Phillies

It looks bad now, but Phillies were totally justified in not trading for Cole Hamels

It looks bad now, but Phillies were totally justified in not trading for Cole Hamels

The Phillies were originally supposed to face Cole Hamels this weekend, but the Cubs went to a six-man rotation briefly in late August to give their starters an extra day of rest and as a result, Hamels did not take the mound at Citizens Bank Park. 

With the Cubs, Hamels has already made history. He's allowed one or no runs in all six of his starts with his new team. No pitcher acquired during a season had ever started his career with his new team with five such starts.

Hamels' tremendous success so far with the Cubs has a lot of Phillies fans saying "I told you so." The Phillies were in on a few starting pitchers as the trade deadline approached, but J.A. Happ went to the Yankees and Hamels was dealt to the Cubs.

You have to keep in mind, though, how putrid Hamels had looked before the trade deadline. As good as he's been with the Cubs is as bad as he was with Texas toward the end of his stint there. In his final five starts with the Rangers, Hamels allowed 29 runs in 22 innings and his opponents hit .370 with a 1.043 OPS.

At the time of the trade, Hamels had a 4.72 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. He had a higher ERA and WHIP than any member of the Phillies' rotation.

Now, the obvious counterargument is that the Rangers weren't a contender, that Hamels could be reinvigorated by a move back to the National League, back to a competitive environment.

But that's just a sentence people say, a sports cliche. There was little evidence to suggest a massive turnaround was coming for Hamels at age 34. 

The other common counterargument is that Hamels was much better on the road than in Texas. Which is true, he had a 2.93 ERA on the road at the time of the trade. He also had allowed 11 runs in seven innings in his two most recent road starts — to the Orioles and Tigers, two of the worst teams and offenses in baseball.

As always, it's easier to judge a move or non-move in hindsight.

You have to keep in mind that the Cole Hamels of 2017 and half of 2018 was not the pitcher Phillies fans grew to love from 2006-15. Last season, he struck out just 6.4 batters per nine innings, by far the lowest rate of his career. He also, in 2016 and 2017, had the highest walk rates of his career.

There were plenty of signs that he was declining. From the Phillies' perspective, the Hamels of 2018 didn't represent much of an upgrade over Nick Pivetta or Vince Velasquez.

Of course, now the non-acquisition looks bad in light of Hamels' August. Remember, though, that Pivetta allowed two runs or fewer in four of his six starts in August. Velasquez has a 2.66 ERA over his last nine outings. 

Whose spot would Hamels have been taking? The weakest link lately has been Zach Eflin, who has a 5.51 ERA his last nine starts. But again, on the day Hamels was traded, Eflin was 7-2 with a 3.41 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and a strikeout per inning. 

If you're going to fault a team for not acquiring a struggling player who eventually turned it around, then you also have to credit a team for not acquiring a struggling player who has continued to struggle. Chris Archer, for example.

If anything, the bigger miss by the Phillies' front office was not acquiring Hamels' new teammate, Daniel Murphy, for practically nothing. The Phillies have added a bunch of veteran bats — Wilson Ramos, Asdrubal Cabrera, Justin Bour, Jose Bautista — but Murphy would have made a bigger impact than all of them except Ramos.

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Gabe Kapler coy about Sunday's starter for Phillies but roster moves likely to come

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USA Today Images/Isaiah J. Downing

Gabe Kapler coy about Sunday's starter for Phillies but roster moves likely to come

ATLANTA — Gabe Kapler is playing things close to the vest regarding Sunday's starting pitcher. The Phillies still have not announced who will start the series finale in Atlanta.

Here's what we know:

• It will not be Jake Arrieta on regular rest. Instead, the Phils will get Arrieta an extra day because of the off-day this past Thursday. Arrieta will start Monday's series opener in D.C.

• Cole Irvin will be involved Sunday in some form. He may not start, but he's likely to pitch multiple innings in relief as he did at Dodger Stadium on June 1.

If Irvin doesn't start, the other option is using an opener. However, this isn't as clear-cut as it was against the Dodgers, an extremely left-handed team with Joc Pederson, Max Muncy, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger and Alex Verdugo.

The Braves come at you from both sides and they are unlikely to alter their batting order because of an opener. Friday night's win was their eighth in a row and they've won all eight with this lineup. 

Atlanta is not going to move Ronald Acuña Jr. down in the order just because a right-hander like Juan Nicasio or Vince Velasquez is beginning the game. The Braves are not going to move Freddie Freeman or Nick Markakis out of their customary spots batting third and fifth.

All that to say, the mind game with the Braves Sunday is unlikely to have a big impact. 

We could wind up seeing someone like Nicasio face the first two batters of the game, Acuña Jr. and Dansby Swanson, then Kapler make the call to the 'pen for Irvin. That would seem like the right spot with Freeman batting third, Markakis fifth, Brian McCann seventh and Ozzie Albies (switch-hitter) eighth.

