Phillies

Before hiring Gabe Kapler, Phillies consulted MLB on his role in Nick Francona controversy

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Before hiring Gabe Kapler, Phillies consulted MLB on his role in Nick Francona controversy

New Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was in the news earlier this year when Yahoo! Sports reported that Major League Baseball was investigating whether the Los Angeles Dodgers had discriminated against an employee.

That employee was Nick Francona, son of current Cleveland Indians manager and former Phillies manager Terry Francona. Nick Francona was an assistant director of player development for the Dodgers. Kapler was his boss.

Francona, a Penn graduate and Afghanistan war veteran, had his contract terminated by the Dodgers in 2016. He made charges of discrimination against the Dodgers and Kapler.

The Phillies carefully investigated the matter before hiring Kapler.

"We were aware of the allegations," general manager Matt Klentak said. "It was public. It was on the internet. So we went into this knowing that something was out there, and we had a variety of conversations, I did and other people with the Phillies did, talking with top level executives with the Dodgers, with executives of Major League Baseball. Major League Baseball has asked that we not comment on the details, but we felt comfortable moving forward (with the hiring) and they've asked that we defer any future questions to the league office."

Kapler declined to comment on specifics of the matter.

"I totally understand why you’re asking the questions," he said at Thursday's introductory news conference (more from that here). "Per Major League Baseball, it’s not something we can address specifically. I will say this: I’ve known the Francona family for a long time and have a tremendous amount of respect for all of them, particularly Terry Francona, who was my manager for several years in Boston. I still hold him in the highest regard and think of him as a mentor.

"But as it relates to this specific question and this specific situation, per MLB, it’s not something that we can address."

Nick Francona currently works for the New York Mets.

Klentak has a relationship with Nick Francona. He was an assistant general manager with the Angels when Francona began his career in baseball.

"I was part of the group with the Angels that hired him there four years ago," Klentak said. "I spent a year working with him. I have a ton of respect for Nick Francona as a person, as a colleague, as a military veteran, and I think the important thing is that we don’t have to choose sides in this.

"I think we can be extremely excited and confident in the future of the Phillies and Gabe Kapler's presence on our staff, while at the same time fully respecting and supporting Nick Francona, who is a great kid, and I think that's an important message."

Former Phillies prospect Jon Singleton released by Astros

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Former Phillies prospect Jon Singleton released by Astros

During that time period when the Phillies were selling out every night, stacking division crowns and chasing veteran stars who fit, one of their prospects everyone wanted was Jon Singleton.

A first baseman, Singleton was blocked by Ryan Howard, and the Phillies eventually included him in one of their blockbusters, trading him along with Domingo Santana, Jarred Cosart and Josh Zeid to the Astros for Hunter Pence.

Houston saw a lot of potential in Singleton, who showed power and routinely had huge walk totals in the minors. The Astros took a unique chance on Singleton in 2014, signing him to a historic contract that guaranteed $10 million, even though he had yet to see a major-league pitch at that point.

The deal evoked strong reactions on both sides, with Cardinals pitcher Bud Norris tweeting that week: "Sorry but this Singleton deal is terrible. Wish the Jon listened to the union and not his agent."

Turns out, that deal was the right call for Singleton, who was released Monday night by the Astros.

Singleton is currently serving a 100-game suspension for a third positive drug test. The first two were marijuana-related.

Singleton is still just 26 years old, so he probably will resurface once his suspension is up. But his is one of many cautionary tales of why you shouldn't overvalue most prospects when you have an opportunity to add a star.

Pivetta's emergence, Alfaro's cannon, and what 27-18 means

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Pivetta's emergence, Alfaro's cannon, and what 27-18 means

At 27-18 after winning the first of a crucial three-game series against the Braves, the Phillies have the second-best record in the National League and the third-fewest losses in the majors, behind only the Yankees and Red Sox.

Seriously ... who would have thought the first 45 games would play out this way? Certainly not Vegas, where most books set the Phillies' over-under at 75½.

Let's take a look at some of the most interesting Phillies-related developments of the last week, starting with the word on everyone's mind:

Playoffs?!
Last season, only five teams — the Astros, Yankees, Nationals, Diamondbacks and Rockies — had this strong a start, record-wise.

All five of them made the playoffs, winning at least 87 games.

Going back two seasons, 11 of the 13 teams to start this fast made the playoffs, and going back another, it's 15 of 20.

The Phillies have not arrived at this record with dumb luck. They've outscored their opponents by 38 runs. They're fourth in the NL in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed. 

"Yeah, but they beat up on bad teams."

That's not even really true. The Phillies are 17-15 this season against teams .500 or better, including 8-3 in their last 11.

Perspective on Pivetta
After another gem last night, Nick Pivetta has a 3.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. Those are ace-like numbers nearly identical to 2017 Zack Greinke's (3.20 ERA, 1.07 WHIP).

Over his last three starts, Pivetta has pitched 19 innings and allowed one run on 12 baserunners while striking out 25. 

Pivetta is the only pitcher in the National League this season with at least 60 strikeouts and no more than 12 walks. In the AL, only Corey Kluber and Rick Porcello have done it.

And keep in mind, this is a guy who four starts ago allowed six runs in an inning. Take away that game at Nationals Park — which, I know, you can't — and Pivetta has a 2.25 ERA.

In a perfect world, the Phillies wanted Pivetta to become a reliable No. 3 starter this season. So far, he's been much more.

Alfaro's arm
When he first saw Jorge Alfaro in spring training, former Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Alfaro may have the strongest throwing arm he's ever seen from a catcher.

Last night, Gabe Kapler compared Alfaro favorably to Pudge Rodriguez.

If it seems like Alfaro has an uncommon cannon behind the plate, it's because he does. Alfaro's throws this season have averaged 90.5 mph, by far the fastest in the majors among catchers. J.T. Realmuto is next at 87.6 mph.

Alfaro had two base-stealers nabbed last night but caught only one because the throw was bobbled on Freddie Freeman's attempt. Still, Alfaro has thrown out 30 percent of would-be base-stealers, which is better than the league average.

Clutch off the bench
The Phillies already have three pinch-hit home runs this season after totaling just four in each of the past two seasons.

Two of the homers were from Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr answered with his own last night. These guys are just in perpetual competition.

Williams, by the way, has hit .313 with a .405 OBP in his last 15 games.

Finally, a home-field advantage
After posting the worst home record in all of MLB from 2014-17, the Phillies have the majors' best home record this season at 17-6.

The Phils have outhomered their opponents, 32-19, at Citizens Bank Park and outhit them .258 to .220.

While most would be inclined to attribute this to fans packing the park to finally see a winner, that really hasn't been the case so far. The Phillies' attendance is improved from the last few seasons, but they're still at just 58.3 percent capacity at CBP.