Phillies

Former GM: Phillies better than they realize, must make a trade

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Former GM: Phillies better than they realize, must make a trade

It's July 2 and the Phillies are eight games over .500. The season is more than halfway over, so the "It's still (insert date)" comments really don't apply anymore. 

As Andrew Knapp said Sunday after hitting a walk-off homer to give the Phils a series win over the Nationals for the second straight weekend: "It shows we're here to stay."

Everything said and indicated by GM Matt Klentak lately leads us to believe the Phillies will make an addition or two before the trade deadline. They definitely should. It would improve the team, provide a jolt of energy and be a sign to the entire city that the Phillies are legitimately interested in seeing how far they can take this thing in 2018.

On MLB Network Radio Monday, former Mets GM Jim Duquette spelled out why the front office must add this month.

"Going into the series this weekend I expected this to play out a little differently. I expected the Nationals to rise to the occasion. But, in fact, it was the other way around," Duquette began.

"I was talking to a couple of evaluators the other day, separately, about the Phillies. And it was a question mark, does the front office realize how good this team is? This is a legit good team. Surprisingly so. 

"They need to add something and I hope they're not holding back thinking next year is our year. This team is good enough to get to the postseason this year and compete for the division this year."

Both points are accurate. The National League is wide open. Take a second to consider who you think the best team in the NL currently is. The Braves? The Cubs? The Brewers? None of those teams have played markedly better baseball this season than the Phillies.

The Nats could take off in the second half, but it just doesn't look like their year. Stephen Strasburg is on the DL, Gio Gonzalez is regressing, Bryce Harper has the power numbers and walks but not much else, Adam Eaton and Daniel Murphy don't look completely healthy, and they lack a catcher. 

Yeah, 2019 or 2020 could be even better years for the Phils, but the division might not be as winnable in those years with improvements the other clubs can make.

"Whether it's going after (Manny) Machado, which has been rumored, or Machado and pitching, this is a much better team than ... the Braves get all the talk, but the Phillies are a pretty darn good team," Duquette said.

A key player at a position of need to keep an eye on is Royals 3B Mike Moustakas. Teammate Jim Salisbury reported over the weekend that the Phillies and Royals have had discussions about Moustakas and Kansas City's scouts have been eying the Phillies' minor-league system.

Moustakas would be a definite upgrade at third base, even though he and Maikel Franco do have a similar batting average (.258 vs. 250) and OBP (.313 vs. 300) this season. 

The difference is that Moustakas' power is much more consistent. He hit 38 home runs last season, and from 2015-18 he has a .816 OPS. Over that same timeframe, Franco has a .739 OPS. A 77-point difference is meaningful.

Moustakas is a free agent after the season so he'd be a two- or three-month rental. That will decrease what the Royals can realistically seek in a trade.

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A glimpse of what could make Zach Eflin a complete pitcher

A glimpse of what could make Zach Eflin a complete pitcher

These last six weeks, the Phillies have desperately needed a starting pitcher other than Aaron Nola to step up to keep them alive in the NL East race. 

Zach Eflin has been that guy two starts in a row, allowing one run in 11 innings in victories over the Marlins and Mets. If the Phillies lose one of those games, they lose the series and their already slim playoff hopes reach critical condition. 

The most impressive aspect of Eflin’s night Wednesday in the Phillies’ 4-0 win over the Mets was his changeup, specifically to the dangerous Michael Conforto. Eflin trusted the pitch vs. lefties and executed it as well as he has all season. 

After retiring him twice (the first time on a swinging strikeout), Eflin faced Conforto in the fifth inning with two on and two outs. The Phils’ lead was on the line in that moment, with the Mets’ best power hitter at the plate two nights after homering and driving in six runs. 

Eflin got Conforto to swing over a 3-2 changeup and the crisis was averted. The Mets didn’t threaten again. 

You don’t want to overemphasize one good start from a young pitcher, but if Eflin’s confidence in his changeup grew Wednesday, it’s a night you’ll think back to as his career unfolds. At various points in the season, all four of Eflin’s pitches — four-seam fastball, sinker, slider, changeup — have looked like plus pitches. 

