Phillies

How Carlos Santana fits and where he hits

How Carlos Santana fits and where he hits

Carlos Santana's ability to take walks and get on base, coupled with his ability to hit for power, makes him a fit at several places in the batting order.

To wit, last year with the Cleveland Indians, Santana batted leadoff 37 times and cleanup 26 times.

Santana did not hit second in Terry Francona's lineup at all last season.

But that might be where he ends up hitting — at least to start off the 2018 season — for Gabe Kapler.

"I think the two-hole is a really important spot in the lineup — (a guy that) gets on base, comes up with men on base quite frequently," the new Phillies manager said when the new Phillie was unveiled in a news conference on Wednesday. "Carlos can handle the two-hole."

Kapler went on to say that he could envision Santana — who has averaged 24 homers and a .363 on-base percentage the last seven seasons — hitting first or third, as well.

But it's clear that Kapler is considering using the switch-hitting Santana in the two-hole.

Things, obviously, will play out in spring training, and there's a big variable lurking as Cesar Hernandez, and possibly others, remain potential trade chips. But right now, a few days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies' 2018 opening day batting order could look like this:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Carlos Santana, 1B
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Maikel Franco, 3B
6. Nick Williams, RF
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. J.P. Crawford, SS

Of course, it's possible that an outfielder other than Hoskins, maybe Williams, could be used in a trade for pitching. That could put Aaron Altherr in the lineup if he's not traded. Crawford could bring some on-base skills to the bottom of the order and he could move up to leadoff if Hernandez is dealt and Scott Kingery is not up yet.

The Phillies' overall on-base percentage is a dreadful .307 since they last made the playoffs in 2011. (Only San Diego, at .303, is worse.) But with the additions of Santana (for three years and $60 million) and Crawford (after the trade of Freddy Galvis) to the lineup in the last week, the Phillies will get on base more in 2018. And Kapler will have a lot of attractive options for constructing his lineup.

• The other day, we wrote about the Santana signing and how it ramped up the Phillies' rebuild. General managers typically will not make dramatic predictions, particularly when talking about expectations for their clubs. (Who needs that pressure?) Nonetheless, Klentak was asked what the Santana signing meant for his expectations for the coming season.

"I expect us to be the best club we can possibly be, given our personnel," he said. "We have a lot of young players, and with that, there's some uncertainty. We know that. Young players don't come with the same track record that a veteran comes with. But we believe that a lot of those players have a chance to take a step forward this year. If some of those players begin to take that step forward, we complement that with Carlos Santana in the middle of the lineup and a new-look bullpen, I don't really want to place limitations on what we may do next year. But I would expect us to be a more exciting team next year, for sure."

• Klentak has addressed the offense with Santana and the bullpen with Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. There's no use saying he needs to upgrade the starting rotation. He knows that. He has said it a number of times.

Prices for top young starting pitchers like Gerrit Cole and Chris Archer are exorbitant and would put a gaping hole in the Phillies' young core. It's possible that the Phillies will make only a modest addition to the rotation before spring training while gearing up for a July strike on the trade market. If the Texas Rangers fall out of the race, keep an eye on Cole Hamels. Both sides would have interest in a reunion someday.

"We're going to try to add the best pitcher we can," Klentak said. "But the trade market is very expensive for young, controllable starters. The free-agent market for the better starters is expensive in its own way. There's a balancing act here. If you look at our rosters, not only at the big-league level but also at Triple A and Double A, we have a lot of starting pitching prospects and players who are close to big-league ready, and we need to make sure they continue to get those reps and innings that they need to develop to succeed at this level. But at the same time, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to win Week 1 of the regular season next year."

With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

With so few options at back of rotation, where do Phillies turn?

ATLANTA — A one-sentence summary of the Phillies' series finale Sunday against the Braves? Sean Rodriguez was by far their best pitcher.

The Phillies were blown out, 15-1, in a game when they used an opener for the second time this season (see observations). Gabe Kapler told Vince Velasquez late Saturday night that he would get the "start," and the plan was to ride Velasquez for 50 to 60 pitches before turning to lefty Cole Irvin.

Velasquez, Irvin, Jerad Eickhoff, none of them came close to getting the job done. All three allowed consistently hard, loud contact. The Braves had nine extra-base hits and three more deep fly balls crushed to the warning track.

"We knew we were gonna bring Cole, we knew we had length out of Jerad and thought we could get 50 to 60 pitches out of Vince," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We did all those things, we just didn't do it effectively."

It was ugly from start to finish, and it again highlighted the Phillies' need to go get a starting pitcher right now. Not on July 10, not on July 20, not on July 31 but now. You can't force another team to trade with you, but let's forget for a minute about the top end of the market, the tier of Matt Boyd, Mike Minor, Madison Bumgarner and Zack Greinke. The Phillies just need another reliable arm that can give them six innings, get through a lineup three times. Maybe that arm comes from the minor-league system.

While it's true that most teams have a shaky fifth starter, most teams also have a few trustworthy arms ahead of them in the rotation. The Phillies do not right now. Aaron Nola has a 4.89 ERA. Jake Arrieta has a 4.31 ERA. Nick Pivetta is trending in the right direction, and Zach Eflin has been very good for much of the season, but this quartet has not collectively performed like a playoff rotation.

One thing looks abundantly clear, though: The Phillies cannot continue with the opener experiment with this personnel. Velasquez doesn't have the command, Irvin and Eickhoff don't have the stuff to keep the Phillies in the game against a lineup as potent as the Braves'.

What happens Friday when this rotation spot comes up again?

