Phillies

Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Jean Segura praises Maikel Franco after Phillies' eye-popping offensive night

Maikel Franco has been basically unplayable for six weeks. Since a three-RBI game on May 1, he had gone 18 for 118 entering Monday's game. That's a 40-game stretch in which he hit .153 with a .206 on-base percentage and only two home runs.

He had lost starting reps to Sean Rodriguez. He lost playing time to newcomer Brad Miller. When Roman Quinn started in center, Scott Kingery played third base and Franco sat.

This happened last year as well. Franco lost playing time on separate occasions to J.P. Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Jesmuel Valentin. He reclaimed the job by finishing 2018 strong and getting out to the scalding start in April.

We're seeing the ebbs and flows of Franco play out again. On Monday night, he was a huge difference-maker, hitting the game-winning home run in an eventual 13-7 Phillies victory (see observations). A game-winner in a six-run win might not sound all too important but it was, as it put the Phils ahead 7-6 at the time and was the third time in five innings the Phillies were able to wrestle the lead away from the Mets.

In all, Franco went 3 for 4 with that mammoth blast to the brick wall in center field, two hard-hit singles, two runs scored, an intentional walk and two impressive defensive plays at third base, where he has been more sound than Kingery.

It felt like April again.

"We need this guy," Jean Segura said of Franco. "We are a different type of team when we have him because Maikey can change the dynamic of the game from one swing of the bat. We saw it today. One swing and he gives you the lead, swinging 3-0 there. For me, to have him next to me and to rely on is huge. Our lineup is gonna look better and more powerful when we have him in it."

What led to Franco starting this game?

"I was hoping it would remind him of how good he was just thinking about his at-bats against (Steven) Matz," manager Gabe Kapler said. "You could tell right when he stepped in the batter’s box that there was a determination and a focus that we had not seen in some time."

This particular Phillies lineup, utilized by Kapler for the first time, indeed looked powerful. You take it for what it is — one game, against a left-hander the Phillies have hit in the past, Matz. It was still the kind of night you needed to see from the Phillies, who had scored just 15 runs in their last seven games and looked lifeless offensively for the better part of two weeks.

Kingery led off for the first time and had three hits. He continues to show that he can not only play all over the field but also hit up and down the batting order.

"When he's right, it doesn't matter if he's playing left field or center field or shortstop or third base or second base," Kapler said. "It doesn't matter if he's hitting in the three-hole, the five-hole, seven-hole or one-hole. He's good enough. He's athletic enough. He's mentally tough enough to handle those transitions. What we're seeing right now is it doesn't matter what position he's playing or what lineup spot he hits in, he's just a good baseball player."

Segura, in the two-spot, had four hits for the first time as a Phillie. Segura's batting average had dropped from .325 to .268 in one calendar month but he raised it to .277 with four well-struck balls, including his eighth home run of the season.

The lack of the "good Segura" these last three weeks has loomed as large as the season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen. In conjunction, those two circumstances led to meager performances from the top of the Phillies' order.

"I'm coming back," Segura said with a smile. "It's a long season, still plenty of games left. I know what type of player I am, I know what I can contribute to the team. It's a tough division to play in and to be honest with you guys, being my first time in the East, it takes a tough stretch to step on it and keep going."

One win over the Mets won't cure all the Phillies' ills, nor will it greatly reduce the pressure on Kapler or GM Matt Klentak. If the Phils go cold Tuesday night, the same concerns will again be raised.

But for one night, we saw again what this Phillies lineup can look like when more than one or two guys are seeing the ball well. They had 19 hits in the win, with five players contributing multiple hits and every starting position player reaching base before one out was made in the fourth inning. 

All hail the curveball machine.

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Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Important week on tap for MLB — can season actually begin in early July?

Signs point toward meaningful MLB news coming this week. 

In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced that teams could return to their facilities to train, which is meaningful nationwide given the fact that New York has had more than twice as many cases of COVID-19 reported as any other state.

In Tampa, Tropicana Field was reopened for limited workouts and more than a dozen Rays players participated. The Astros have announced that Minute Maid Park is open for workouts, too. The Angels' spring training complex is open to all players on their 40-man roster.

MLB and the players' association are scheduled to meet today. Understandably, the players' union has, so far, been unwilling to accept another pay cut on top of what it thought agreed to in March with prorated pay. Team owners have been adamant that it is not financially viable to pay players a half-season salary with no fans in stands. From their side, the losses would be too steep and would affect future finances.

