Phillies

Phillies 8, Mets 3: Amid so many pitching issues, Aaron Nola's brilliance has returned

Phillies 8, Mets 3: Amid so many pitching issues, Aaron Nola's brilliance has returned

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NEW YORK — The Phillies finished off their first half with a big first inning, another gem from Aaron Nola and a series win.

The Phils beat the Mets Sunday, 8-3, to improve to 9-4 this season in the head-to-head series.

At 47-43, the Phillies are on an 85-win pace at the All-Star break — fewer wins than most expected and not enough to result in a playoff berth. There's still 44.4 percent of the season for them to change that outlook.

Nola is on fire. Over his last four starts, he has allowed just two earned runs in 29⅔ innings, a 0.61 ERA. The rest of the Phillies' rotation has a 7.58 ERA over that span. 

Pitching like an ace

For the second time in 10 days, Nola no-hit the Mets through five innings. The no-no was broken up with one out in the sixth on Pete Alonso's two-run homer, his 30th of the season. 

Nola's last four starts have looked like this: 29⅔ innings, 14 hits, 2 earned runs, 8 walks, 34 strikeouts.

In just those four starts, he has lowered his season ERA from 4.89 to 3.74.

Nola is 8-2 and the Phillies are 12-7 in his starts.

Early offense aplenty

For the second time in four games, the Phillies scored four runs in the first inning. This time, they hung on to win. 

They began the afternoon with five hits in their first six at-bats against Zack Wheeler, who is typically a tough customer and did settle in to retire nine in a row in innings 3-5. 

Rhys Hoskins blooped a ball to right-center where there was no outfielder to drive in the first run with a double. J.T. Realmuto followed with a two-run double down the line and Jay Bruce added an RBI knock.

Nola had a four-run lead before even taking the mound, which sure looked like enough given how well he's pitched the last three weeks.

Bruce continues to rake

Bruce later added a two-run homer and a solo shot, giving him 10 home runs as a Phillie and 24 overall this season. 

He's homered once every 10.3 at-bats as a Phillie and is slugging .641.

Hoskins added a solo shot in the ninth inning, his 20th of the season.

Harper's uber-aggressiveness

Gabe Kapler said two weeks ago that Bryce Harper plays harder than any superstar he's ever been around, and most who have followed the Phillies this season can understand why. Whether it's leaving his feet in the field, taking extra bases or wanting to play every inning of every game, Harper's approach to his craft is the kind Philadelphia fans love. In that way specifically, he could not have ingratiated himself more to the fan base in this first half.

But the aggressiveness has hurt the Phillies at times, too. Harper was thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double in the second inning Sunday. It was the eighth time this season he has been thrown out on the basepaths, tied for most in the majors. (This does not include times he was caught stealing.)

Still, it would be inaccurate to point to those eight outs and determine Harper has been a negative on the bases. He has added a handful of doubles by busting it out of the box, and he's taken at least two bases 35 percent of the time that he's been on first or second and a single has been hit.

Up next

It's the All-Star break. The Phillies resume play on Friday against the Nationals.

Coming out of the break they have three at home with the Nats and four at home against the Dodgers. Not an easy task, especially considering the Nationals can use all three of their top starters in that series.

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Phillies Talk podcast: Shane Victorino joins to talk some ball

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Phillies Talk podcast: Shane Victorino joins to talk some ball

A special guest joined the Phillies Talk podcast Friday: former Phillies All-Star and World Series champion Shane Victorino.

• Victorino on the sports shutdown

• His love of Philly, the fans and how they embraced him

• Why Philly made such a difference in his life

• The confidence that Charlie Manuel and Gene Lamont gave him

• Shane on his famous walk-off outfield assist

• Victorino's 40-yard dash vs. Troy Polamalu

• Victorino on Bryce Harper

• His message to Phillies fans

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Andrew McCutchen taking his hacks, taking virus seriously and getting a glimpse of retired life

Andrew McCutchen taking his hacks, taking virus seriously and getting a glimpse of retired life

Around 11 a.m. Thursday, Andrew McCutchen wanted to go take some hacks. He's not getting work in seven days a week like he was during spring training — no sense in overdoing it right now — but is still working out five times a week and those are the only five times he leaves the house. 

