Gabe Kapler planning to make lineup changes Sunday as Phillies play a gut-check game against Marlins

Gabe Kapler planning to make lineup changes Sunday as Phillies play a gut-check game against Marlins

MIAMI — Thirteen games in, the Phillies have reached their first little gut check of the new season.

They soaked up a 10-3 loss to the Miami Marlins on Saturday night (see observations). Though they are off to a nice 8-5 start, the Phillies have lost three of their last four ballgames and a loss Sunday afternoon would mean something no team that is serious about winning the National League East can afford: A series loss to the lowly Marlins.

It would not be accurate to call it a shake up, but manager Gabe Kapler plans some changes to his lineup for Sunday’s game. He will likely give some rest to catcher J.T. Realmuto and go with Andrew Knapp behind the plate. And Scott Kingery is slated to start, possibly at second base in place of slow-starting Cesar Hernandez, possibly somewhere else.

“We're going to find a way to get Kingery in the lineup tomorrow,” Kapler said. “Not sure where he's going to play, but he's going to play tomorrow.”

Kingery earned his way into the lineup for the series finale by coming off the bench with a pair of late doubles in Saturday night’s loss. Maybe he can provide a spark to an offense that, other than a 14-hit bust-out in Friday night's win over the Marlins, hasn’t done a lot lately. The Phils were held to three singles in a 15-1 loss to Washington on Wednesday night. Saturday night, they were shut out on one hit through the first seven innings. They did all their scoring in the ninth inning — garbage time.

“We have to do better,” Kapler said. “We have to swing the bats better.”

Especially in the first inning. The Phils had Marlins lefty Caleb Smith in trouble in the first inning after two-out walks to Bryce Harper and Rhys Hoskins, but came away with nothing after Smith struck out J.T. Realmuto in an 11-pitch battle.

“I thought we had him on the ropes there,” Kapler said. “We were really close to putting their backs up against the wall. He threw 29 pitches that inning and then he just kind of settled in, got in a rhythm and a groove and got a whole lot more efficient and we weren't able to catch up.”

First-inning scoring has been a problem for the Phils so far. They’ve had 26 first-inning base runners in the first 13 games and stranded 70 percent of them while scoring just eight times.

Zach Eflin, so good in his first two starts, struggled in this one. He liked his stuff but so, too, did the Marlins. They got him for 10 hits in four innings. He was tagged for three homers in the third inning. The homers, on a curveball, a changeup and a fastball, traveled a combined 1,251 feet.

“I think a couple pitches were (poor) location, but for the most part I honestly thought I had really good stuff tonight,” Eflin said. “I felt really good in the first and second inning and after that it seemed like they started jumping on my stuff. Just one of those games where the cards didn’t go my way so swallow it, flush it, come back out in five days.

“It was a weird game. Things that normally don’t get hit were getting hit. Everything was healthy, everything was fine, just one of those weird games.”

Vince Velasquez gets the ball in a very important series finale Sunday afternoon. Sure, it’s only game No. 14 of the marathon and the first bead of sweat hasn’t even collected on the Phillies’ collective forehead. But teams with designs on winning the NL East can’t afford to lose series against the Marlins. In other words: Mini gut-check game.

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Toronto's 3-month shutdown doesn't bode well for any pro sport

Toronto's 3-month shutdown doesn't bode well for any pro sport

The announcement Tuesday that the city of Toronto has banned all public events through June 30 is not a good sign that games in any North American professional sports league will be back by then.

This is the longest-ranged shutdown any city has enacted, a span of three months. What is more likely: That only Toronto makes this decision, or that by the end of April many cities in the U.S. have followed suit?

In Toronto, this pertains to city-permitted events such as festivals and parades, city-led conferences and cultural programs, and major mass participation events organized by external groups at civic centers and squares, parks and public spaces. It's logical that sporting events could follow.

Previously, we knew that MLB's regular season would begin no earlier than late May or early June. That is an optimistic target date. If the season somehow does begin by June, it will likely be in empty stadiums. This is going to be gradual. It's unrealistic to expect 30,000 fans plus hundreds of stadium workers to be carefree and packed into a venue in just a few months.

"If you have municipalities doing that, to me it's tough to open your doors at a ballpark," Jim Salisbury said on our Phillies Talk podcast Tuesday.

"You think, well, OK, play with no fans, but they need personnel in the ballpark just to get the ballpark open. These clubhouses are big complexes, multi-room complexes. You're gonna have an expanded roster of like 30 players, then you'll have guys on the IL, 10-plus man coaching staffs and video staffs and analytics staffs and athletic training staffs and there's even the guys in there nightly who do the drug testing. 

"Your clubhouse complexes are very populated. There's a lot of people in there, and you don't know where people are going in those 10, 11 hours that they're out of the ballpark. You have umpires and TV personnel. To me, those are still gatherings. I don't even know if you can play with nobody in the ballpark. I don't have any idea how this is gonna play out."

The Phillies were supposed to host the Blue Jays in April and visit them in mid-September. Toronto's NBA and NHL teams are both heavily in the playoff mix. The Raptors are the 2-seed in the Eastern Conference and the Maple Leafs are third in the Atlantic. Playoffs in both leagues end in June; how far could they extend this year?

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How Philly-New York trash talk led to the Oakland Athletics elephant mascot

How Philly-New York trash talk led to the Oakland Athletics elephant mascot

The Oakland Athletics were slated to visit Philadelphia in mid-June in 2020 which, for the A's, would have been a return to the franchise's original home.

But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has Major League Baseball adjusting its 2020 schedule on the fly, so let's take some time to exploring a particularly quirky connection between Philadelphia and the Athletics' whimsical elephant mascot, Stomper.

You know, this guy:

Stomper dates all the way back to 1902, when professional baseball was still finding its footing, according to a neat little video on a slice of baseball from NBC Sports Bay Area.

It was a different time: Philadelphia had a team called the Athletics, and a man named John McGraw was managing the New York Giants. (Yes, the baseball Giants.)

McGraw, during a press conference, said he didn't think the Athletics' decision to buy up expensive star players' contracts was going to pay off, and said they would be left with "a big white elephant on their hands".

Famed Athletics owner and general manager Connie Mack laughed at McGraw's characterization, and decided to make a white elephant the Athletics' unofficial mascot. Eventually it became official, and before the Athletics and Giants faced off in the 1905 World Series, Mack presented McGraw with a white elephant statuette.

What an unreal Philly zinger.

You can watch the video from NBC Sports Bay Area below:

When the Athletics moved to Kansas City, the elephant disappeared (politics) but after the Athletics moved to Oakland, the team made the decision in the late 1980s to have the elephant make a triumphant - tri-unk-phant? - return.

I'm glad it came back, because now we have a reason to remember a sick 115-year-old burn. Connie Mack forever.