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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Indians' Shane Bieber pushes Phillies one step closer to the end

Indians' Shane Bieber pushes Phillies one step closer to the end

CLEVELAND — Time continues to run out for the Phillies.

They suffered a 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

Meanwhile in Milwaukee, the Brewers hammered the Pittsburgh Pirates, 10-1.

These two outcomes dropped the Phillies five games back in the NL wild-card race with just 10 games to play. The math is against the Phillies. Their elimination number is down to five. If Milwaukee plays just .500 ball over its last eight games, the Phillies would have to go 10-0 just to tie. For a team that hasn’t won more than four games in a row all season, that’s bad news.

“We’ve got to win. Period,” Jay Bruce said. “Can’t worry about anything else. You listen. You read. You concern yourself too much about it and it doesn’t do any good. So we have to win and see what happens. There are no promises. But we know we can’t go where we want to go if we don’t win.”

The Phillies didn’t win Friday night because they did not get a good start from Drew Smyly and they did not hit Cleveland starter Shane Bieber.

The loss was the Phillies’ second in a row and it came with J.T. Realmuto, arguably the team’s MVP, getting the night off. Jean Segura also did not play because of a sore ankle.

Realmuto has carried the heaviest load of any catcher in baseball and manager Gabe Kapler decided to give him a recovery day on the opener of a crucial series. Kapler explained his reasons before the game (see story). Realmuto was not available before the game and he refused to speak with reporters after the game. He is expected to start behind the plate on Saturday night when Jason Vargas looks to stop the losing skid. Vargas has lasted just three innings in each of his last two starts.

Smyly allowed seven base runners and gave up four runs in the first two innings Friday night. He was gone after walking the first batter in the bottom of the third. The lefty appeared perturbed upon leaving the game, but it wasn’t with Kapler’s decision to pull him. The bullpen allowed just one run the rest of the way to keep the Phils in the game.

“I wasn’t upset,” Smyly said. “I was just upset with how the game went. I just wasn’t very good tonight at all. I wasn’t very good with my command and put the team in a hole.”

The Phillies got a two-run double from Maikel Franco, a late add to the starting lineup after Segura was scratched, in the fifth inning and that was the extent of their offense.

Bieber, a 24-year-old right-hander, scattered seven hits, walked none and struck out seven in 7 1/3 innings of work. He looked very much like the guy who was the MVP of the All-Star Game in July.

“He showed why he’s one of the best young pitchers in baseball,” Kapler said. “He brought his A-game tonight. He was able to execute all of his pitches, threw strikes, attacked the zone, and had some wipeout stuff below the zone.”

“He’s the true definition of a pitcher,” Bruce added. “He’s got good stuff, commands both sides of the plate and doesn’t give in. He’s very confident in every pitch he has. He did what he wanted tonight. He hit his spots, he got ahead, he finished guys with different pitches.”

Bieber, who is 15-7 with a 3.23 ERA this season, was a product of the 2016 draft. He went in the fourth round, which means there are 29 clubs out there kicking themselves for passing on him. The Phillies made four picks in that draft, including Mickey Moniak at No. 1 overall, before the Indians selected Bieber out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. The Phils selected pitcher Kevin Gowdy, infielder Cole Stobbe and pitcher Jo Jo Romero with their next three picks. Moniak played at Double A this season and Romero pitched at Double A and Triple A. Gowdy missed time recovering from Tommy John surgery and pitched at Lakewood this season. Stobbe also played there. Moniak, Stobbe and Gowdy were all chosen out of high school.

A familiar name closed the door for the Indians. Carlos Carrasco, the former Phillies prospect who was traded for Cliff Lee a decade ago, got the final four outs for the save. Carrasco is one of the game’s best inspirational stories. He was treated for leukemia this summer and is back helping the Indians in a playoff chase.

The 91-win Indians are tied with Tampa Bay for the second AL wild-card spot.



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Drew Smyly puts Phillies in an early hole they can't overcome against Indians

Drew Smyly puts Phillies in an early hole they can't overcome against Indians

BOX SCORE 

CLEVELAND — The Phillies moved one step closer to being eliminated from postseason contention in a 5-2 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Friday night.

The loss dropped the Phillies 4 ½ games out in the wild-card chase and they could be five out depending on the outcome of the Milwaukee-Pittsburgh game.

There are just 10 games remaining.

Like the Phillies, Cleveland is in must-win mode. The Indians (91-63) entered the night tied with Tampa Bay for the second American League wild-card spot.

The Phillies did not get a good start from lefty Drew Smyly.

The Indians, meanwhile, got a very good one from right-hander Shane Bieber. He gave up two runs over 7 1/3 innings.

The Phillies are 78-74. They need to win four of their final 10 games to have their first winning season since 2011.

Smyly’s night

It wasn’t good. He walked the first batter in the bottom of the third inning and was lifted by manager Gabe Kapler.

Smyly allowed the first four batters in the bottom of the first inning to reach base on a walk and three hits. Two of them scored. He gave up two more runs in the second inning. Both were unearned after a throwing error by Rhys Hoskins.

Smyly did not appear happy when Kapler pulled him from the game. But eight base runners in two-plus innings was a little much and the bullpen was able to settle things down and keep the game close.

Bieber’s night

The All-Star right-hander improved to 15-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.23.

He struck out seven and walked none. It was the eighth time this season that he’d registered at least seven strikeouts and no walks.

Bieber is a product of the 2016 draft. The Indians picked him in the fourth round out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. That was a notable draft for the Phillies because they had the first overall pick. They selected outfielder Mickey Moniak with that pick. The Phils picked pitcher Kevin Gowdy in the second round, infielder Cole Stobbe in the third round and pitcher Jo Jo Romero in the fourth round, 15 picks ahead of Bieber. Moniak played at Double A this season and Romero pitched at Double A and Triple A. Gowdy missed time recovering from Tommy John surgery and pitched at Lakewood this season. Stobbe also played there. Moniak, Stobbe and Gowdy were all chosen out of high school.

Carrasco comes up big

Carlos Carrasco, the former Phillies prospect who was traded to the Indians in the Cliff Lee deal a decade ago, registered a huge out when he retired Jay Bruce on a ground ball with runners on the corners to end the top of the eighth. Bruce could have tied the game with one swing, but Carrasco won the battle.

Carrasco is winning another battle, as well. He was treated for leukemia earlier this summer and has made it back to help the Indians’ playoff chase.

Carrasco stayed on for the ninth inning and got the save.

Scratched

Shortstop Jean Segura was a late scratch from the starting lineup. He has a sore left ankle. Maikel Franco was inserted into the lineup at third base and Scott Kingery moved over to shortstop. Franco drove in the Phillies’ runs with a double in the fifth.

Realmuto rests

Kapler gave J.T. Realmuto a rest at a crucial point of the season. The manager explained why (see story).

Up next

The series continues Saturday night. Jason Vargas (6-8, 4.48) pitches for the Phillies against Cleveland right-hander Zach Plesac (8-6, 3.64). Yes, he’s Dan’s nephew.



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