Phillies

Did Phillies GM Matt Klentak speak too soon about avoiding starting pitcher trade?

Did Phillies GM Matt Klentak speak too soon about avoiding starting pitcher trade?

Did Matt Klentak speak too soon when he indicated the Phillies are unlikely to pursue a starting pitcher ahead of the trade deadline?

Since the GM's comments on Friday, the Phillies have watched Nick Pivetta have another rough outing, pushing his ERA to 6.60 since June 1. They watched Zach Eflin, in his return from a brief DL stint caused by a blister, fail to make it out of the third inning Monday night against the Dodgers' tough lineup.

In between was a dominant start from Vince Velasquez, but it's fair to wonder if the Phils' rotation will hold up and keep the team in contention over these final 63 games.

"Right now starting pitching has been the strength of our team this year," Klentak said Friday. "We're very encouraged about not only the five here but also what we have in Triple A, and we're hopeful that that's going to mean that we can stay out of the starting pitcher trade market at the deadline because, if you can avoid it, that is definitely a market to avoid."

The starting pitching trade market is not strong. There's Cole Hamels and J.A. Happ, who have both struggled of late. There's Matt Harvey, the returning Ervin Santana, Lance Lynn ... not many meaningful upgrades out there.

Hamels update

On Monday, MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported the Nationals and Rangers have discussed a Hamels trade. Washington is one of nine teams to which Hamels cannot block a trade.

Hamels has also been connected to the Phillies, and Todd Zolecki reported that the Phils did have a scout in Texas Monday for Hamels' start against the Athletics. Said scout might not have been impressed by the A's jumping on Hamels for seven runs and two homers in five innings.

It's going to be tough, though, for any team to feel great about sending prospect(s) to Texas for Hamels right now. Entering Monday night, he had allowed 30 runs in his last 37 innings. He's allowed a ton of home runs — 21 in 109 innings — and Hamels' 1.34 WHIP is higher than everyone in the Phillies' rotation.

The money

There's also the matter of Hamels' remaining contract. He has a $20 million club option next season that can be bought out for $6 million. So if a team acquires him ahead of the deadline, it will either be committing itself to a high salary for a mid-rotation piece, or it'll be spending $6 million in addition to Hamels' 2018 money just to get out of the deal after the season.

Happ over Hamels

If the Phillies do pursue a starting pitcher, Happ makes more sense. He's averaged just 4 1/3 innings per start in July but he's still capable of pitching well and deep into games. 

Happ's calling card over the years has been his deceptiveness. His arm slot is high, near his left ear, which creates deceptive velocity for the hitter because they're not seeing the ball until the last possible second. It's a major reason why Happ has been able to strike out 130 batters in 114 innings this season despite throwing his fastball in the 90-to-92 mph range.

Happ is a free agent after the season, but Toronto will still seek a solid return for him because he might be the best starter on the trade market. 

The Blue Jays have several players who could help the Phillies. There's the reported interest in Curtis Granderson, who would be a big boost to a weak bench. Yangervis Solarte is a switch-hitting infielder with pop who can play second base and third base, and though he's started only 17 games at shortstop the last two seasons, it's not like the Phillies have gotten exceptional defense from that position this season anyway.

Josh Donaldson is the biggest name of the bunch, but he seems like more of an August trade candidate because he's still not back from the calf injury that has cost him most of the season.

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Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Maikel Franco has been basically unplayable for six weeks. Since a three-RBI game on May 1, he had gone 18 for 118 entering Monday's game. That's a 40-game stretch in which he hit .153 with a .206 on-base percentage and only two home runs.

He had lost starting reps to Sean Rodriguez. He lost playing time to newcomer Brad Miller. When Roman Quinn started in center, Scott Kingery played third base and Franco sat.

This happened last year as well. Franco lost playing time on separate occasions to J.P. Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Jesmuel Valentin. He reclaimed the job by finishing 2018 strong and getting out to the scalding start in April.

We're seeing the ebbs and flows of Franco play out again. On Monday night, he was a huge difference-maker, hitting the game-winning home run in an eventual 13-7 Phillies victory (see observations). A game-winner in a six-run win might not sound all too important but it was, as it put the Phils ahead 7-6 at the time and was the third time in five innings the Phillies were able to wrestle the lead away from the Mets.

In all, Franco went 3 for 4 with that mammoth blast to the brick wall in center field, two hard-hit singles, two runs scored, an intentional walk and two impressive defensive plays at third base, where he has been more sound than Kingery.

It felt like April again.

"We need this guy," Jean Segura said of Franco. "We are a different type of team when we have him because Maikey can change the dynamic of the game from one swing of the bat. We saw it today. One swing and he gives you the lead, swinging 3-0 there. For me, to have him next to me and to rely on is huge. Our lineup is gonna look better and more powerful when we have him in it."

What led to Franco starting this game?

"I was hoping it would remind him of how good he was just thinking about his at-bats against (Steven) Matz," manager Gabe Kapler said. "You could tell right when he stepped in the batter’s box that there was a determination and a focus that we had not seen in some time."

This particular Phillies lineup, utilized by Kapler for the first time, indeed looked powerful. You take it for what it is — one game, against a left-hander the Phillies have hit in the past, Matz. It was still the kind of night you needed to see from the Phillies, who had scored just 15 runs in their last seven games and looked lifeless offensively for the better part of two weeks.

Kingery led off for the first time and had three hits. He continues to show that he can not only play all over the field but also hit up and down the batting order.

