Phillies

The Braves are how many games better than the Phillies the last two seasons? Oh, brother

The Braves are how many games better than the Phillies the last two seasons? Oh, brother

The Phillies are desperately trying to stay in the National League wild-card race and to do so they must rack up some quick wins against the Atlanta Braves.

Based on what happened Monday night, that could be a problem.

The Phillies and ace Aaron Nola were manhandled in a 7-2 loss to the Braves on Monday night.

That was the bad news.

Now, the really bad news:

Six of the Phillies’ next eight games are against the Braves, who have won 21 of their last 26 games and are up to 90 wins as they roll to their second straight NL East title.

That does not bode well for the Phillies' playoff chances.

Monday night’s loss came in the first game of a four-game series against the Braves. It dropped the Phillies to 2 ½ games back in the wild-card chase with 19 to play.

“Tomorrow we’ve got to compete again,” Nola said. “Anything can happen.”

Nothing good happened for the Phillies in this one. Actually, they didn’t make anything good happen. Nola allowed a homer, two doubles, two walks and four runs in the first two innings and Atlanta right-hander Mike Foltynewicz made it all stand up with seven dominant innings. He gave up just three hits (one was an infield hit) and a run, walked none and struck out six.

“I thought he was definitely different,” Bryce Harper said. “It wasn’t really that hard-throwing 98, 99 (mph). I thought he ‘pitched’ tonight and I thought he pitched pretty well. I thought we had some pitches that we could’ve drove and I especially did. That’s not good, missing pitches especially when they’re over the plate.

“I thought they came out swinging the bats well, especially against Nola. Not too many teams can do that against him. They scored four in the first couple innings and I thought we could’ve scratched and clawed the best we could and I thought we could’ve been a lot better tonight.”

The Phils have lost four straight times with Nola on the mound and that can't happen in a playoff race.

Despite Nola's struggling in two straight outings, manager Gabe Kapler said the right-hander would likely stay on a five-day rotation, meaning he'd pitch again on Saturday night against Boston.

"We probably want to get every start out of him that we possibly can," Kapler said. "He maintained his stuff throughout that outing and actually got stronger as the game went on. We have him lined up to make as many starts as possible because he's always our best option."

After adding Harper, J.T. Realmuto and others in the off-season, the Phillies were projected to compete with the Braves and Washington Nationals for the NL East title in 2019. Instead, those two teams are playoff bound (Washington is the NL wild-card leader) and the Phillies will need a miracle to avoid an eighth-straight season of missing the postseason. Heck, the Phillies need to go at least 8-11 to have their first winning season since 2011 and that won’t be easy with lots of Atlanta, Boston, Washington and Cleveland on the remaining schedule.

Over the last two seasons, the Braves are 25 games better than the Phillies. 

Twenty-five.

The Braves are loaded with young talent — 21-year-old Ronald Acuna Jr. led off Monday night’s game with his 38th homer — and that does not bode well for the Phillies even beyond this season.

“The young enthusiasm that they do have, the way they play the game, they take the extra bag, they work hard, they play hard, they play really good defense,” said Harper, rattling off some of the things that impress him about the Braves. “Their pitching is pretty dang good out of that bullpen. Now with (Tuesday night’s pitcher Max) Fried and Folty and a couple other guys on that staff, they’re pretty dang good. As a group, they come to play every single day and I think you can learn from a group like that.

“As a team, they’re the best in our division. They go out and play their game every single night. One through four right there, their gauntlet is pretty tough. I think they’re hitting on all cylinders right now and I think they have all year. We just have to go out there tomorrow, turn the page from today and try to go get Fried.”

The Phillies have been hit hard by injuries this season, particularly in the bullpen and at the top of the batting order where Andrew McCutchen has been a huge loss. But Harper would not use that as an excuse for the gulf that exists between the Braves and Phillies.

“You can talk about injuries or anything like that,” he said. “Or you can talk about our bullpen or timely hitting or things like that, not coming up big with a couple hits, especially myself. But all around, I think we have to play better baseball. There’s teams at this level who have had injuries and performed at a great level this year and there’s some teams who don’t have good pitching that are still there as well, and hitting. 

"I think as a club we just have to play better, be better as a team, and just keep going. If we get into that wild-card game, after that, nothing else matters.”

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At the Yard podcast: Predicting where Top 12 MLB free agents will sign

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At the Yard podcast: Predicting where Top 12 MLB free agents will sign

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman predict where the top 12 MLB free agents will land in Monday's At the Yard podcast.

• Anthony Rendon

• Gerrit Cole

• Stephen Strasburg

• Zack Wheeler

• Madison Bumgarner

• Josh Donaldson

• Mike Moustakas

• Rick Porcello

• Cole Hamels

• Hyun-Jin Ryu

• Nick Castellanos

• Didi Gregorius

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Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Matt Klentak's 'Time to win' comment makes this a crucial offseason for Phillies and it begins this week

Throw a log on the hot stove.