Roster moves coming

The Phillies could have a couple of roster moves to make Sunday to make room for Irvin and the potential return of Pat Neshek. Neshek (shoulder) responded well after a bullpen session Friday and could be activated Sunday morning. 

If those two are added to the 25-man roster Sunday, the casualties would likely be two of Ranger Suarez, Jerad Eickhoff and J.D. Hammer.

What about Quinn?

The tentative plan was to activate Roman Quinn for this Braves series but now it's more likely he's activated in D.C. rather than Atlanta.

Quinn was hit by a pitch in the shoulder Friday night during a rehab game with Double A Reading and felt discomfort on a subsequent swing. He will not play Saturday night for Reading but will go through his normal pregame routine and the Phillies will formulate a plan from there.

They do not see the shoulder issue as anything serious. Quinn is sitting Saturday as a precaution, Kapler said.

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Making sense of Phillies' demoralizing meltdown against Braves

Making sense of Phillies' demoralizing meltdown against Braves

ATLANTA — If the NL East is eventually decided by a game or two in the Braves' favor, Friday night, June 14, will stick out like a hanging splitter.

The Phillies, previously 36-2 when leading after the eighth inning, imploded in the ninth and lost a heartbreaker, 9-8 to the Braves to fall to 2½ games back in the NL East (see observations). It was the eighth win in a row for a Braves team that looks more dangerous by the day.

The ninth inning was like a game unto itself. Hector Neris, who entered a perfect 14 for 14 in save chances this season, looked to have things locked down on three different occasions but just could not throw that one final strike past rookie Austin Riley or veteran Brian McCann.

When Neris came all the way back from a 3-0 count to strike out Freddie Freeman earlier in the inning, it appeared he was on track to notch his 15th straight save. When Jay Bruce made a game-saving play by bare-handing a bouncing ball in the outfield that he ran past, it looked like fortune was on the Phillies' side.

Alas.

Both Riley and McCann made well-placed contact to left-center off Neris to key the win. Both were down to their final strike.

Neris is an accountable guy. He has been in this position before, experiencing success and failure. When he throws a flat fastball or leaves a split too high in the zone, he admits it. He did not feel like he was terrible on this night.

"He got soft contact on a pitch I threw for a strikeout," Neris said of the McCann at-bat, which cut the Phillies' lead to one and put runners on second and third with two outs. "He got terrible contact on that single. I can't control that. It was down, it just struck the bat. Looking at the pitch, lucky for him. But tomorrow, you know, I got it tomorrow, for sure."

The expected batting average on McCann's walk-off hit was just .190. You have to wonder whether it was a ball that an outfielder with range like Andrew McCutchen would have reached.

When you lose like this, all there is to do is look forward to tomorrow. A loss like this is too hard to swallow if you think too long about it or replay every moment. 

The Phillies were in control for two and a half hours. They got three long home runs from Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and Scott Kingery and led 7-2 entering the bottom of the seventh. They got a mostly solid start from Nick Pivetta, who had allowed just a pair of runs on solo homers through six. 

But the bullpen, which is ravaged by injuries and not good enough to win a division as currently constructed, gave it all back. 

"A crushing loss, no way around it," manager Gabe Kapler said. "We had a two-run lead in the ninth inning with our best reliever on the mound. Neris has been tremendous for us all year long. Outstanding for a full calendar year. Can't wait to get him back out on the mound in that same kind of situation. We have the highest level of trust with him in that situation. We felt really good in the dugout about it. It's just a devastating loss. We'll come back tomorrow and be ready to fight again."

Fans raced to social media to play Monday morning quarterback, a common occurrence when a big lead is lost. So many act like every decision the manager made was so plainly stupid and should have been changed. Looking at the choices Kapler made late in this game, no glaring mistake caused this loss. The Braves are just really good. They don't swing and miss much and they don't quit.

Did Kapler leave Pivetta in too long? Who's to say? You saw what the bullpen ended up doing. And in the long run, showing confidence in Pivetta with two outs and a man on second in the seventh inning against a hitter he'd retired all three times earlier in the night could be beneficial for him. Extending him to 116 pitches could be a confidence-builder and Pivetta acknowledged as much after the game.

Why use Jose Alvarez in the eighth? You tell me who you're going to in that spot, with lefties Nick Markakis and McCann due up and switch-hitting Ozzie Albies to follow.

Why not intentionally walk McCann with two outs and two on and pitch to Albies instead? Because Albies is a skilled hitter who is 14 for 33 (.424) over his last nine games and could have just as easily beaten Neris as McCann did. In fact, Albies may have been more of a threat, considering he's fast enough to beat out an infield hit, and another walk would have forced in the tying run. 

"It was discussed when McCann came up to the plate," Kapler said. "We felt like we had the right matchup there. Albies is the kind of guy that if he puts the ball in play he can beat out a single. There are so many things that can happen. The split can go by the catcher. We just thought the right thing there was let him go after McCann. We didn't think that ball was blistered by any stretch. We thought he made a good pitch. 

"At the end of the day, there's no discounting that that was very difficult to watch."

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