"When he's right, it doesn't matter if he's playing left field or center field or shortstop or third base or second base," Kapler said. "It doesn't matter if he's hitting in the three-hole, the five-hole, seven-hole or one-hole. He's good enough. He's athletic enough. He's mentally tough enough to handle those transitions. What we're seeing right now is it doesn't matter what position he's playing or what lineup spot he hits in, he's just a good baseball player."

Segura, in the two-spot, had four hits for the first time as a Phillie. Segura's batting average had dropped from .325 to .268 in one calendar month but he raised it to .277 with four well-struck balls, including his eighth home run of the season.

The lack of the "good Segura" these last three weeks has loomed as large as the season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen. In conjunction, those two circumstances led to meager performances from the top of the Phillies' order.

"I'm coming back," Segura said with a smile. "It's a long season, still plenty of games left. I know what type of player I am, I know what I can contribute to the team. It's a tough division to play in and to be honest with you guys, being my first time in the East, it takes a tough stretch to step on it and keep going."

One win over the Mets won't cure all the Phillies' ills, nor will it greatly reduce the pressure on Kapler or GM Matt Klentak. If the Phils go cold Tuesday night, the same concerns will again be raised.

But for one night, we saw again what this Phillies lineup can look like when more than one or two guys are seeing the ball well. They had 19 hits in the win, with five players contributing multiple hits and every starting position player reaching base before one out was made in the fourth inning. 

All hail the curveball machine.

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Phillies 13, Mets 7: With another new lineup, Phillies have best offensive game of season

Phillies 13, Mets 7: With another new lineup, Phillies have best offensive game of season

The post-curveball-machine Phillies are 1-0 and hitting .442.

Behind 19 hits, the Phils beat the Mets, 13-7, on Monday night to snap a seven-game losing streak. It came hours after a group of Phillies — J.T. Realmuto, Brad Miller, Sean Rodriguez, Andrew Knapp — was on the field to do some early hitting against breaking balls, both from a live arm and the machine.

There was a whole lot of early scoring in this one, but Maikel Franco's two-run home run to center field off Steven Matz in the bottom of the fifth put the Phillies ahead for good. They erased Mets leads in the first, fourth and fifth innings.

After six innings, 33 of the 69 total batters in the game had reached base. J.D. Hammer's clean top of the seventh was the only 1-2-3 inning for either side all night.

Another new-look lineup for Gabe Kapler, with Scott Kingery in the leadoff spot, looked strong. Up and down the lineup, the Phillies made loud, powerful contact. It wasn't just limited to the top of the order — the Phils' 5-through-8 hitters were 8 for 17 with two walks, a homer, a triple and four RBI. Between the offensive breakout, the power and even the intentional walk to Franco in the eight-hole, it felt like April again.

With the win, the Phillies are 40-38. They avoided falling back to .500 for the first time since they were 0-0. The Mets are 37-42 and have lost nine of 14.

Confidence-builder for Franco

Franco needed a game like this. He reached base in each of his first four plate appearances, crushed a two-run shot off the brick wall past center field, and made multiple sterling defensive plays. On two different occasions, Franco charged a softly hit ball, barehanded it and fired to first base. Both resulted in outs, though one of the plays was overturned. Still, there are few third basemen in the game who make that particular play more effectively and consistently than Franco.

Franco thrives on confidence. He is perhaps more affected by it than any other Phillie. This night should result in more starts for him in the Mets series. It's not as if the Phils are bursting with better options.

Franco's home run came on a 3-0 pitch. According to the Phillies, Franco's five career home runs on 3-0 pitches are the most in Phillies history since that stat began being tracked. Chase Utley had four.

Big production up top

Expect to see this lineup for at least a few more games. Kingery had two hits in the leadoff spot, Jean Segura had his first four-hit game as a Phillie, Bryce Harper had two well-struck doubles and Rhys Hoskins went deep.

Harper's 23 doubles are second-most in the National League behind only Pittsburgh's Josh Bell. Harper also threw out Matz at third base from medium-deep right field in the fourth inning. 

Segura has shown signs lately of snapping out of a slump that saw him go 17 for 97 (.175) in the 25 games leading into Monday. Segura has a modest six-game hitting streak and is 9 for 25 over that span with two homers and two doubles. 

The Phillies need this version of Segura back. The season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen hurt badly by itself but it also coincided with Segura's cold streak and the result was so much less offense out of the Nos. 1 and 2 spots in the Phillies' order. 

Eflin rocked

A night to forget for Zach Eflin, who allowed 11 hits, six runs and three homers over five innings. He had trouble putting Mets hitters away and the three home runs came on counts of 0-2, 1-2 and 0-1. 

The Phillies have not gotten a combination of quality pitching and quality hitting on the same night lately. Eflin's ERA rose from 2.83 to 3.26 in his worst start of the season.

Up next

It's a rare four-game series against the Mets in which the Phillies will not face Jacob deGrom or Noah Syndergaard. The ace deGrom went on Sunday, and Syndergaard has a rehab start Tuesday before potentially being activated against the Braves this weekend.

Tuesday night at 7:05 — Jake Arrieta (6-6, 4.12) vs. Walker Lockett (0-1, 23.14)

Wednesday night at 7:05 — Nick Pivetta (4-2, 5.54) vs. LHP Jason Vargas (3-3, 3.75)

Thursday afternoon at 1:05 — Aaron Nola (6-2, 4.55) vs. Zack Wheeler (6-5, 4.69)

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