Phillies

Is it finally time for Phillies fans to give up the Mike Trout fantasy?

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Is it finally time for Phillies fans to give up the Mike Trout fantasy?

Philly fans are obsessed with Mike Trout, for good reason. He'll go down as one of the best players ever. He was born in nearby Millville, New Jersey. Did you know that? It's been pretty under-reported around these parts.

Until the day Trout retires, Phillies fans will hold out hope that someday, the Chosen One will join their favorite team.

The Angels could put a dent in those dreams this winter, though.

National baseball writer Jon Heyman wrote this week that the Angels could pursue a lifetime contract with Trout this offseason. Doesn't mean they will or that he'll sign it, but it does make sense with Trout's current six-year contract expiring after 2020.

The Angels will want to know from Trout whether he's interested in staying around long-term. If he's not, it's better for a team to know that before the player's last season under contract, because more can be acquired in a trade when the player has 1½ seasons left than just a half-season.

Trout wants to win. The Angels haven't been able to surround him with enough talent. The Albert Pujols contract worked out poorly. The Josh Hamilton contract turned out horribly. Shohei Ohtani needs elbow surgery, so for now, he's just a DH. The Angels' starting rotation has been ravaged by nonstop injuries. Trout is not winning a World Series in Anaheim. Feel free to send this paragraph to @FreezingColdTakes on Twitter.

The Phillies this offseason will pursue Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Some rival executives think the Phils possess the ability to land both superstars. If they strike out on one, or both, and if Trout chooses not to sign another long-term deal with the Halos, the trade talks will again amplify.

You have to keep in mind, though, that it will take an enormous trade package for the Angels to even consider moving Trout. A package that would take lots of major-league and minor-league talent away from an organization. 

Between blogs and social media, I've seen some Trout-to-the-Braves fantasies. Bringing that up only because, in every instance, the writer has argued, "as long as it doesn't cost Ronald Acuña Jr." 

Which is just hilarious, because you don't acquire one of the top five players in baseball history in his prime without giving up a great player in return. It is laughable to think the Angels would be OK with a package of Sean Newcomb, Ozzie Albies, Ender Inciarte and a group of prospects. 

Similarly, you'd think that if the Angels ever actually engage the Phillies in Trout trade talks, it could cost them Rhys Hoskins, Sixto Sanchez and two or three more players the Phils would feel extremely uncomfortable about trading.

Between the impending free agency of Harper and Machado and the possibility Trout makes a decision one way or the other regarding his long-term plans, we could know in three short months about the futures of baseball's three most dangerous hitters.

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No punch in the face this time. Aaron Nola shows why he’s the Phillies’ horse

No punch in the face this time. Aaron Nola shows why he’s the Phillies’ horse

BOSTON – The Phillies owed Aaron Nola one in this ballpark.

It was just over a year ago when he took the mound in venerable Fenway Park for the first time in his career. He wrung eight innings of one-run ball out of his right arm in a taut pitcher’s duel against David Price that night. The Phillies ended up losing, 2-1, in 13 innings because they didn’t generate enough offense and because Odubel Herrera made a couple of glaring mistakes (one on the bases and one in the outfield) that earned him a trip into manager Gabe Kapler’s office after the game. Later, Kapler delivered one of his most colorful quotes of the season and called the loss “a punch in the face.”

Fast forward to Tuesday night. Kapler spoke only in awe after watching his team pull out a tense 3-2 win over the Boston Red Sox (see observations), mostly on the strength of Nola and his latest gem.

“He’s so tough,” Kapler said. “Man, is he resilient.”

Nola had to be tough and resilient because 1) the Phillies’ offense hibernated for a good chunk of the game, and 2) he pitched with traffic on the bases for much of the night.

The Phillies scored three runs in the first inning then did nothing the rest of the night as the Red Sox’ bullpen retired 15 straight at one point. Meanwhile, Nola got six outs in the fifth and sixth innings with a runner on second base to preserve a one-run lead.

The stress of those innings probably cost Nola a chance to go out for the eighth inning. He ended up with seven innings of four-hit, two-run ball, one walk and seven strikeouts to run his record to 12-3 and lower his ERA to 3.51. He threw 104 pitches and reached 94 mph on his 103rd pitch.

"Pretty standard," Rhys Hoskins deadpanned. "They've got a thousand RBIs in that lineup and he went through it three full times."

Kapler briefly thought about sending his horse out for the eighth inning.

“I did consider it,” the manager said. “He was good. He did a really good job. There were some high-stress innings, big pitches, some 95s. It was a lot. It was a really great performance and we wanted to hold on to that. It was the right time.”

