Phillies

One swing of the bat makes a big difference for Phillies and foes in NL wild-card race

One swing of the bat makes a big difference for Phillies and foes in NL wild-card race

One swing of the bat can mean so much in a playoff race.

Look what happened Tuesday night in Miami.

Look what happened in Philadelphia.

Down in Miami, the Milwaukee Brewers, who are locked in the same National League wild-card race as the Phillies, lost their best player, reigning league MVP Christian Yelich, for the remainder of the season when he suffered a broken right kneecap on a foul ball in the first inning.

Yelich entered the night leading the league in slugging (.672) and OPS (1.102). The Brewers won their game in Miami, but can they survive the rest of the way without Yelich? His injury could change the complexion of the wild-card race as it nears the wire.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the Phillies were 6-5 winners over the Atlanta Braves. The Phils won it on the strength of five home runs and some nifty bullpen work turned in by five relievers, three of them who’d been released by their old clubs over the last six weeks. In all, the ‘pen pitched six innings and allowed just one run after Jason Vargas had trouble throwing strikes and exited after three innings.

“That's a very difficult lineup to navigate through six innings and our bullpen did a tremendous job,” manager Gabe Kapler.

The Braves are a power plant. They have 230 homers, second-most in the NL and six shy of a team record.

The Phillies are not a power plant. They entered the night ranked 11th in the NL with 186 homers. But the power came on in this one and the win left the Phils with a chance to close to within two games of the second NL wild-card spot, depending on the outcome of the Cubs-Padres game in San Diego. Oh, by the way, the Cubs have also endured a recent injury to a star player as Javier Baez went down with a broken thumb last week. The Phils have 18 games left and are in the thick of the race with the Cubs, Brewers and Diamondbacks.

The Phillies came out with four runs — on three homers — in the first inning. J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper and Corey Dickerson all went deep against Max Fried.

Vargas gave up the lead in the third inning, but the Phillies got it back — for good — on one swing of the bat, one swing of the bat that will make it onto the team’s end-of-season highlight video.

With two outs and the game tied, 4-4, in the bottom of the third, Scott Kingery launched a long fly ball to center. The ball cleared the wall, but Braves centerfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., leaped and was able to get the ball into the pocket of his glove. As Acuna Jr., brought the ball back over the fence, he lost control of it and it hit the ground. No catch. No home-run robbery. With the play in front of him, Kingery kept motoring and got his home run inside-the-park style.

If Kingery hadn't run hard out of the box, he might not have made it home. As it was, he had to dive into home plate.

“The hustle he showed,” Kapler said. “We talked since spring training how important sharp turns around the bases were and how important it is to hustle out of the batter’s box on any ball. And we weren't sure if it was a home run. Kingery wasn't sure if it was a home run. Acuna wasn't sure if it was a home run. And he never stopped running. And that's why he walked away with an inside-the-park home run, one of the more exciting plays we've seen all year.”

The 360-foot sprint left Kingery winded, but elated.

“I wasn’t really sure what the rules were once the ball came out of his glove, so I just kept running and thankfully Dusty (Wathan, the third base coach) sent me home,” Kingery said. “I just tried to run even faster when I saw him sending me. For the next full inning I was trying to catch my breath out there."

Eventually, the Phillies’ bullpen gave up a run when Jared Hughes allowed a homer in the eighth, but by that time the Phils had a two-run lead thanks to Dickerson’s second home of the game. Both of his homers came against left-handers.

General manager Matt Klentak has taken plenty of heat for not making more significant additions at the trade deadline, but Dickerson has been a pretty good one as evidenced by his eight homers and 34 RBIs in 33 games.

“One of the things we're noticing is that left or right, he's probably got to be in the lineup right now,” Kapler said of Dickerson. “And if a left-handed reliever comes into the game, we almost feel comfortable and confident in Corey. I know the Pirates were using him in a platoon role. But certainly he looks dangerous against left-handers and right-handers and perhaps has really made a change for the better in his career.”

In addition to the five homers and six innings of one-run ball from the bullpen, the Phils got three huge defensive plays from Kingery, Realmuto and Harper.

Eighteen games left and this imperfect team is still in this imperfect wild-card race.

Zach Eflin faces Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday night.

Will one swing of the bat make a difference again?



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This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

Everyone is disappointed that the 2020 MLB season didn't start on time — owners, executives, managers and coaches, players and of course the fans who have been longing for baseball's return. There are so many intriguing storylines surrounding the Phillies. We were all so excited to watch this season play out.

The players themselves are all undoubtedly bummed. But this indefinite delay has to be especially frustrating for these five Phillies.

Rhys Hoskins

I can't imagine anyone was more anxious to get back to work in 2020 than Hoskins. The second half of his 2019 season was brutal. He hit .180 with just nine HR and 26 RBI in 71 games following the All-Star break. You could see that prolonged slump taking its toll on Hoskins. He wore the frustration outwardly on a nightly basis. For a guy who has experienced success at every stop of his baseball career, his struggles last season had to be confusing. What am I doing wrong? How can I get this fixed? Will I ever break out of this slump?

Hoskins spent a lot of time in the offseason adjusting his mental and physical approach at the plate. He admitted he was thinking too much last year. He worked with new hitting coach Joe Dillon, lowering his hands and opening his stance. He was eager to get back to being a force in the middle of the Phillies batting order, eager to prove that the second half of 2019 was a fluke. He wanted to get back to being one of the premiere sluggers in the National League.