Will the sides reach a compromise? They have to. We saw again over the weekend how many Americans are starved for sports when 5.8 million tuned into the Tiger Woods-Peyton Manning vs. Phil Mickelson-Tom Brady golf match, a number slightly higher than The Last Dance documentary received. 

MLB didn't need any more evidence that returning was crucial, but there it was. All parties feel a sense of urgency because the league doesn't want baseball to dip further in popularity, and the players want to play and get paid. If the sport were to disappear for a period of 18 months, it will fall off the radar for many casual fans. And a portion of die-hards will be so frustrated by the sides' inability to come to a financial agreement at a time when so many are suffering physically, mentally and financially and craving the escape of sports that even their viewership habits could change. 

MLB cannot afford that. It is not at the height of its popularity like the NBA.

The goal, when this is worked out, is still to hold Spring Training II in mid-June and open the season at the beginning of July. The closer we get to those dates without an agreement, the less likely it becomes that the regular season could start so soon. Players will need two or three weeks to prepare regardless of when a deal is struck.

It also looks increasingly likely that teams will stay within their own divisions. There would still be a good amount of interleague play between teams in close proximity to one another (think Yankees and Orioles for the Phillies), but the three-division, 10-team format idea is not as necessary if teams can play in their home states as opposed to just Florida, Texas and Arizona.

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The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

The OG Phillie Phanatic wants Major League Baseball to lighten up

Dave Raymond, the OG Phillie Phanatic, was alarmed when he read the news earlier this week.

No Mascots!

Has Major League Baseball lost its mind?

Or worse, its sense of humor?

Don’t misunderstand, Raymond, the man who breathed life into that big ball of green fur from the time it debuted in 1978 until 1993, is all for ridding the world of this nasty coronavirus beast. He’s all for social distancing, frequent handwashing and everything else that goes with protecting folks from getting sick. He knows how serious this thing is.

And that’s why he’s hoping that MLB won’t follow through on its plan to ban mascots from games when and if the sport comes back with a proposed 82-game schedule in July.

“I understand that only essential personnel can physically be at the games,” Raymond said Friday. “But I would argue that in these serious times mascots are more essential than ever.”

After shedding the Phanatic’s fur and handing the keys to the ATV to the equally brilliant Tom Burgoyne 26 years ago, Raymond dedicated his professional life to the concept of fun. It’s serious business. Raymond has owned and operated companies that help professional teams and college sports programs develop mascots/brands. He has trained mascots and helped found a mascot Hall of Fame. His current focus is motivational speaking. Everything is centered around the Power of Fun — which just so happens to be the title of his book — and how it can make a difference in people’s lives.

In these trying times when lives have been lost, when people have gotten sick and when the world has wrapped a mask around its face and gone into quarantine, Raymond is preaching louder than ever about the importance of a little fun and the respite it can offer in difficult times.

“It’s a scientific fact that laughing helps a person emotionally and physically,” he said.

That’s why he believes mascots need to have their place in baseball’s return.

“Mascots are a reflection of the fans’ heart and soul and part of the reason fans get emotionally connected to their teams,” he said. “During this time, we need the connection they provide more than ever. I understand that fans can’t be in the stadiums, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still engage them through mascots and character brands. Baseball needs to be creative and carve out space for entertainment.”

Raymond proposes that mascots be featured on television broadcasts when the game returns. It would be kind of funny to see a camera pan over to the Phanatic sitting all alone in section 305. Maybe even have Bobby Vinton’s Mr. Lonely play in the background.

If the Phanatic absolutely, positively cannot be in the ballpark, then he could be featured through technology and social media. Raymond proposed live streaming the Phanatic, wherever he might be, watching the game. Run it across social media platforms and have fans follow along. Raymond also proposed prerecording videos that could feature fans playing catch with the final throw landing in the Phanatic’s glove as he stands on the field. Another idea: Replace the Phanatic’s middle-of-the-fifth-inning dance skit with a live Zoom call on Phanavision and let fans log in. He’d like to see this stuff in every major league city.

“I understand it’s safety first, but there’s still room to lighten things up a little,” Raymond said.

Raymond is sharing this message with mascots who have been sidelined all over the country, from the major leagues to the minor leagues to the colleges. He has personally tutored many of them. They are his friends. Some have been furloughed from their jobs.

“It’s really devastating,” he said.

On Tuesday, Raymond will host a Zoom webinar for mascots and officials from teams, leagues and colleges that he has worked with over the years. It’s titled What The Heck Should My Mascot Do Now?

For Dave Raymond, the answer is simple:

Follow the rules, but by all means, be creative, embrace technology and mascot on.

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