Gabe Kapler says Phillies players should be thinking they can win NL East

Gabe Kapler says Phillies players should be thinking they can win NL East

PITTSBURGH — Back in spring training, Gabe Kapler described himself as a relentless communicator. More than three months into the season, that has proven true. Be it in the clubhouse, the weight room, his office or on the field during batting practice, Kapler is always having little powwows with players and coaches.

The Phillies’ successful first half — they entered Friday night’s game against the Pirates at 10 games over .500 and just a game out of first place in the NL East — has created a theme for Kapler’s recent conversations with players and coaches.

“The themes right now are we’re in a position to win the National League East and make a run at that,” Kapler said. “If we take care of our business and do various things, we are going to be excited about our prospects come September. Those conversations are ongoing. They're always being had. They’re being had in various forms, but we’re asking people to take part in incubating those discussions.

“In spring training, we talked as a group, the players and our leadership group, and we said we expect to be a postseason club. I believed that then. I believe it now. We do indeed have the athletes, the horses, the leaders, the connectors, the teammates, to be a playoff team.”

With the trade deadline arriving at the end of the month, the front office is looking to upgrade the roster. A bullpen move seems quite possible. Third base is an area the team would like to bolster. And, of course, Manny Machado looms out there (see story).

What does Kapler think the team needs?

“My job is to work with the players we have in the clubhouse right now,” he said. “Everything we need right now to compete is right here. If all of our young players take these small steps that we’ve talked about since spring training, theoretically we’re a better team in the second half and we’re in a position to strike and make the postseason. I trust the work that (general manager) Matt Klentak and our front office is doing. That includes examining the landscape and looking for ways to upgrade.”

It would take a significant package of young talent to get Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. (And don't buy all the July posturing, the Phillies are in on him.) Over the last couple of days, pitcher Zach Eflin’s name was thrown around in reports. It’s difficult to imagine the Phillies dealing a 24-year-old starting pitcher who is under control and seems to be putting it together at the major-league level. (Eflin is 6-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts.)

“I don’t think we are where we are today if not for Zach Eflin’s performance in the last five weeks,” Kapler said. “He’s been incredibly valuable for us.”

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Phillies managing partner John Middleton and wife contribute $100K to Eagles Autism Challenge

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Phillies managing partner John Middleton and wife contribute $100K to Eagles Autism Challenge

Phillies principal owner/managing partner John Middleton and his wife, Leigh, have made a $100,000 donation to the Eagles Autism Challenge.  

Beginning this morning, The Middleton Matching Gift Challenge will match the first $100,000 in online donations dollar for dollar. So the Middletons will match each one-time donation (up to $1,000) until the $100,000 goal is reached. 

“The Eagles are a world-class organization both on and off the field and we are proud to be part of their effort to drive autism research and improve the lives of millions of people around the world,” Middleton said in a statement.

The Eagles Autism Challenge is a huge deal for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and the franchise. It has become the team’s most notable fundraising effort. 

“On behalf of my family and the Philadelphia Eagles, I would like to graciously thank John and Leigh for their extreme generosity and commitment, not just to the Eagles Autism Challenge but to the autism community,” Lurie said in a statement. “A contribution like this says a lot about someone’s character, thoughtfulness and compassion for others. John and Leigh are admired humanitarians who, together, have made a deep and profound philanthropic impact in the Philadelphia region and beyond. Our hope is that the Middleton’s generosity will inspire leadership support and further position our city as a base for autism research.”

The Middleton Matching Gift Challenge is the sixth matching gift this year. In total, it’s expected that $760,000 will be matched by the end of the week. 

The Eagles Autism Challenge is a one-day bike ride and 5K run/walk on Saturday, May 18 that begins and ends at Lincoln Financial Field. The event  also features three cycling routs — the Wawa Junior 15-Mile Ride, Wawa Short 30-Mile Ride and the Wawa Classic 50-Mile Ride. 

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Mets pick an incredibly lame moment to send Rhys Hoskins and Phillies a message

Mets pick an incredibly lame moment to send Rhys Hoskins and Phillies a message

NEW YORK — Two nights in a row, the Phillies have been outclassed by the Mets. Two nights in a row, there's been drama in an otherwise blah game.

The Phillies lost, 9-0, to Zack Wheeler and the Mets in the second game of the series (see observations), 24 hours after dropping a 5-1 decision that included a Bryce Harper ejection and a postgame message from Jake Arrieta to his teammates, through the media (see story).

On Tuesday, with two outs and nobody on in the ninth inning of a blowout, Mets reliever Jacob Rhame decided it was the appropriate time to send a message on behalf of his team after two Mets were hit by pitches the previous night.

The first pitch Rhame threw to Rhys Hoskins was a 96 mph fastball over his head. Hoskins was clearly annoyed by it, taking a few steps toward the mound as both benches slowly began to clear. After about 20 seconds, things cooled down and the at-bat continued.

Five pitches later, Rhame threw another fastball over Hoskins' head, this one at 97 mph, for ball four. Hoskins angrily slammed his bat and Mets catcher Travis d'Arnaud quickly stepped in front of him to create a barrier between Hoskins and the mound.

"Oh, he just said they were trying to go inside, and I laughed," Hoskins said.

Clearly intentional. Clearly a retaliatory attempt or message from the Mets a night after two consecutive Mets were unintentionally hit by pitches from Jose Alvarez and Juan Nicasio.

"He didn't miss up and in the rest of the inning, so I'll let you decide," Hoskins said after the game.

When asked if it was lame for a pitcher to choose the potential final at-bat of a blowout to throw at a batter, Hoskins tried to be as diplomatic as possible.

"I would think so," he said. "But I understand baseball. They got hit a couple of times yesterday."

This kind of situation comes up every once in a while across baseball, and hitters always say they understand the deal but that it's not cool to throw at a guy's head. Which it's not. Ever. Especially in the age of high-90s velocity.

"I don't get it," Bryce Harper said. "I understand that two of their guys got hit yesterday. But, I mean, if it's baseball and you're going to drill somebody, at least hit him in the ass. Not in the head. You throw 98, it's scary now. You could kill somebody. Lose your eyesight. That's bigger than the game."

Harper referenced the time Hunter Strickland hit him with a pitch to retaliate for the two home runs Harper hit off of him in the playoffs three years prior. It was a silly thing for Strickland to do, but at least it was in a safer spot.

"Strick hit me in the butt. I still went and got him," Harper said, referring to his charging the mound. "But, you know, I respected him for it because he hit me in the butt. I understand protecting your guys and two of their really good guys got hit yesterday. You never want to see your star players get hit. If you're going to throw at Rhys right there — I don't know if he did or not. I know he said, 'My bad.' Hopefully, he didn't. But if you're going to, just hit him in the butt."

One could theorize this may wake up a slumping Phillies offense. The same could have been said Monday of Harper's ejection, which did nothing but further deplete a Phils lineup missing two starters and its super-utilityman.

They'll have a chance Wednesday night to get back on track against the constantly hittable Jason Vargas, a soft-tossing lefty with a 9.58 ERA. If they can't, they'll come home totally demoralized from a road trip through Colorado and New York that included injuries and several silent offensive performances.

"We just haven't played good baseball these last couple of days," Hoskins said. "End of a long road trip. It's a big game tomorrow. We'll be excited to go back home, but we've got to take care of business tomorrow against these guys."

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