Phillies 9, Braves 4: Phillies hit four home runs to salvage a win in difficult weekend

Phillies 9, Braves 4: Phillies hit four home runs to salvage a win in difficult weekend


The Phillies salvaged what had all the makings of a brutal weekend when they rode the long ball and the right arm of Aaron Nola to a 9-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon.

The Phils were hammered by a combined score of 24-9 and received just 7 2/3 innings from their starting pitchers in the first two games of the series.

Aaron Nola gave the Phils six strong innings before hitting turbulence in the seventh, and the offense produced four homers, including a grand slam by J.T. Realmuto, in Sunday’s finale.

The Phils (55-50) lost one game in the standings to Atlanta in the series. They trail the Braves by 6 ½ games in the NL East. The Phils entered the day one game back in the NL wild-card race.

Nola’s day

The right-hander was brilliant for six innings. He came out firing 94 mph heat and bending a sharp breaking ball. He struck out five of the first nine batters he faced and threw just 33 pitches (26 strikes) through the first three innings.

Nola was tested in the fourth inning. He gave up a double and a walk with one out and had to face Atlanta’s No. 4 and 5 hitters, Josh Donaldson and Brian McCann, respectively. Nola struck them both out on breaking balls.

With his pitch count rising toward 100, Nola struggled in the seventh. He walked Donaldson and gave up a single to McCann before Ender Inciarte belted a three-run homer. Johan Camargo then hit the next pitch over the wall in right to make it a two-run game. Nola continued to scuffle in the inning before getting some help from Adam Morgan.

Turn on the power

The Phils scored all but one of their runs on homers.

Bryce Harper set an early tone with a solo homer in the bottom of the first inning. He hit a first-pitch fastball from Kevin Gausman. Harper’s 18th homer was his first since July 16 and just his third this month. Rookie Adam Haseley clubbed a solo homer in the third and Realmuto hit his grand slam with two outs in the fifth. Both Haseley and Realmuto hit full-count fastballs from Gausman. Realmuto picked up Harper and Hoskins. The Phillies had loaded the bases with no outs and Harper struck out and Hoskins popped up on a 3-0 pitch prior to Realmuto’s heroics.

Hoskins atoned in the seventh. He hit an important two-run homer to provide some cushion after the Braves’ rallied from six runs down to make it a two-run game.

Segura injured

The seventh inning was costly for the Phillies. Nola lost his shutout bid and the quality start when he allowed four runs on a pair of one-out homers, and shortstop Jean Segura suffered a shin contusion on a tag play as Ronald Acuna Jr. stole second base. Manager Gabe Kapler said catcher J.T. Realmuto’s throw hit Segura’s shin. He added that there was no long-term concern about Segura’s health.

Big out

Morgan got the biggest out of the game when he retired dangerous Freddie Freeman, the potential go-ahead run, on a fly ball to center to end the tense seventh inning and stop the Braves’ rally at four runs. The out preserved a 6-4 Phillies’ lead.

Nick Pivetta continued his recent strong bullpen work with two scoreless innings. He featured 97 mph heat and a sharp curveball. There might be something there.

Up next

The Phillies are off Monday. They host the surging San Francisco Giants for three games beginning Tuesday night. Drew Smyly will pitch Tuesday night for the Phillies. The club had not yet announced the rest of its rotation for the series.

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Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

SAN DEIGO — On Day 1 of the winter meetings, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak reiterated his team’s need to add a starting infielder.

“That's been the focus,” Klentak said Monday afternoon. “Today is Day 1, but technically we've been here for almost two full days. It feels like that is what we have mostly been working on since we've been here. We're just trying to explore all different avenues. Single-year and multi-year fits. Trade and free-agent fits. In the way that the pitching market has really come together quickly, this one doesn't seem to be coming together quite as quickly. But not because there aren't options.”

The free-agent pitching market is indeed moving quickly. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on a staggering seven-year, $245 million deal on Monday and Gerrit Cole is expected to blow past that deal in the coming days. The Phillies made some (sort of) news Monday when their signing of Zack Wheeler became official after the right-hander passed his physical exam.

“We felt it was important to add someone to our rotation that could pair with Aaron Nola at the top and give us a chance to win any series against the best pitchers in baseball,” Klentak said. “I think those are as good a twosome as you'll find in the league.”

New manager Joe Girardi concurred.

“We have 1 and 1-A,” he said.