The Red Sox entered the game leading the majors in hitting. They have a thunderous lineup that features 103 homers from their top four hitters. But Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin and Hector Neris got the final six outs to close out a night of strong Phillies' pitching. Neris benefitted from the ol’ at-‘em ball in the ninth as the Red Sox hit a couple of rockets in that inning, one right at shortstop Jean Segura for a game-ending double play.

Nola’s outing validated the organization’s plan to have him pitch as much as possible down the stretch. He will stay on his fifth day the rest of the way and that will allow him to make eight starts and pitch on the final day of the regular season, if necessary.

“I’m good to pitch whenever,” Nola said. “Whenever they tell me to pitch, I’ll be ready.”

The Phillies’ rotation is a series of question marks after Nola, hence the plan to ride him as much as possible.

“He’s as physically prepared as any pitcher I’ve even been around,” Kapler said. “He’s as mentally prepared as any pitcher I’ve ever been around. So I think he’s built for this. And, quite frankly, we’re in a pennant race and he’s far and away our best and most dependable pitcher so it’s time to take that sort of liberty.”

Tuesday night’s win enabled the Phillies to stay two games back in the NL wild-card race. Both they and the Mets are 65-60.

“I’ve always said anything can happen in this sport and we’re not out of it by any means,” Nola said. “We all believe we can keep winning.”

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Aaron Nola comes up aces in Phillies' win over Red Sox

Aaron Nola comes up aces in Phillies' win over Red Sox

BOX SCORE

BOSTON – On a night when their offense did some damage early then went into a long hibernation, the Phillies pulled out an important, 3-2, win over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night because they pitched brilliantly.

Aaron Nola delivered a terrific start and Jose Alvarez, Mike Morin and Hector Neris combined for six outs in relief to close out the one-run victory.

Neris survived a ringing leadoff double in the ninth as Boston’s Xander Bogaerts ran into the first out on the bases. He then survived a liner off the bat of Andrew Benintendi that went for a game-ending double play.

The win snapped a two-game losing skid for the Phillies, who entered the game two back in the NL wild-card race.

The Phillies had just seven hits on the night and four of them came in the first inning.

The Red Sox entered the game leading the majors with a .277 team batting average. The Phillies held them to five hits through eight innings. Pretty good.

Quick start, then …

Nothing.

The Phils scored three times against lefty Brian Johnson in the first inning. Two of the runs came on a double by Jean Segura after Rhys Hoskins walked and Bryce Harper doubled. Scott Kingery drove in the third run with a single.

That was it for the Phillies’ inconsistent offense. Starting with two outs in the fourth, Boston’s bullpen retired 15 straight Phillies hitters until Adam Haseley drew a two-out walk in the ninth.

Nola’s night 

He was superb. Just superb.

He pitched seven innings, allowed four hits and two runs. He struck out seven and walked just one. He threw 104 pitches and No. 103 was 94 mph.

Nola was outstanding in protecting a one-run lead in the fifth and sixth innings. Both times, he got three outs with a runner on second base. In the sixth, he retired the Sox’ No. 2, 3, and 4 hitters to get out of trouble. That trio of Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez has combined for 82 homers.

Nola has shined in two career starts at Fenway Park. On July 30, 2018, he pitched a very similar ballgame – eight innings, four hits, one run, one walk and six strikeouts. The Phillies lost that game, 2-1.

One mistake

On a night when the offense gave him little margin for error, Nola made one mistake – a first-pitch fastball to Jackie Bradley Jr., with a man on base in the third inning. Bradley ambushed the down-the-middle heater for a two-run homer. Two of the four hits that Nola allowed came in the inning.

The horse

Before the game, manager Gabe Kapler talked about riding Nola every fifth day through the end of the season (see story). Kapler said he wanted to see how this start went before he said anything definitive. It went pretty well.

Lineup stuff

Hoskins was the designated hitter in the American League park. Once again, Kapler looked to optimize Hoskins’ selectivity and on-base skills in the leadoff spot.

J.T. Realmuto got a break behind the plate and started at first base. Andrew Knapp did the catching.

Hoskins’ night

He entered the game hitting just .168 since the All-Star break. He had an infield hit in the fourth inning and walked twice. He is hitting .239 but leads the team with a .380 on-base percentage.

Hoskins ignited the Phillies’ three-run first inning with a leadoff walk.

Up next

Drew Smyly (1-1, 4.71 in five starts with the Phillies) gets the ball Wednesday night. He will pitch against Boston’s Rick Porcelo (11-9, 5.49).

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