group to try to preserve our place in the standings for as long as we can.”

Klentak and his lieutenants are busy pursuing trade opportunities. The Phils would love to land slugging left-side infielder Manny Machado and lefty closer Zach Britton from the Baltimore Orioles (see story). Competition for the two players is intense. The Phillies have built some good depth of quality prospects in their minor-league system and are willing to part with some of it to land Machado and/or Britton. There are even indications that the Phils would do a deal for Machado without immediately signing the free-agent-to-be to a contract extension, though Machado’s contract status would certainly affect the price the Phillies were willing to pay.

It’s all a complicated balance of present vs. future because as much as the Phillies want to win this season they want to sustain the winning for a decade.

“It’s an inexact science,” MacPhail said. “You try to ascertain as best you can what is immovable and where you have areas where you are giving up talent but you have enough in the system to absorb that. It’s what you can afford to do and what you can’t because our stated goal and our directive from ownership is to be in a position where postseason potential isn’t just a one-and-out type of thing.”

John Middleton, the Phillies managing partner, is aggressive and eager to win. But he is also levelheaded. He has been portrayed in some media reports as looking to make a splash.

MacPhail scoffed at that.

“John wants to win,” MacPhail said. “John wants to sustain winning. But John is not an ‘excite the town at any cost’ guy. My view is that he’s smart and he’s realistic. I think I’ve done a good job of explaining the importance of an organization and progress and he’s seen that. He’s not willing to give up too much of that just to make a splash. Someone wrote the other day that ownership wants to make a splash. Let me tell you something about John Middleton. He’s not a ‘splash’ guy for something that doesn't make sense. I can promise you that.”

MacPhail is fond of saying that in the baseball business, the fans will let you know how you are doing with their choosing to buy tickets or not.

Despite their success, the Phils rank fourth from the bottom in the National League in average attendance at 26,740 per game.

MacPhail said he was not surprised by the attendance and he believes there are factors behind it. First, the team was not projected to be a top contender. Second, there is competition for the entertainment dollar.

“Philly is a good sports town and you have to make some allowances,” he said. “These are not excuses, but you have to make some allowances. There’s only so much disposable income that people have. Let’s be honest, the Eagles and the Sixers sucked some of that out before we even threw a pitch.

“I need to build an organization on the baseball and business side that is going to sustain success and make us a competitive product for years to come and an attractive place to come for years to come.”

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Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Sunday was Scott Kingery’s first career start in center field and it came in his first game back. Kingery was sidelined for a month with a hamstring strain that was worse than the ones suffered by Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera. 

Kingery fared well in his return. There were no issues in the field, and at the plate he went 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base. The hit was a smooth line drive to left field in his first at-bat. 

With Herrera not providing much at the plate (.234 batting average, .297 OBP), Kingery will continue to see time in center field. It doesn’t make sense right now to sit Cesar Hernandez for him given how hot Hernandez has been for the last month. But Herrera and Maikel Franco are different stories. 

Kingery will not start Monday night in Chicago. The Phillies are monitoring his workload with him fresh off the IL. He will, however, likely start multiple games in the Cubs series. The Phillies face lefties Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester in consecutive games Tuesday through Thursday. Seems like a logical spot to sit Herrera for Kingery. 

Kingery was hitting .406 when he was sidelined. He started the season looking like a completely different player than last season. 

“The most important thing (while I was out) was trying to keep my timing,” Kingery said after the Phillies’ 7-5 win over the Rockies Sunday. “As soon as I could pick up the bat I was in the cage, working on my swing, fastball machine, doing whatever I could, seeing live arms BP-wise and stood in on a few bullpens just to see some different pitches. That's about all you can do when you're hurt. I feel good now.”

Defensively, Kingery will face some adjustments. Center field is not his natural position nor does he have extensive experience there. But his speed, range and instincts give him a chance to be an above-average defender there. 

“I think the main goal is my arm slot has always been for an infielder,” Kingery said. “So I have to work at getting a little more over the top and get a little more carry on the ball. I'd say that's one of the most important things for me right now.”

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Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

For a little while, all of those "What's wrong with Bryce Harper?" pieces can be shelved. 

Harper's not on the verge of breaking out of his slump. He's already broken out of it.

"It's not a close thing, I think he's there," manager Gabe Kapler said after the Phillies completed a weekend sweep of the visiting Rockies with a 7-5 win.

Harper had the game-winning home run, a 404-foot blast into the Phillies' bullpen to untie the game in the sixth inning (see observations). It was his second straight game with a homer and gave him four extra-base hits in his last three games. He's raised his slugging percentage by 47 points over that span.

"He might not get two hits and a home run tomorrow, but that doesn't mean he's not where he needs to be," Kapler said. "I think the home run that he hit to center field (Saturday) was the turning point and the moment where he started to feel more like Bryce."

In the all-important sixth inning Sunday, J.T. Realmuto tied the game with a pinch-hit home run off of a right-handed reliever and Harper followed three batters later with the deciding home run against a left-handed reliever. The inning highlighted how the Phillies' best hitters are equipped to deal with specialists from both sides. 

Realmuto's longball came against veteran reliever Bryan Shaw, who has lasted 10 years in the bigs because of his ability to retire right-handed hitters. Coming into Sunday, righties were 8 for 58 against Shaw, hitting .138.

Realmuto, like Rhys Hoskins, has reverse career platoon splits. Realmuto's hit .286 against righties with a .777 OPS compared to .250 vs. lefties with a .730 OPS. From 2016-18, Jean Segura and Realmuto ranked second and third in the majors, respectively, batting .292 and .291 against right-handed breaking balls.

The pitch Realmuto hit out from Shaw was not a breaking ball but a changeup. It was his first career pinch-hit home run and it came a few days after Kapler noted that Realmuto's power should be coming based on the quality of hard contact he'd been making.

Harper, meanwhile, took Dunn deep for the second time in a month. He is hitting .304/.407/.537 this season against lefties with six doubles and three homers.

Rare is the left-handed power hitter who doesn't have a major hole in his swing against lefties. Harper is that rare lefty. Last season, he had nine homers, 12 doubles and an .857 OPS against southpaws. The pace he's on this year is even better.

Harper knows he's faced Dunn a ton but doesn't pay attention to his career numbers against him or many other pitchers for that matter.

"He's always been a tough matchup for me," Harper said of Dunn. "Since I was younger, 2012, faced him my rookie year in the East when he was with Miami. Being able to face a guy like that, see his tendencies ... got him today.

"I just go with the feel. I don't really look at (the batter vs. pitcher matchup). Any given day, you could go out there and punch me out in three pitches, it's part of the game. Just gotta keep going. Any given day could be different."

In the span of three days, the Phillies removed the bad taste of the Brewers series from their mouths. They followed a season-high three straight losses with three straight wins. They head to Chicago leading the Braves by 2½ games, the Mets by 6½ games and the Nationals by 7½ games, pending Sunday night's result.

In Chicago, Harper's sample size of 54 plate appearances against lefties will grow. The Phillies face three straight lefties Tuesday through Thursday in Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester.

The Phillies aren't looking past the Cubs, who are the hottest team in baseball. But they definitely have the following series circled.

"We're really looking forward to getting back at Milwaukee," said Jerad Eickhoff, who started Sunday's game. 

"We didn't put our best foot forward against them. We're gonna take care of Chicago first and go into Milwaukee with a chip on our shoulder."

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