Now, the question is: Who will play second base, third base and shortstop behind Wheeler and Nola?

Scott Kingery and Jean Segura are likely to hold down two of the spots. We say “likely” because there’s always the chance that Kingery could play center field (right now it looks like Adam Haseley will be the guy there) and Segura could be traded if the Phils could find someone to take on the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract. That won’t be easy, even if the Phils eat some salary.

Ideally, the Phillies would land a shortstop like free-agent Didi Gregorius on a one-year or manageable multi-year deal and move Segura from shortstop to second base and play Kingery at third. The Phillies have had serious talks with Gregorius, but have to be ready to pivot if they can’t lock him up. As Klentak said, there are options in the infield. Most of them, however, are not shortstops. A free-agent second baseman like Jonathan Schoop could be a good fallback if the Phils can’t sign Gregorius. He had 23 doubles and 23 homers in 433 at-bats for the Twins last season. Signing Schoop would mean that Segura would have to stay at shortstop or move to third with Kingery playing shortstop.

There are plenty of options at third base, from veteran Todd Frazier to top-of-the-market superstars Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. There are also versatile veterans like Starlin Castro and even Brock Holt who could be used in mix-and-match, platoon scenarios.

“There’s a bunch of different ways we can go,” Klentak said. “We can go a shorter-term variety, we can look at a longer-term solution, we can look at the trade market, we can look at the free-agent market and we can look into piecing it together with multiple players potentially, which not only would help the starting infield, but would improve the bench. That’s where a lot of our focus this week is being turned.”

All right, let’s address those top-of-the-market names: The Phils have had contact with the representatives for Rendon and Donaldson and they have not tapped out of those markets, but signing one of those big-money players remains a longshot. The Phils signed Bryce Harper for $330 million last winter, Wheeler for $118 million this winter and still have to budget for a potential $100 million contract extension for J.T. Realmuto. Rendon is expected to command well over $200 million and Donaldson should get more than $25 million per season when he lands. The Phils are creeping up on the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in total payroll. Managing partner John Middleton would go over the tax for the right opportunity. There’s a lot of never-say-never here, but …

“Ownership has always encouraged us to stay engaged on everything,” Klentak said. “If there's an opportunity to bring something to them we will. I think the most notable example was signing Jake Arrieta two years ago. That was not necessarily on our radar. It came together late and the owners jumped on it. I'm not going to sit here today and declare that we are or are not in on certain players or that we will or will not exceed the tax threshold. Our job is to keep an open mind and continue to pursue all avenues and see what makes sense for us. There is an element of this from a management perspective in making sure we apply the proper balance to roster building and not get too top-heavy. We need to be responsible about it, but we're not going to shy away from pursuing or at least exploring opportunities, whether we bring them to the finish line or not.”

With Wheeler on board, an infielder on the way, the return to good health of some key players and the projected improvement of others, Klentak is confident of this:

“We are definitely building a team that we expect will contend in 2020,” he said.

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Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Good thing the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the offseason as the No. 2 starting pitcher in free agency behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Wheeler, is returning to the Nationals on a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

As historically good as Strasburg was in October, that is an insane number for him. He will turn 32 midway through the first of the seven years. He has made 30 starts in just three of nine seasons and reached 200 innings twice. He was more durable than ever in 2019 and, boy, did he cash in because of it. 

Two seasons ago, in 2018, Strasburg made 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Had he had that type of season in 2019, he probably wouldn't have even opted out of the remaining three years and $75 million to find this next payday.

Good for him. But also good for the Phillies in agreeing with Wheeler five days before the Nats retained Strasburg. Because if Wheeler was still on the board today, that number is at least $20 million higher and maybe more. Would a team go to $140 million for Wheeler? What about $160 million? Think about how many free agents the White Sox have struck out on in recent years. Wouldn't they have been likely to up their offer one more time if Wheeler was still out there to see what Strasburg signed for?

Strasburg is a great pitcher, don't get it twisted. He proved in 2019 that he can be the most reliable and important arm in the league when the pressure is at its peak. But forget Year 6, by Year 3 or 4 of this deal, the Nationals could be regretting it mightily.

And if this is what it took to sign Strasburg, Gerrit Cole is even more likely to approach $300 million.

There has been much more offseason activity leaguewide than there was at this point a year ago. The five best remaining free agents are Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The next three would be Nick Castellanos, Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna and then you're getting into back-end-rotation types.

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