Major League Baseball general managers will assemble in Phoenix for their annual meetings on Monday. The event, which ends Thursday, serves as the de facto starting point of the offseason and this will be a busy one, locally and industry wide.

The free-agent market is led by three stars of the recently completed World Series — starting pitching studs Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg and hard-hitting third baseman Anthony Rendon. Strasburg and Rendon were part of the World Series champion Washington Nationals club and Cole starred for the American League champion Houston Astros. All three players are represented by super-agent Scott Boras, who a year ago used the general managers meetings as a pulpit to announce that “Harper’s Bazaar” had opened for business. Three and a half months later, Bryce Harper signed a mammoth, 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies.

Harper led the Phillies in OPS (.882), homers (35) and RBIs (114) in his first season with the club, but the Phils, who led the NL East at the end of May, faded in June and again in September to finish in fourth place in the National League East, 12 games behind the second-place (and wild card) Nationals and 16 behind the division-winning Atlanta Braves.

The Phillies have not had a winning season (they finished .500 in 2019) or made the playoffs since 2011 and impatience is raw from the fan base to the ownership level. Managing partner John Middleton ordered the ouster of manager Gabe Kapler, proven winner Joe Girardi is now at the helm and normally guarded general manager Matt Klentak is on record as saying, “No questions asked, it is time to win right now.” That statement makes this a crucial offseason for Klentak and the Phillies because this team must fill some serious holes if it is going to win right now.

The most glaring hole — or holes — reside in the starting rotation where the Phillies currently have just one dependable starting pitcher on their roster. After Aaron Nola, the Phils have reason to believe that a healthy Jake Arrieta (he had elbow surgery in September) and an inconsistent but promising Zach Eflin can contribute in 2020, but neither are a sure-thing and even if they make an impact, the Phils will need a lot more starting pitching than that, from the top of the rotation to the back end.

You can bet the Phils will be in on all the top arms on the free-agent market. Boras, who during Harper’s Bazaar built a chemistry with Middleton, will make sure of that. 

The Phillies will at least start the offseason in the sweepstakes for Cole and Strasburg and see where it takes them. Cole seems to have his eye on the West Coast and Strasburg could end up back in Washington, but the deep-pocketed Phils cannot be ruled out, especially this early in the offseason. The Phils will be in on other top starters such as Madison Bumgarner and Zack Wheeler. Signing any one of these four would require the Phillies to forfeit their second pick in the 2020 draft. The Phils, with a new scouting director (Brian Barber) and a need to add talent to their prospect pipeline, are not keen on losing high-round selections, but their need for starting pitching is so acute and their thirst to win so desperate that it would not be surprising to see them sacrifice a pick for an impact arm.

Given the lack of depth in the rotation, the Phillies will cast their net in the lower end of the free-agent pool, as well. Cole Hamels has long spoken of a desire to finish his career in Philadelphia. Rick Porcello and others could also boost the back end of the rotation.

As nice as Rendon’s bat would look at third base — where there is a need — the Phils probably have to allot the bulk of their financial resources on starting pitching, not to mention locking up catcher J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension. The Phils have been linked to third baseman Mike Moustakas, yet another Boras guy, the last two winters and this might be the time to try to grab him on a one- or two-year deal. He won’t cost nearly as much as Rendon and shouldn’t cost as much as free-agent Josh Donaldson, who is also expected to cost a draft pick after being extended a qualifying offer.

With Andrew McCutchen set in left field and Harper in right field, the Phils could pursue a short-term fit like Brett Gardner in center field, but they also could look to re-sign corner man Corey Dickerson, a good lefty stick, and try to get enough out of a McCutchen-Adam Haseley combination in center field. 

As for Odubel Herrera, it’s too early to tell if he will ever suit up for the Phillies again. The guess here is that he will not, but the Phillies still have several months to make that call. Only the need for a roster spot (the team currently has five openings) or the arrival of spring training will create urgency to make a decision on Herrera, if it already has not privately been made.

It’s kind of fitting that the GM meetings are being held in the Phoenix area. That is Scott Kingery’s hometown and he sits in the middle of this Phillies offseason. Depending on how the team maneuvers its way through the winter, Kingery could open the 2020 season at third base, shortstop, second base or center field. He could play third if the team does not bring in someone from the outside, shortstop if Cesar Hernandez moves on and Jean Segura moves to second base, as has been discussed internally, or second base if the team wants to play him at his best position. He also improved greatly in center field last season and could fill that spot, depending how this offseason shakes out.

There are many possibilities for this team that says it's time to win now.

Throw a log on the fire. The hot stove is warming. Baseball’s offseason gets chugging this week.

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