McCutchen is in Florida with his wife Maria and their two young sons. The family is taking the stay-at-home guidelines seriously. He's the only one leaving the house and he keeps hand sanitizer, gloves and a mask on him. 

"I've taken it as seriously as possible," McCutchen said during a phone conversation Thursday.

"Realizing I have a family back home so I don't want to jeopardize their lives at all because this thing is serious. It's taking all the measures and steps and caution that I can when I'm away for a couple hours. That's kind of where I am. It's around, it's real and you've got to treat it that way."

It, of course, is coronavirus, which has practically shut down the entire country and has left each pro sports league's 2020 schedule in jeopardy. 

This has been a humbling experience for millions upon millions of people. We are all largely in the same boat — you, me, Bryce Harper, LeBron. We all have to stay in the house, we're all bored at times, stir crazy at times, depressed at times, wondering when this will pass.

MLB last week worked out key issues pertaining to 2020 pay and service time in the event of a canceled season. With those details finalized, there isn't a ton of baseball talk going on between players at the moment.

"Baseball is kind of on the backburner. We're all dealing with real-life problems," McCutchen said. "There's just some things in life going on that we're putting ahead of that, putting in front of that. I'm just doing my best, as far as getting myself ready physically. But at the same time, realizing that I've got a family at home and they depend on me to be there to provide and I know there's just so many other people going through things that are much worse. 

"Baseball-wise, there's not that much to talk about, there's more to talk about with the everyday things going on and the drastic changes in the world."

As we search for any silver lining to this heartbreaking situation, one could be that it resets some of us, reminds us of what is truly important and how much the loved ones we can't see right now mean to us. 

This is a much different situation than any a professional athlete has gotten used to. In a radio interview with Mike Missanelli Thursday, Phillies manager Joe Girardi remarked that "it was like going from winter to winter." 

McCutchen feels things slowing down in his mind and in his world. He's getting a lot of family time with Maria, their two-year-old son Steel and three-month-old son Armani. They're thinking of ways to keep Steel active and everyone sane during a period when outdoor activity has been drastically limited.

"I realized I'm really able to slow down and use my brain a little more than I guess I have," McCutchen said. "Just thinking about things to do with my son around the house, there's so many things to do. Like yesterday, we had chalk and were like drawing on the driveway. Just doing little things like that every day has been super helpful. But at the same time, it's kinda fun because we're able to relive our childhood and just think about that simplified life we used to have."

It's also giving McCutchen, 33, a glimpse of life after baseball.

"It kinda speeds up a little bit on you when you think about this moment," he said. "You think about how when you're retired one day how life's gonna be, it's essentially kind of what it's like. It kinda isn't, but you're not playing at all, I can kinda look at it like that. I'm not playing, I haven't played in a full year. I'm just trying to think of how it would be when I'm not playing, when I'm actually done playing. 

"It makes me realize to not take anything for granted, not take the game for granted, enjoy the game as much as you possibly can. Don't take it too seriously. The game is important but realize that you're playing a game. Only way you can play is by having fun. Just keep doing that. This thing doesn't last forever. I just miss being out there on the field with my teammates, playing in front of the fans, the roar of the crowd, thinking of all those things that you've experienced and knowing that when we're back, whenever that is, who knows when that will feel normal again because of all of this. Or when will it be? Not trying to take anything for granted. Just being grateful and thankful for the opportunities and your past in this game."

If/when the 2020 MLB season does begin, McCutchen will be ready. The Phillies won't have to play a month without him like they would have if the season began on March 26. McCutchen, who tore his ACL last June, says this is the longest he's ever gone without playing a game since he picked up a bat at five years old.

"Now I know, whenever the time comes and we're playing again, I'll be ready to go," he said. "I'm really gonna be itching to get out on the field and play but right now I just need to take care of business and take advantage of this time."

He didn't have a preference for who was set to lead off in his absence.

"I guess I didn't pay much attention to who I wanted to lead off because I'm the leadoff guy," McCutchen said. "I think we have a few guys who can do it. There's Adam Haseley of course, I think Roman Quinn was showing some spark. I think a lot of people were looking at J.T. (Realmuto) as well because he can get on base a lot and can do a lot there in the leadoff spot, but I think it'd be a little harder for him being a catcher. 

"We had a handful of guys who could do it but I guess I don't have to worry about that anymore because I'll be leading off."

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