Phillies

Gabe Kapler not at all a believer of the Home Run Derby curse

Gabe Kapler not at all a believer of the Home Run Derby curse

BALTIMORE — Once it was revealed that Rhys Hoskins would participate in his first Home Run Derby next Monday in Washington, D.C., the obligatory talking point came up: Will the derby negatively affect Hoskins' swing?

It's a question that gets asked every summer to every player who competes in the event because of the notable cases of players struggling in the second half after cranking homers in the derby. 

The most relevant Phillies example was Bobby Abreu in 2005, when he set a then-derby record with 24 home runs before hitting just six in 73 games after the All-Star break.

But for every Abreu-like example, there's a player whose power didn't fall off a cliff after he participated. It's a lot like the constant arguing over infield shifts. Most observers tend to notice the trend only when it's negative, only when it doesn't work.

Count Gabe Kapler among the non-believers in the Home Run Derby curse.

"I understand why people think about that but I think it's a story that the baseball world tells itself," Kapler said Thursday before the Phillies took on the Orioles.

"Ryan Howard is a perfect example. Ryan Howard competes in a Home Run Derby, wins a Home Run Derby, hits a bazillion home runs in the second half. As many cases as you can find on the side of a guy's swing not being perfect after the Home Run Derby, you can find as many cases of a guy excelling in the second half.

"I don't believe that the act of participating in a Home Run Derby makes your swing worse."

For a more detailed explanation of why the Derby curse is overblown, take a look at this piece from MLB.com's Mike Petriello.

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Who is that masked man at first base? It might be Rhys Hoskins

Who is that masked man at first base? It might be Rhys Hoskins

Rhys Hoskins is taking Major League Baseball’s health protocols very seriously.

Heck, he wore a mask during a zoom video session with reporters after Wednesday’s intrasquad game at Citizens Bank Park.

Hoskins did not wear a mask during the game.

But he may opt to wear one when the regular season starts on July 24.

Or even sooner.

Hoskins is a first baseman and that position isn’t exactly the best place to employ social distancing. You have to hold runners on base, take pickoff throws from the pitcher and make sweep tags on runners diving back to the base. Occasionally, a first baseman and base runner get physically tangled. You know, the throw from the pitcher is off-line. The first baseman lunges to stop it from going down the right-field line. Next thing you know, the first baseman is sprawled on top of the base runner.

That doesn’t exactly qualify as good social-distance practice.

So Hoskins may don a mask in the field one of these days.

“I thought that any time I was on the field, I would not be wearing a mask, but maybe it’s something I keep in my back pocket in a Ziploc baggie or something,” Hoskins said. “When somebody gets on first, I throw it on."

“It might make some more sense if I am wearing a mask in the field.”

Sitting outside the Phillies’ clubhouse, Hoskins tugged on the mask he was wearing during his zoom interview. 

“I’m not super bothered by it,” he said. “These are pretty comfortable. Hot for sure but the expense of being hot is worth not catching this thing and potentially ruining a season. It’s definitely something I’ll have to give thought to and ask the trainers and see what they say and go from there. I’m not opposed to it.”

Hoskins knows full well what a beast coronavirus can be. He and teammate Scott Kingery are longtime best buds. Kingery spoke of his battle with coronavirus earlier this week.

First base is baseball’s water cooler and the men who play the position are generally gregarious by nature. Hoskins is no exception. He likes to chat with base runners and share a laugh during breaks in the action.

That practice might be going away. Just like spitting.

Will Hoskins chat with base runners?

“I don't know if I will,” he said. “At least if I am, it's definitely not looking at him. I'll probably just continue to look at the pitcher.  

“But yeah, that's something that happens, I think, on every baseball field. Runner on first, there's usually some sort of exchange and off we go, we're talking about whatever we're talking about. Again, just a little adjustment that we'll have to make."

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2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

Bryce Harper spent the bulk of his video press conference last Friday discussing the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this 2020 MLB season. There were a lot of questions about health protocols, social distancing and doubt from some players that attempting to play this season is actually the right decision.

Harper talked a little baseball too. And one answer towards the end of the press conference stood out. 

He was asked whether he felt he'd have enough time in a three-week training camp featuring just three exhibition games to adequately prepare for the season. 

Harper acknowledged it would be a challenge, particularly given the Phillies’ regular season schedule.    

"East vs. East, are you kidding me?" Harper said of his team's 60-game slate consisting of solely NL East and AL East opponents. "We're going to face a lot of good teams, a lot of good organizations, a lot of good pitching. I went down each roster and was thinking to myself there could be 14 Cy Youngs in this East vs. East. I mean, that's crazy."

Harper's math is spot on. 

I identified 12 starting pitchers that the Phillies could face this season who have either won a Cy Young or are capable of pitching at a Cy Young level.

And if you add a pair of Harper's teammates — Aaron Nola, who finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018, and Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young in 2015 — that brings the grand total of Cy Young caliber pitchers in this East vs. East format to ... 14. 

Just like Harper said. 

Let's run through all the big arms the Phillies could face in 2020. 

After a season-opening three-game series against the Marlins, the Phillies play four straight games against the Yankees. They'll almost certainly face Gerrit Cole and James Paxton during that four-game stretch. Cole, who signed a $324 million contract with New York in the offseason, is generally regarded as the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. Paxton is fully recovered from a back injury in the spring and has been among the top starters in the American League over the last six years.

The Phillies get their first look at the Braves a week later. Atlanta's rotation features 22-year-old ace Mike Soroka and 36-year old veteran Cole Hamels. Soroka posted a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts last season, finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting and second in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind the Mets' Pete Alonso. Hamels has finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting four times in his career and remains an elite starter when healthy. 

The Mets come to town in mid-August, led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. New York's rotation also includes Marcus Stroman, who finished in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting three years ago and finished with a 3.22 ERA in 32 starts last season. 

The Phillies don't play the Nationals until late August. But their 10 games against Washington will feature a heavy dose of three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race two years ago and 11th in the voting last season. 

If there's a team that has a “Big 3” comparable to the Nationals, it may be the Rays, who the Phillies visit in a three-game series to end the season. Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow highlight Tampa Bay's rotation. Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young, Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young race, and Glasnow is an emerging star who posted a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts last season.

Yikes. 

But there is a silver lining — the Phillies don't have to worry about Chris Sale, Luis Severino or Noah Syndergaard. They're all out for the season with injuries. 

Nonetheless, the Phillies' bats better be ready from the outset. They'll be put to the test early and often. 

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