Phillies

Can the Phillies turn things around? Oddsmakers have their say

Can the Phillies turn things around? Oddsmakers have their say

The Phillies will exit the All-Star break on Friday in third place in the NL East with a record of 47-43 after 90 games. Where do they go from here? Well, oddsmakers at Caesars Entertainment have their opinion, and it’s not promising.

First, let’s take a look at where we started. Here’s what the Vegas win totals looked like after the Phillies signed Bryce Harper in March.

Phillies: 89.5

Nationals: 88.5

Braves: 86.5

Now, just past the midway point, here are the current win totals you can wager over or under on.

Braves: 92.5

Nationals: 88.5

Phillies: 82.5

Yikes.

Let’s figure out what happened here.

Atlanta Braves

Flat out, the Braves are much better than Vegas thought they would be. I think everyone expected the lineup to be good, but perhaps not this good. Josh Donaldson has been crushing the ball after a slow start, Austin Riley is having a tremendous rookie season and everyone else has continued the success they displayed last season.

What has been surprising, however, is the way the Braves have been pitching. While Mike Soroka was expected to be good, no one had him in the All-Star Game in his first year. Julio Teheran has been a workhorse, Max Fried has been more than serviceable and Luke Jackson has been a tremendous closer. The team also went out and signed Dallas Keuchel, who could prove to be a very strong addition in the second half.

A team that has been relatively healthy all season long projects to continue their strong first half and win the NL East.

Washington Nationals 

The Nationals lost Harper and Daniel Murphy from their Opening Day lineup last year but still have quite a formidable stable of hitters.  Juan Soto is proving to be one of the best young bats in the league, Anthony Rendon is putting up the kind of numbers to get himself a massive payday and even former Phillie Howie Kendrick has been really good this year. The Nationals absorbed a tremendous amount of injuries early on to be one of the hottest teams in baseball at the break.

The Nationals also have one of the best rotations in the NL. Max Scherzer is displaying more Cy Young stuff, Stephen Strasburg has been consistently good and offseason acquisition Patrick Corbin has been as advertised. If the middle of the bullpen can improve, the Nationals could fight the Braves for the division.

Philadelphia Phillies 

After making a number of additions to help the offense, the Phillies hoped they’d be able to outslug their opponents in 2019. That hasn’t happened. Nearly everyon except Scott Kingery and Rhys Hoskins has underperformed and the loss of Andrew McCutchen has left a gaping hole at the top of the order. 

The Phillies' arms have been decimated by injury, too. Guys like David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez were expected to anchor the bullpen. Starters Jake Arrieta, Nick Pivetta, Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez have severely underperformed. The Phillies have regressed and it’s beginning to look a lot like 2018.

Last season, the Phillies entered the All-Star break at 53-42 and went 27-40 the rest of the way. Are you sure that can’t happen this season, too?

For the Phillies to hit the over, the offense will have to heat up, which it certainly could, and the arms will have to stabilize. As Corey Seidman pointed out (see story), it might not make too much sense to give up prospects to get better this season. The Phillies are in it for the long haul, and the other teams in the NL might be more aggressive at the deadline.

So, is 82.5 as harsh as it looks? Probably not. It feels right. If the Phillies continue on the path they’re on, they’ll go under. If the bats heat up and the arms stabilize and get healthy, they could smash the over by mid-September.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

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Phillies Talk podcast: Will there be baseball or not? 50 games would be lame

Jim Salisbury and Corey Seidman break down potential compromises between MLB players and owners to get a deal done and baseball back on our screens.

• Gut-feelings/educated guesses: Will there be a 2020 MLB season?

• How can these sides stop circling around each other and find a compromise?

• Ideas for a pay structure.

• What would a 50-game or 60-game season look like schedule-wise?

• Phillies and other clubs hemorrhaging money right now.

• Memories from next week's classic Phillies-Dodgers NLCS re-air.

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5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

5 years later, Jeff Francoeur remembers Chase Utley having his back on the mound

We've taken many strolls down Memory Lane during baseball's shutdown, but maybe not one as sad and ugly as this one.

Or, frankly, as humorous.

We're nearing the five-year anniversary of the low point of one of the most dreadful seasons in Phillies history.

Remember 2015? Ninety-nine (bleeping) losses. A season so bad it made Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg run away and hide.

Remember June 16 in Baltimore, the night that sorry season went from bad to completely off the hook?

Literally.

Jeff Francoeur remembers.

And not only because his left butt cheek hurt so much when it was all over.

Truth be told, even though the Phillies lost by the embarrassing score of 19-3 to the Orioles that night to complete their worst road trip in 132 years — yes, 132 — and even though the pitching coach and the team's star player almost dropped the gloves on the mound, Francoeur had a blast.

And he let that be known in the dugout after the seventh inning.