He has a lot in his toolkit. He can throw a four-seamer by a hitter at 95 up in the zone. He can keep the ball in the infield, as he did Wednesday when just one of 21 Mets put the ball in the air against him. He can use the slider’s movement to complement the opposite movement from his two-seamer. 

If Eflin can effectively throw that changeup to powerful left-handed hitters, he can be a reliable mid-rotation piece for years to come. 

He’s the lone Phillies starter who will not pitch this weekend in Atlanta, but Eflin will indeed face dangerous lefties like Charlie Blackmon, Carlos Gonzalez, Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis in his remaining two starts. 

Blackmon and Freeman are both red-hot, in zones where they’re capable of hitting every type of pitcher they face. Go pull up a clip of Blackmon’s rainmaker off Clayton Kershaw Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.

Eflin will likely need that changeup to work against them like it did Conforto. With every remaining game carrying massive importance, the Phillies’ playoff hopes could depend on it. 

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Phillies 4, Mets 0: After 2 straight series wins, bring on the Braves

Phillies 4, Mets 0: After 2 straight series wins, bring on the Braves

BOX SCORE

Zach Eflin is pitching as well as he has since June, Rhys Hoskins added another startling stat to his résumé with career homer No. 50, and the Phillies won a series against a team other than the Marlins for the first time since July 25.

Boy, did the Phils need this 4-0 win, too, with the Braves beating the Cardinals earlier in the day ahead of the all-important four-game showdown in Atlanta beginning Thursday.

"We're going to Atlanta ready to win," Eflin said after the game, with some confidence.

At 78-73, the Phils are 5½ games back in the NL East with 11 to play. Any combination of six Braves wins or Phillies losses will result in Atlanta winning the division.

"We're in a pretty unique postion, an exciting position that doesn't happen all that often," Hoskins said. "As a competitor, it's all you can ask for — you control your own destiny."

This is the first time the Phillies have won back-to-back series since their first two series out of the All-Star break.

Success vs. Syndergaard

Four meetings with Noah Syndergaard in 2018 and the Phillies hit him around all four times. Syndergaard lasted just four innings, put seven men on base, allowed three runs and two homers.

Syndergaard had a 5.75 ERA in his four starts against the Phillies and they hit .326 off him.

In a year filled with weak offensive performances vs. mediocre pitchers, the Phils had little trouble with Syndergaard. The only other ace-type they did some damage against was Stephen Strasburg.

Hoskins has reached base in 8 of 13 career plate appearances vs. Syndergaard with two homers and two doubles (see story).

"There's something about velocity that simplifies things," Hoskins said. "It gives you less time to think. We've stuck to our game plan really well against him. As that goes on, you build confidence against a guy and when something works, you stick with it."

Eflin deals

Eflin was cruising until the fifth inning, when his pitch count rose in a high-stress situation. With runners on the corners and the Mets' most dangerous hitter, Michael Conforto, at the plate, Eflin was able to gear up to strike him out on a full count.

Eflin struck out nine over five scoreless innings. He faced 21 batters and only one put the ball in the air.

The Phillies have desperately needed someone to step up in the rotation other than Aaron Nola and these last two starts, Eflin has done it. He's given up one run in 11⅓ innings in wins over the Marlins and Mets.

Pinch-hit decisions pay off

These last two nights, Gabe Kapler's pinch-hit decisions in the middle innings have paid off.

On Tuesday, he used Wilson Ramos and Justin Bour in place of J.P. Crawford and Scott Kingery in the sixth inning. Ramos hit an RBI single and Bour tied the game with an RBI double. The Phillies scored five in the inning to win the game.

On Wednesday, Kapler turned to Jose Bautista over Odubel Herrera against a lefty in the fifth inning. An interesting choice with Herrera having homered in his previous at-bat.

Bautista rewarded his skipper with an RBI double.

Up next

Phillies and Braves, four games at SunTrust Park beginning Thursday at 7:35 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

The pitching matchups:

Vince Velasquez (9-11, 4.50) vs. Kevin Gausman (5-2, 2.61)

Nick Pivetta (7-13, 4.67) vs. Julio Teheran (9-8, 3.97)

Jake Arrieta (10-9, 3.77) vs. LHP Sean Newcomb (12-9, 4.04)

Aaron Nola (16-5, 2.44) vs. Mike Foltynewicz (11-10, 2.90)

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