Phillies

Heck of a win for Phillies over Cubs, but some drama can be avoided

Heck of a win for Phillies over Cubs, but some drama can be avoided

CHICAGO — When a team goes into Wrigley Field and outlasts a first-place Chicago Cubs club in 10 innings, it’s a heck of a win.

And there’s no doubt the Phillies enjoyed that kind of a win Monday night. They fell behind early, rallied for a lead, gave it away, tied the game, and finally went ahead for good on a solo homer by J.T. Realmuto with two outs in the 10th inning.

The 5-4 win over the Cubs was the Phillies’ fourth in a row and it left them at a season-best nine games over .500 (see observations).

The Phillies got strong performances from several corners of their roster. Most notable was Realmuto, who shined at the plate and behind it.

But if the Phillies were completely honest with themselves as they headed for the team bus after the game, they would have admitted that the victory was actually more difficult than it should have been.

On a night when the Phillies made two excellent defensive plays to cut down runs at the plate in the early innings, they played a ragged eighth inning and that allowed the Cubs to rally for three runs and take a 4-3 lead. Only a one-out double by Maikel Franco, a huge, two-out walk by Andrew McCutchen (after being down 0-2) and a game-tying bloop single by Jean Segura saved the Phillies in the top of the ninth. They came all the way back on Realmuto’s homer in the 10th — five innings after he made a defensive gem on the receiving end of a Bryce Harper strike to the plate (see video).

“We talked about us acquiring the best all-around catcher in the game and it’s hard for me to imagine there’s a better one out there,” manager Gabe Kapler said after the game.

Prior to this victory, the Phils had been 0-14 when trailing after eight innings.

Again, a heck of a win.

But that eighth inning was troubling.

First of all, reliever Seranthony Dominguez had trouble throwing strikes in his second inning of work. He walked two and both came around to score on a one-out triple by Daniel Descalso.

Second, there was the defense — not so much Segura’s errant throw that bounced off of Descalso and allowed him to score the go-ahead run, but what preceded that.

Descalso’s triple split the gap between leftfielder McCutchen and centerfielder Odubel Herrera. Off the bat, the ball looked like it should have been caught for the second out of the inning. Next thing you knew, it was rolling toward the wall.

“I’ve got to catch that ball,” McCutchen said after the game. “It’s a ball I know I can catch if I stay on my route.”

Kapler called the play a “communication challenge” between McCutchen and Herrera. He went on to acknowledge that while the play was not routine, “with a little better communication, that ball is caught.”

McCutchen looked to be in control of the play until Herrera came into the picture. McCutchen said he had a bead on the ball but had to “veer off” his route because he feared colliding with Herrera.

“We have to do a better job communicating,” McCutchen said. “We’re still learning each other. Once [Herrera] knows I can get that ball, he doesn’t have to go 100 percent to get it. Those balls can’t hit the ground.”

And when they do, three runs can score in the blink of an eye.

In this case, it all conspired against Jake Arrieta. He was on his way to getting the win in his Wrigley Field return before the fateful eighth.

Dominguez was in the game for a second inning because he had a strong, 1-2-3 seventh and Kapler was trying to pick his spot with Pat Neshek. Neshek warmed up but never came in as Dominguez unraveled. After the game, Kapler revealed that Neshek was a little sore before the game. That’s why Kapler did not use him to close out the 10th after the Phils got the lead. Juan Nicasio got a double-play ball to end the game.

It was a hard-fought win for the Phils with a couple of big hits putting them over the top. But it was probably more hard-fought than it needed to be. McCutchen was right: Those balls can’t hit the ground.

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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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Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper provided the first memorable moment of Phillies summer camp on Wednesday afternoon. 

It wasn’t with a swing or a web gem, but rather it was two words that has everyone talking.

“Sign him!” 

That’s what Harper exclaimed as he returned to the dugout following a home run by J.T. Realmuto in an intrasquad game. 

Harper can claim to be a five-tool player, but you might be able to add a sixth tool to the arsenal because he’s been as effective a representative for Realmuto in contract negotiations as Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent. 

In addition to Wednesday’s on-field statement, Harper donned a t-shirt with Realmuto’s name and number during his initial workouts at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month. While Harper denied sending a message to the front office with his wardrobe, he did acknowledge that it would be “terrible and sad” if the Phillies were to lose Realmuto in free agency this offseason. 

If you want to argue that Harper’s actions and statement are an admirable attempt to help a teammate to a large pay day, that’s fair. It’s also likely that Harper views retaining Realmuto as the best path towards contention for the ballclub. 

The Phillies would be naive if they did not expect Harper to have a significant voice in team construction when they inked him to a 13-year, $330 million deal last year. Although it’s fair to assume they would prefer if Harper wasn’t hurting their negotiating position.  

Either way, a player of Harper’s stature and salary certainly has the right to speak his mind on roster matters.  

Let’s say Realmuto and the Phillies agree to a record-setting contract extension for a catcher. That would make the All-Star backstop the third nine-figure player on the Phillies’ payroll (Harper and Zack Wheeler). Keep in mind, this is an organization without a winning season since 2011 and that looks to be several key pieces away from true contention. 

Who knows where the Phillies will find themselves four years down the road? It’s possible Harper and Realmuto will have taken a late October ride or two down Broad Street in that time. It’s also possible that the club will have failed to take the next step in their development, the young pieces never reaching the level needed to contend. At that stage, the club could lack the flexibility to improve due its significant financial obligations. 

If the latter happens, let’s be clear: Harper has forfeited the right to justifiably complain about a perceived lack of commitment or a feeling of being misled about the intentions of ownership. It might be hyperbole to suggest the former NL MVP is forcing the Phillies’ hand with Realmuto, but he’s certainly making it known how he wants the team built. 

Harper does not appear to be that type of person that will turn on the Phillies if things do not go as hoped, but we’ve all been down this road before with unhappy superstars across the sporting landscape. 

It might not be an issue for today, but there’s a chance that day just may come.  

Stay tuned.

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