Phillies

Phillies 3, Braves 1: Cesar Hernandez homers in win, possible Phillies’ swan song

Phillies 3, Braves 1: Cesar Hernandez homers in win, possible Phillies’ swan song

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Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis signed with the Phillies on the same summer day in 2006.

Last offseason, Galvis’ long run with the team ended when he was traded to San Diego for pitcher Enyel De Los Santos.

This offseason, it could be Hernandez’s turn to go. The veteran second baseman has been available in trades the last two winters, but no team has met the Phillies’ high price.

The price could be lower now as the Phillies look to clear a spot at second base for Scott Kingery.

Hernandez, a regular at second base for four seasons, started at his customary spot for the Phillies in Sunday’s season finale and if it was his last game with the club, he went out in style. He led off the bottom of the first inning with his 15th homer, a career-high, to help the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 3-1, at Citizens Bank Park.

Salvage city

The Phils ended up winning their final two games of the season after losing nine straight.

They finished the season 80-82 — third-place in the NL East. They had 14 more wins than last season. But it could have been so much better. They went 16-33 after being 15 games over .500 and leading the NL East by 1½ game on Aug. 7.

The Phils have had six straight losing seasons.

Sneak peak

Manager Gabe Kapler used eight pitchers on the final day. Lefty Ranger Suarez allowed one run over three innings. He struck out five and walked two. Suarez looks to have an idea of what he’s doing. He will be in the mix for more work next season. He was coveted by Baltimore in mid-season trade talks involving Manny Machado.

The experiment continues

Carlos Santana started at third base for the 16th time this month and Rhys Hoskins played first base.

The Phils first started using Santana at third so they could get Justin Bour’s bat in the lineup at first base. Then they kept him there and moved Hoskins from left field to first base so they could improve their outfield defense.

Moving parts aside, Santana got the job done at third base. He made an eye-popping play last week in Denver another Sunday.

Santana won’t win a Gold Glove and won’t dazzle with his range. There might be times when his defense hurts the club. But with the Phillies likely to make a run at free-agent outfielder Bryce Harper this winter, playing Santana at third next season and keeping Hoskins at his natural first base position definitely appears to be a consideration. Why else would the team have taken the month to evaluate Santana at the position?

Santana is open to playing anywhere, as long as he is in the lineup (see story).

“We don’t know the answer to that yet,” general manager Matt Klentak said of the situation. “A lot of that may depend on other roster mechanics this offseason. But we can be a winning baseball team with (Santana and Hoskins) on the roster.”

At the turnstiles

A crowd of 34,202 was in the house on fan-appreciation day Sunday. That left the Phils with a final home attendance of 2,155,695. That does not include the “home” game that the Phils played against the Mets in Williamsport.

The Phils drew 1,905,354 last season. That had not reached 2 million in attendance since 2014.

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Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

Zack Wheeler's floor a huge boost for Phillies, but that ceiling ...

For long stretches in each of the last two seasons, Zack Wheeler was every bit as effective as Aaron Nola.

Wheeler had four terrific months in 2018, posting a 2.52 ERA over his final 20 starts beginning on June 1.

In 2019, he found his groove right around midseason, pitching to a 3.04 ERA over his final 16 starts.

When you hear the phrase "untapped potential" in relation to Wheeler, this is what it means. It means that if he can pitch like this a bit more consistently — four good months instead of two — he can be a legitimate ace.

If he can't? Well then, if you trust his stuff and his results the last two years, you're getting no worse than a low-end No. 2 starter. Wheeler has made 60 starts the last two seasons with a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, a strikeout per inning and less than a home run per nine.

Those numbers might not jump off the page, but they are impressive when you consider the surge in home runs in 2019 and especially so when considering his workload.

Wheeler is one of only 12 pitchers to reach 375 combined innings the last two seasons. The others are Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Patrick Corbin, Trevor Bauer, Jose Berrios, Miles Mikolas and Mike Leake.

In 2019, Wheeler made 18 quality starts (at least six innings with three earned runs or fewer). Nola also made 18. Zach Eflin had 14, Jake Arrieta had 10 and no other Phillie was in double-digits.

When Nola did not start a game for the Phillies in 2019, they received a quality start 31 percent of the time — less than once every three games.

Wheeler obviously helps with that. Think back to late last season when the Phillies could generate no momentum and had such a smaller chance to win when anyone was on the mound other than their ace. Wheeler changes that. He offers more of a chance for series wins, sweeps, actual winning streaks.

He also brings velocity, something the Phillies' rotation has sorely lacked for years. Wheeler's four-seam fastball averaged a career-best 96.7 mph last season, fourth-fastest in the majors behind Noah Syndergaard, Cole and deGrom.

The Phillies have never had a starting pitcher throw at least 100 innings in a season and average better than 95 mph with his fastball. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez came the closest. Wheeler has done it comfortably in back-to-back seasons.

Velocity is not the only thing, especially these days when so many have it, but it is obviously still a major part of missing bats and getting outs. Because Wheeler has 3 or 4 mph more on his fastball than Nola, and because he can locate significantly better than Pivetta or Velasquez, he offers the Phillies' rotation a different, much-needed look.

This is not to say Wheeler comes without flaws or concerns. He hasn't yet ripped off a string of strong seasons. Two is a start and the Phillies are banking on it continuing.

He hasn't been a Top 10 Cy Young finisher, though he should have been in '18.

He's never reached 200 innings in a season, though some of that was because of caution the Mets exercised with him.

And Wheeler, despite the velo, has gone through plenty of multi-start stretches where he's been hit hard and doesn't miss many bats, in a way you don't see with the tippy-top guys like Scherzer and deGrom (which Wheeler is not).

He had three starts in a row like that last August and two straight in June.

But Wheeler is as capable of 7 innings, 1 run, 11 strikeouts as any pitcher in either league. When he's on, he can be so, so good. He went at least seven innings 15 times last season and allowed one or no runs in seven of them.

This one addition will not boost the Phillies to 90 wins, but it's the first giant step to another critical offseason.



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At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

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NBCSP

At the Yard podcast: Reacting to the huge Zack Wheeler news

Ricky Bottalico and Corey Seidman react to the big news of the Phillies agreeing to a five-year deal with Zack Wheeler on the latest At The Yard podcast.

They also discuss the possibility of the Phillies signing Didi Gregorius, Cole Hamels heading to the Braves, and much more.

• Initial impressions of the signing
• What the guys like most about Wheeler
• Was this the right price?
• Bittersweet day with Hamels to Braves
• Phillies still need to add another good SP
• One Wheeler concern
• The market for Anthony Rendon



Click here to download the MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Flyers, Sixers and Phillies games easily on your device.

More on the Phillies