Are 23-16 Phillies for real? Klentak talks sustainability, trade deadline

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Are 23-16 Phillies for real? Klentak talks sustainability, trade deadline

Two seasons ago, in Matt Klentak's first year on the job, the Phillies were 24-17 in mid-May. 

Within a month, they were 10 games under .500 and eventually finished 71-91.

Fast-forward two years and here the Phillies are again, seven games over .500 in mid-May.

But anyone who's watched this team should know that's where the comparisons end. That team's ace was Jeremy Hellickson. Adam Morgan made 21 starts. Jeanmar Gomez was the closer. David Hernandez and Andrew Bailey were setup men. Just two regulars — Odubel Herrera and Cesar Hernandez — had OBPs higher than .306.

The 2018 Phillies haven't fluked their way to this record like the '16 club did with all those early, low-scoring, one-run wins.

These Phils have two aces, two legitimate middle-of-the-order bats in Rhys Hoskins and Herrera, and another fearsome hitter in Carlos Santana who after a few hot weeks is well on his way to doing what he does every season — hit 25 homers with an OBP in the upper-.300s.

"I remember that well," Klentak said Tuesday of May 2016. "We were often winning one-run games and wondering how we were doing it, but it was fun. I think there are a few differences between that team and this team. I think, No. 1, this team's starting pitching has really been impressive through the first quarter of the season in their ability to throw strikes, in their ability to miss bats and in their ability to induce weak contact. 

"On top of that, I think, in the bullpen, there is a lot of depth on this team. And when you look back to the '16 club, I think we had at that stage three guys that were throwing the ball pretty well and we were relying on them pretty heavily in those one-run games. 

"But I think the way this team is evolving, whether we are winning a close game or losing a close game or it's a blowout, we're able to put a good arm on the mound that's delivered good results. And I think our offense is really starting to click now, too. One of the things about the '16 team was that we were winning a bunch of low-scoring games. We weren't scoring a lot. And this club, the offense is really starting to find their rhythm right now."

Some look to the quarter-pole as the first checkpoint in an MLB season. Others consider it Memorial Day. By the holiday, we will have a clearer picture of where this team is, not only because of the Phils' upcoming schedule but also because the Nationals are rounding into form and the Braves have remained hot.

The Phillies host Atlanta May 21-23 and then go 102 games without seeing the Braves again. That makes the three-game series even more important than usual because it's a chance to improve while hurting the Braves. Aside from that, it would be nice for the Phils to not sit and think for months that Atlanta has their number.

The Phillies are currently on a mid-90s-win pace. Does Klentak think this is sustainable?

"With so many young players on this team, that's a hard thing to project," he said.
"What we have seen through the first 40 games or so is that we have had some players take big steps forward. Not all of them, we haven't batted 1.000, but Odubel's batting .360, (Jorge) Alfaro's developed into a real presence behind the plate. (Nick) Pivetta and (Vince) Velasquez have demonstrated that their performance can match their stuff, and our bullpen has really been solid one through eight. If we continue to get those kinds of contributions, I would expect that we'll remain competitive."

Could that mean the Phillies actually buy at the trade deadline? If they do, keep your eye on Cole Hamels. He cannot block a trade back to the Phils and would probably be open to returning here with the Rangers floundering and Hamels' having a $20 million club option next season that a team like the Phils would be more open to exercising than the Rangers.

"We're assessing how good our team is but also where we have a need. The left-handed pitching might be one area to address," Klentak said. "We're at the quarter-pole. I think it's a little early to start talking about that. There's been some light dialogue among a few teams so far but really nothing substantial, just a very-early feeling out. As we get deeper into June and July, I know that activity will pick up and we'll just have to see how we stack up when we get to that point."

Here's the scoop on Manny Machado's visit to Philly

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Here's the scoop on Manny Machado's visit to Philly

The Manny Machado Free Agent Tour is coming to Philadelphia.

Machado will be in town Thursday for a recruiting visit with Phillies officials, according to a person with knowledge of the situation.

The trip to Philadelphia is part of a busy week for the star infielder. Chicago-based baseball reporter Bruce Levine has reported that Machado will be in that city to visit with White Sox officials this week and George King of the New York Post reports that Machado will visit the Yankees in New York on Wednesday.

The Phillies have strong interest in signing Machado to be their third baseman. However, landing Machado will not be easy as the player has had a long desire to play for the Yankees. The Yankees could even offer Machado a chance to play shortstop, at least for part of the 2019 season, as Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow surgery. Machado is an elite defensive third baseman, but shortstop is his favorite position.

Though the Phillies favor Machado over Bryce Harper, this winter's other mega free agent, they remain interested and engaged with Harper and pursuit of the outfielder could intensify if they don't land Machado.

Earlier this offseason, the Phillies hosted pitcher Patrick Corbin for a recruiting visit at Citizens Bank Park. He also visited the Yankees and Washington Nationals and ended up signing a six-year deal with Washington.

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Why Andrew Miller would be better for Phillies than Zach Britton

Why Andrew Miller would be better for Phillies than Zach Britton

The Phillies should go get Andrew Miller.

They're pursuing him hard, two sources told Jim Salisbury Wednesday night. We know the Phillies are also after Zach Britton, but if forced to choose between the two, it should be Miller all the way.

Miller, when healthy, is the best left-handed reliever in baseball. From 2014-17, he made 260 appearances and had a 1.72 ERA with 421 strikeouts in 261 innings. There was simply no weakness in his game over those four years. Nobody hit him. Few players homered off him. He had an elite walk rate. Batters from both sides struggled mightily.

Miller's 2018 season was incomplete because of three different injuries to his shoulder, knee and hamstring. In 37 games, he had a 4.24 ERA and every peripheral number was worse. He appeared in two playoff games, allowing three walks and a hit while recording one out.

The biggest consideration is Miller's health. He was recently given a clean bill of health from Mets team doctor David Altchek, who once gave Roy Halladay a second opinion on his shoulder and performed surgery on Sixers legend Andrew Bynum.

If Miller is indeed fully healthy, he would significantly improve the Phillies' ability to prevent runs. A healthy Miller would be closer to that dominant 2014-17 stretch because his repertoire remains the same. 

He still has a funky, whip-like delivery with a low arm slot that deceives hitters and keeps them uncomfortable. Most lefty hitters have no chance.

He still has a mid-90s fastball and a devastating slider. How devastating? From 2014-17, Miller's opponents hit .118 against the slider. They made an out in 550 of the 612 at-bats ending in his slider.

The reasons to like Miller go even beyond that, though. He also has stamina and the willingness to pitch in any role, which Gabe Kapler of all managers would love. Sixth inning, seventh inning, ninth inning, whatever. Miller just wants to pitch in high-leverage situations.

From 2014-17, Miller went more than one inning 61 times. In the 2016 playoffs with the Indians, he went at least two innings seven times. Re-read that sentence. He went at least two innings seven times. There's just no other reliever used this way, except maybe Josh Hader in 2018.

If the Phillies get Miller, the combo of Miller and Seranthony Dominguez would be one of baseball's most unique bullpen duos. They possess different strengths, and it's a good mix of youthful energy and veteran experience.

The addition of Miller would obviously help the Phillies a ton against tough lefties, but he's far from a platoon specialist. From 2013-17, righties hit between .131 and .155 off Miller each season.

Britton is no slouch, but a healthy Miller is better, with more versatility.

What kind of contract might it take? Well, Jeurys Familia found $30 million over three years from the Mets, and Joe Kelly is set to receive $25 million over three years from the Dodgers. Miller is coming off a four-year, $36 million contract with Cleveland. Something like three years, $36 million seems about right this time around.

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