Phillies

Bryce Harper receives MVP chants, but Phillies' MVP might be Maikel Franco in 4-0 start

Bryce Harper receives MVP chants, but Phillies' MVP might be Maikel Franco in 4-0 start

WASHINGTON — Bryce Harper’s return to the city in which he played for seven seasons on Tuesday night was everything the Phillies wanted it to be and everything the Washington Nationals didn’t want it to be.

Harper survived a pair of strikeouts — and a lot of boos — in his first two at-bats and finished the night with a single, a double and a home run — his third in three games (see story). His three-RBI night led an 8-2 Phillies’ win and pushed the team’s record to 4-0 (see observations). The last time the Phils were 4-0 was 1915. They lost in the World Series to the Boston Red Sox that season.

Of course, it’s way too early to be thinking about postseason play — heck, the New York Mets started last season 11-1 only to finish eight games under .500 — but this is fun. This team is fun. In four games, the Phillies have bashed the baseball, hitting 10 home runs, and the fans are loving it, home and away.

Harper was booed for most of the game, but the boos turned to cheers when he launched a mammoth second-deck homer to right in the eighth inning. The homer flew over several sections of Phillies fans who drowned out the Washington fans with chants of “MVP! … MVP!” and “We got Harper! … We got Harper!”

Harper wasn’t the only standout on this night. Zach Eflin looked very much like a guy ready to break out as he struck out a career-high nine batters in five innings and delivered a clutch at-bat in the fourth. Rhys Hoskins made a nice defensive play early in the game at first base, Jean Segura had a three-run double, Odubel Herrera had three doubles and Maikel Franco reached base five times thanks to three intentional walks and a couple of big hits.

Harper got the MVP chants, but Franco might be the MVP of the first four games. He stroked a two-out homer against Max Scherzer in the second inning. It was his third homer in four games. Yes, it’s super early, but Franco’s on-base percentage is a gaudy .706.

Once upon a time, Franco hit in the middle of the batting order. In this new and improved Phillies’ lineup, he’s been hitting eighth. A drop like that would be a blow to some players’ pride. Not Franco. He has survived benchings and trade rumors. His upbeat attitude never wanes and that’s a big factor in his resilience.

“I don’t care where I hit,” Franco said. “I just want to be in the lineup and help my team. I’m taking nothing for granted, just do my best.”

Manager Gabe Kapler likes Franco in the eight-hole.

“There’s some strategy to this,” Kapler said. “I think Maikel is seeing a lot pitches. It’s caused him to be patient. He’s smiling a lot. He’s especially confident. He’s getting a couple of pitches to hit per game and he’s doing damage on them. I don’t think we have to make any changes with the lineup right now. I think our lineup works well with him at the bottom and clearly it doesn’t limit his ability to produce power.”

Kapler opened spring training by challenging Franco to hold off Scott Kingery for playing time.

“There are people who tend to cower in those situations and there are people who tend to step up and try to meet a pretty high bar,” Kapler said. “It seems to me that he’s taken that challenge on and used it as motivation.

“He’s always bringing energy to the dugout. He’s one of everybody’s favorite teammates.”

Franco has forged a little bond with Harper. They have one of those secret handshakes to celebrate home runs.

“He’s amazing,” Franco said of Harper. “He’s a really good dude.

“We’re having fun.”

Winning will do that.

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Phillies manager update: Dusty Baker has second interview, Buck Showalter on tap Friday, Joe Girardi still to come

Phillies manager update: Dusty Baker has second interview, Buck Showalter on tap Friday, Joe Girardi still to come

Interviews continued Thursday for the Phillies’ vacant manager’s job.

According to multiple sources, Dusty Baker spent a second straight day in Philadelphia meeting with club officials. Baker went through a first round of interviews on Wednesday.

Buck Showater and Joe Girardi met with Phillies officials on Monday in the New York metropolitan area, according to multiple sources.

Showalter has been working as an analyst for the YES Network in New York during the postseason. Sources say he pulled out of his scheduled assignments for Thursday and Friday nights because he will be in Philadelphia for a second round of interviews on Friday.

Girardi is expected to have a second round of interviews early next week.

Though it’s possible more candidates could emerge, the Phillies are currently focused on just these three candidates.

“They want major-league experience,” a person with knowledge of the Phillies’ thinking said earlier this week.

Baker, Showalter and Girardi have a combined 53 years of big-league managing experience and they have won a combined seven manager of the year awards and 13 division titles. Girardi led the New York Yankees to the World Series title in 2009. His club beat the Phillies in six games.

Girardi may very well be the Phillies’ preferred candidate because of his experience working with a front office that values the use of analytics in building a roster and running a game. The Yankees are one of baseball’s analytic powerhouses. Girardi, however, is a former catcher who also relies on instinct and feel in running a game. That balance would be attractive to the Phillies.

Girardi is also being pursued by the New York Mets and they have geography going for them as Girardi lives outside the city.

With the second round of interviews underway, it's possible the Phils could name a manager as early as next Thursday, between Games 2 and 3 of the World Series.



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Another sign that Joe Girardi will be hired to manage somewhere soon

Another sign that Joe Girardi will be hired to manage somewhere soon

In another sign that he's likely to return to managing in the majors in 2020, Joe Girardi stepped down as the manager of USA Baseball, the organization announced Wednesday.

Girardi, who is believed to have met with Phillies officials Monday, is a strong candidate for multiple open manager jobs. The Phillies are interested, and the Cubs and Mets appear to be hot after him as well.

Girardi is the overwhelming fan choice to manage the Phillies. It's hard not to see the appeal of his combination of experience, blend of new school and old school and track record of winning. Phillies fans seem to prefer Girardi to Buck Showalter, whose teams haven't advanced as far in the postseason.

Girardi has played things differently this year than last. He had two interviews for the Reds job last fall but pulled himself out of the process, saying it wasn't the right time.

Now, he wants to manage. And the openings this time around are more appealing — three major market clubs in Philadelphia, New York and Chicago. The Mets do not spend to their market size but the Phillies and Cubs have done so in win-now periods.

It is much more likely that the Phillies would be forced into a bidding war for Girardi than for Showalter because of the number of interested teams.



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