"We have a lot of work to do, a lot of discussions to have," Kapler said. "No question about it, we have to be better and we'll discuss it more on the flight to Washington, D.C., and get our ducks in a row.

"We haven't pitched our best recently. I think that we have a better level of play in us in totality and I have trust in our starting pitchers — Nick, Jake, Nola, obviously Eflin has been outstanding. We have a group of guys who have a track record of success and Nick has been sensational since he's back from the minor leagues. There's some confidence there."

The Phils clearly don't have a ton of confidence in Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff as starting pitchers or else one of them would have the No. 5 starter's job. Actions always speak louder than words.

Irvin's ERA is 6.84, Eickhoff has allowed 18 home runs in his last 28 innings, and Velasquez hasn't been able to take his team deep into games.

Who is next? Ranger Suarez? Enyel De Los Santos? Ramon Rosso? Adonis Medina? The decision won't be made for several days.

"I think we'll rebound from this with ease," Velasquez said. "I think it's just one of those games where these guys are hot and we've got to tip our caps off to them and keep moving forward. 

"They had a solid month, and we're right on their tails. I don't think it's one of those things where we should necessarily give up as a pitching staff or as an offensive team."

The Braves have been the hottest team in the NL, winning 24 of their last 34 games. And Velasquez does have a point — as well as Atlanta has played of late, as many injuries as the Phillies have, the deficit is only 2½ games. They can make that up in a series. 

But to do so, they need the starting staff to carry them for a bit. It hasn't been able to the way it was the first half of 2018. With so many key relievers injured, with Andrew McCutchen out for the season and Jay Bruce and J.T. Realmuto banged up, that is the unit that must step up. 

Can they do it? Can they keep the Phillies in the game against Patrick Corbin Monday, Max Scherzer Wednesday and Stephen Strasburg Thursday? If not, the gap between the Phillies and the Braves will only grow wider.

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Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

Braves 15, Phillies 1: Braves demolish Phillies, who badly need another SP

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — The Phillies' need for another starting pitcher has not been more glaring than it was Sunday afternoon in a totally embarrassing 15-1 loss to the Braves.

With no fifth starter currently on the Phillies' roster, Gabe Kapler went with Vince Velasquez as an opener in Sunday's series finale and it did not work.

Velasquez hit Ronald Acuña Jr. on an 0-2 pitch to begin the game, before Dansby Swanson singled and Freddie Freeman hit a two-run double. In all, Velasquez allowed four runs in 2⅓ innings before giving way to Cole Irvin.

Irvin didn't fare any better, giving up a long two-run homer to the second batter he faced, Josh Donaldson, then giving up loud contact the next few frames. Irvin gave up six runs in 3⅔ innings as the Braves built an eight-run lead that only grew and grew.

Jerad Eickhoff, formerly the No. 5 starter, entered next and allowed two more home runs. Eickhoff has been taken deep an astonishing 18 times in his last 28 innings.

The Phillies didn't hit, didn't play good defense and definitely didn't pitch well.

They need to quickly figure out the back of this rotation. Granted, the next time the fifth spot in the rotation comes up is against the lowly Marlins Friday at Citizens Bank Park, but the league just isn't being fooled by Velasquez, Irvin or Eickhoff.

Other options would be Enyel De Los Santos, Ranger Suarez or a pitching prospect like Adonis Medina, who is on the 40-man roster and is on a nice little roll at Double A Reading, going 5-0 with a 1.24 ERA over his last five starts.

The Phillies are 39-32 and 2½ games behind the Braves in the NL East. The Braves are 24-10 in their last 34 games, six games better than the Phillies over that span.

The Phils have lost 10 of their last 16.

Down two starters

The Phillies were without starting catcher J.T. Realmuto and leftfielder Jay Bruce in this one. Realmuto exited Saturday's game after taking a foul ball to the groin and Bruce left with hamstring tightness. Both are day to day and will avoid the injured list. 

It's possible one or both are back in the lineup Monday, though it could be Tuesday.

This is what a deep lineup looks like

Back when the Phillies had Andrew McCutchen and there was still hope/optimism about Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, they had what looked like one of baseball's deepest lineups. That is no longer the case. On Sunday, the Phils' 5-through-8 hitters were Cesar Hernandez, Nick Williams, Franco and Andrew Knapp. Not going to scare anyone.

The Braves just have a much better lineup. In order:

1) Acuña Jr. is a beast. 

2) Swanson has an OPS over .800.

3) Freeman is one of the two best hitters in the National League. 

4) Donaldson is a former MVP and a dangerous right-handed bat that is starting to get hot. 

5) Nick Markakis is a clutch left-handed hitter who rarely strikes out. 

6) Austin Riley will be in the Rookie of the Year conversation and might win it.

7) Ozzie Albies has blazing speed and at .281, has a higher batting average than every Phillies starter except Scott Kingery.

It helps that the Braves have had eight fewer injuries than the Phillies, none to their current starting lineup. But the gap in offenses right now is impossible to overlook.

Up next

The Phillies are in D.C. to play four games against the Nationals, who are 9-5 in June. The Phils will face all three of the Nationals' top starting pitching trio.

All four games are at 7:05 p.m. on NBC Sports Philadelphia.

Monday: Jake Arrieta (6-5, 4.31) vs. LHP Patrick Corbin (5-5, 4.11)

Tuesday: Zach Eflin (6-6, 2.81) vs. Erick Fedde (1-1, 3.68)

Wednesday: Nick Pivetta (4-1, 5.00) vs. Max Scherzer (5-5, 2.81)

Thursday: Aaron Nola (6-1, 4.89) vs. Stephen Strasburg (7-4, 3.75)

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