"I told the guys, 'Hey, I'm the only one to put up a donut tonight," the likable former Phillie recalled with a laugh on our Phillies Talk podcast recently. "It was a horrible road trip, the end of a bad time, yet it was kind of funny how it was able to play out. I still laugh when I think about it."

Francoeur spent a dozen years roaming the outfield for eight different big-league teams. Like many top baseball-playing athletes, he pitched in high school and dreamed of taking the mound just one time in the majors.

He was a reserve player during his one season in Philadelphia and more than once in that dismal campaign had reminded skipper Sandberg and pitching coach Bob McClure that he was available for bullpen duty if the team was having a particularly bad night at the office.

"We lost quite a few games in blowout fashion that year, so I was always kind of begging, 'Let me go in the game, let me go in the game,'" Francoeur recalled. "Ryno, to his defense, and I thought it was great, he never really wanted position players to pitch. He'd say, 'We've got enough arms to cover it.'"

But on June 16, 2015, as his team was on its way to completing an 0-8 road trip and his time as Phillies manager was nearing an end, Sandberg was forced to ditch his policy of not using position players on the hill. Jerome Williams had gotten torched and injured in the first inning and the Phillies had rolled through three relievers in the first six innings. 

In the fifth inning, Sandberg sidled up to Francoeur in the dugout.

"You still volunteering?" the manager asked.

"Absolutely!" the wannabe pitcher exclaimed.

As a player, Francoeur had a personal policy of putting his phone away and not checking it when he arrived at the ballpark for his workday. But on this night, he broke his own rule. After learning from Sandberg that he would pitch the seventh inning, he tiptoed into the clubhouse, pulled out his phone and called his wife, Catie, who was watching the game back in Philadelphia.

Catie, who knew her husband would never be near his phone at the ballpark, saw the number pop up and answered the phone in a panic.

"Don't worry," Jeff whispered. "Call my parents, get the DVR ready, I'm coming in the game to pitch."

Francoeur headed to the bullpen in the top of the seventh to warm up. Though he had pitched in high school and once in Triple A, this was different.

"My heart was pounding a mile a minute," he said.

He entered the game in the bottom of the inning. It was hardly a high leverage situation. The Phils trailed by a footballish score of 17-3. The Orioles' line score to that point looked like this: 6 3 3 1 1 3.

So, of course, Francoeur, throwing in the low 90s, had a 1-2-3 inning, the Phillies' first and only one of the night.

Looking for another quick inning, Sandberg sent Francoeur out for the eighth. That's when things went off the hook. Literally. Francoeur gave up a homer to Ryan Flaherty, the Orioles' eighth bomb of the game, then had trouble throwing strikes. He hit a batter. Walked a couple. His pitch count was soaring. Sandberg and McClure wanted to get someone up in the bullpen but they couldn't because the bullpen phone was off the hook. It wasn't until someone in the 'pen noticed McClure waving a white flag that the phone was put back on the hook.

By this time, Francoeur was laboring on the mound and Chase Utley was getting pissed. McClure went to the mound and was joined there by the entire infield. Utley, in no uncertain words, expressed his displeasure for what was going on and the way Francoeur was being pushed. Francoeur said he had one more hitter in him. He got that hitter and the inning — and the ordeal — mercifully ended with two runs in.

Five years later, the image of Utley giving McClure an earful is still fresh.

Was it as tense as it looked?

"Oh, it was worse than that," Francoeur said. "There were probably seven F-bombs in it. I thought those two were about to go right there on the mound. I said, 'This is all we need.' I remember I looked at Chase and thanked him for coming to my defense. I looked at Bob and I said, 'Look, this is my last hitter here,' and luckily, somehow, I got out of that inning. I still don't know how, but I did.

"To Bob's defense, he knew it. He said, 'We've let this get out of control.' But at that point, I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself right there on the mound at Camden Yards. My first inning, that was phenomenal. The eighth inning, I had that coming and I take full responsibility for it."

The clubhouse was tense after that loss, the Phillies' 20th in a 25-game stretch. There were rumblings that big changes were coming, that Andy MacPhail was about to be hired as club president — and, indeed, he was. Sandberg called the loss "ugly," and added, "I almost don't know what to say." McClure denied any friction with Utley. Utley didn't make himself available to reporters after the game.

Francoeur, an upbeat, positive soul, was all of that after the game. His arm was fine. He said he had no issues with anyone and said the Phillies owed the Orioles an ass-whuppin' the next night in Philadelphia.

The Phillies lost that game, too.

Nine days later, Sandberg, worn down by the losing, resigned from the job.

Francoeur played out the rest of the season with the Phillies and was passionate about the team avoiding 100 losses. That is still one of his takeaways from the season. That and the sore left butt cheek.

"Two hours after the game, my left butt cheek was killing me from landing 48 times," he said with a laugh. "I could hardly even get off the train back in Philly.

"But I am the only one who put up a goose egg that night."

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