But now Hoskins waits just like the rest of us to find out when (or if) he'll get that opportunity.

Jake Arrieta

This is the final year of the three-year, $75 million contract that Arrieta signed with the Phillies prior to the 2018 season. He'd be the first one to tell you that the Phillies haven't gotten their money's worth on that deal. Arrieta battled injuries and inconsistency in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. He pitched through a knee injury that required surgery in 2018, finishing that season with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. His 2019 season was cut short due to surgery in August to clean out a bone spur in his right elbow. He posted a 4.64 ERA in 24 starts before he was shut down.

The 34-year old Arrieta has hardly resembled the guy who won a World Series and Cy Young Award with the Cubs. But this spring he said he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make the type of impact the Phillies bargained for when they signed him to that big contract. Arrieta looked sharp in spring training. He was going to slot into the third spot in the rotation behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. A big year from Arrieta would do wonders for the Phillies' playoff chances. It would also put him in a great position as he ventures back into free agency following the 2020 season.

Bryce Harper

A lot of signs pointed to Harper having a monster 2020 season. He had a full offseason and spring training to focus solely on baseball as opposed to a year ago when he didn't know which team he'd be playing for or where his family would be living until the end of February. He was settled in playing with his new team and living in his new city. And perhaps maybe most telling, he was tearing the cover off the ball in spring training. Harper hit .500 with three doubles, three HR and 11 RBI in eight exhibition games. He was locked and loaded for the regular season.

But now Harper's potential MVP caliber season has been put on hold. If there is a 2020 season, it almost certainly won't be 162 games. Which means we won't find out what numbers he was capable of putting up in his second season with the Phillies. At 27 years old, Harper still has plenty of his prime years ahead of him. But this one could have been special. Hopefully it still can be.

Zach Eflin

Of all the Phillies starting pitchers, Eflin may be best positioned to make 'the leap' in 2020. The righthander is coming off an uneven 2019 season, posting a 10-13 record with a 4.13 ERA. It was a year full of ups (a pair of complete games) and downs (a July demotion to the bullpen). Eflin's skill set didn't mesh with how former pitching coach Chris Young wanted pitchers to attack hitters. Young stressed the importance of throwing fastballs up in the zone. Eflin is most effective when he relies on his sinker.

New pitching coach Bryan Price wants Eflin and the rest of the Phillies starters to pitch to their strengths. Price preaches efficiency, he wants Eflin to use his sinker early in the count to get ground ball outs. This appears to be a perfect union of coach and player. Eflin turns 26 on Wednesday, he enters his fifth big league season with 74 career starts under his belt. A lot of evidence suggests he may be poised for a career year.

Scott Kingery

After bouncing all over the diamond during his first two seasons with the Phillies, it looks like Kingery will finally get the chance to settle in at his natural position of second base this year. He played mostly shortstop, center field and third base in his first two major league seasons with cameos at second base, left field and right field. He's been valuable in that super utility role but he's mentioned his desire to play second base regularly. With Didi Gregorius at shortstop and Jean Segura playing third base during spring training, Kingery appears to be penciled in as the starter at second base.

Kingery's offensive numbers improved significantly from 2018 to 2019. He hit .258 last season with 34 doubles and 19 home runs, up from .226 with 23 doubles and eight HR in 2018. Being more comfortable at his natural position in the field should only enhance his production at the plate. Kingery bulked up in the offseason in hopes of taking his game to the next level. Time will tell if he gets the chance to do so.

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How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

There’s few things Phillies fans enjoy more than a comeback, walk-off win against the Mets. So make sure to give yourself a smile by watching just that on NBC Sports Philadelphia today. 

Specifically, we’re bringing you a 5-4 win from June of last season that ended with a Jay Bruce RBI double in the bottom of the 10th. But it was the play of Jean Segura that night that got the Phillies into a position to win it. The then-Phillies shortstop hit a solo home run off future and past teammate Jason Vargas (what a Phillies career he had) in the bottom of the 6th to cut the deficit to 4-1. In the 7th, Segura connected off Seth Lugo for a game-tying 2-run single.

That game proved to be a positive moment in a below-average season for the veteran infielder. In his 1st campaign with the Phillies, the walk and strikeout averse Segura hit .280. That’s 24 points lower than he batted with the Mariners the year before. His home runs only improved from 10 to 12, despite moving from cavernous T-Mobile Park to the much more long-ball conducive Citizens Bank Park.
    
All signs point to Segura moving from shortstop to 2nd base when regular season baseball takes place with Didi Gregorius signed in the offseason to play shortstop. While the returns on the infield realignment remain to be seen, Segura’s impact needs to be most felt at the plate and in the Phillies lineup.
    
So was last season the beginning of a decline for the recently-turned 30-year old Segura? Or just a slight dip for a player that hit .300 or better in each of the previous three seasons? 
    
A reason for optimism is Segura’s assertion that he entered spring training in February in much better shape than the previous season. That said, we don’t definitively know how this current hiatus will impact that physical conditioning. Pessimists will point out that history (not including the late 80s to the early 2000s) suggests players don’t get better as they enter their 30s.
    
Ultimately, it will add to the degree of difficulty for the Phillies to get where they want to go this season if Segura is not a .300 hitter that sets the table for the heart of the lineup.

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