Phillies

Phillies are 14-7 and there's reason to think they'll get even better

Phillies are 14-7 and there's reason to think they'll get even better

BOX SCORE

If you were told at the beginning of the season that 21 games in, Carlos Santana would be hitting .151 and Aaron Altherr .157 ... what would you think the Phillies' record would be?

It probably would not have been 14-7.

And yet here the Phillies are, a game behind the Diamondbacks for the best record in the National League after completing a four-game sweep of the Pirates Sunday.

This win was dramatic, with the Phillies coming back from a two-run deficit and walking it off in the 11th inning (see first take). Altherr played the hero with a game-winning single after Andrew Knapp just missed a walk-off homer to the left-field wall and settled for a triple.

After the game, manager Gabe Kapler called it the proudest he's been of his team.

"I just think there were so many standout performances up and down the lineup, across our roster," Kapler said. "Getting Tommy (Hunter) back, there were just so many positive things that happened, you can't help but instill confidence.

"We're having a lot of fun. Keeping it light, we laugh in the dugout. I hope you guys are seeing that. A lot of smiles and a lot of laughter, and after the games, we're having a great time in [the clubhouse]. We take it seriously and we prepare like animals, but we also enjoy each others' company and we're laughing a lot."

The most interesting part about this hot start is that the Phillies aren't even firing on all cylinders. The pitching has been great — particularly the starters, who have a 2.38 ERA and 0.98 WHIP the last 12 games — but the Phils are hitting just .231.

They do, however, lead the majors with 98 walks. They couldn't muster much offense Sunday against Pirates right-hander Trevor Williams, but they made him work. Through five innings, Williams was at 83 pitches with a breakdown of 42 strikes and 41 balls.

"Once we really start getting going it's gonna be real fun because we're in these games even when we're not feeling the best at the plate," Knapp said.

"We've been putting really quality at-bats together. I know the average isn't there, but we're making pitchers really work. We're seeing a ton of pitches and that's a big deal." 

Altherr didn't even start Sunday, but he came in midway through the game on a double-switch and ended up going 3 for 3 with a triple and the game-winning knock. He needed a game like this in the worst way. He entered the afternoon 5 for 48 (.104) with 18 strikeouts.

"It can be really difficult," Altherr admitted. "It's getting more difficult as the days went on. I know it's just baseball and things like [bad luck] happen, but you start wondering when it's going to start turning here. I'm just trying to stay positive and working the cage. I've been working on getting my timing back."

Kapler was especially excited for Altherr, who will be a key member of this offense moving forward even after a rough April.

"Coming out of camp, we felt strongly that he was one our best offensive players," Kapler said of Altherr. "We felt like he was going to be an incredible contributor with the bat. And he's had to endure a lot early in the season. He's had some bad luck. He's had to endure not being an everyday guy so far. 

"Every single day he came with a smile on his face. He's come prepared. He's worked his tail off. Good things happen to good people. He's going to get plenty of opportunities to perform for us. But I couldn't be happier for the way his at-bats have gone over the course of the last three or four days. He just got rewarded today. It felt like everything fell into place the way it should for Aaron. Really, really excited he came up big the way he did today. He deserves it."

At The Yard Podcast: Recapping winter meetings, latest on top relievers

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At The Yard Podcast: Recapping winter meetings, latest on top relievers

On this edition of At The Yard, Corey Seidman and Jim Salisbury wrap up the winter meetings. Are the Phillies making progress with a signing of Andrew Miller or Zach Britton? Is there a chance they sign both?

Plus, Jim explains why the Phils couldn't land J.A. Happ.

The guys react to Jim's interview with Scott Boras. Also, are the Phillies dangling their top prospects in an effort to get a front-end starting pitcher?

1:00 — Latest on Andrew Miller and Zach Britton.
5:30 — Why couldn't the Phillies sign J.A. Happ?
6:30 — Reaction to Scott Boras interview.
10:30 — Phillies offering their top prospects in a trade?

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What's next for Phillies — could it be lefty Andrew Miller? — as winter meetings end

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What's next for Phillies — could it be lefty Andrew Miller? — as winter meetings end

LAS VEGAS — Three days of winter meetings frenzy ended with the Rule 5 draft and a massive exodus of what seemed like the entire baseball industry to the airport on Thursday.

The glitzy focal point of the offseason is now over but the wheeling and dealing is far from complete.

Let's look at where the Phillies stand as they head home from the winter meetings:

WHAT THEY'VE DONE

• Improved offensively and defensively at shortstop with the addition of Jean Segura in a trade with Seattle. In the same deal, they offloaded Carlos Santana to open first base for Rhys Hoskins and added two relievers, lefty James Pazos and righty Juan Nicasio.

• Signed outfielder Andrew McCutchen to a three-year, $50 million deal. He projects to play a corner spot. At 32, he is not the budding superstar that he was in his prime, but he's still a good, productive player and a definite upgrade. McCutchen should give the Phils 30-plus doubles, 20-plus homers and a high on-base percentage. He is also durable and plays with a passion that Philadelphia fans should like.

WHAT THEY FAILED TO DO

• Stopped at five years and watched lefty Patrick Corbin, the top free-agent starting pitcher, sign a six-year deal with division rival Washington.

• Did not sign lefty J.A. Happ. The Phillies would have had to go three years to get him away from the Yankees, who are a legitimate World Series contender, and they did not want to do that for a 36-year-old pitcher who is viewed as only a modest upgrade on what they have.

WHAT THEY STILL MUST DO

• The biggest Phillies storyline of the winter is also the industry's biggest storyline. Will the Phillies land one of the two megastars on the free-agent market? They met with the agents for both Manny Machado and Bryce Harper at the winter meetings and are expected to host Machado in Philadelphia for a recruiting visit next week. The Machado and Harper camps are in a staredown to see who can land the biggest free-agent deal ever — more than $300 million.

The Phillies have the revenues to land one of these guys. They seem to favor Machado at this point because, in addition to having huge offensive impact, he would have huge defensive impact at third base, more than Harper would in right field. The Phils face big competition for Machado. He has long wanted to be a Yankee and they are interested him. The Yanks could even offer Machado the chance to play shortstop, at least initially, as Didi Gregorius recovers from elbow surgery. Though they seem to favor Machado, the Phils remain engaged with Harper and pursuit of him could intensify if they don't get Machado. And if the Phils don't get Machado to play third base, they could trade Maikel Franco and make a play for free agent Mike Moustakas.

• Improve the pitching. We use the broad term "pitching" because the Phils could do this in a variety of ways. They could make a play for a starter such as Arizona’s Robbie Ray or they could land a free-agent reliever like Andrew Miller. There were indications on Wednesday night and again on Thursday that the Phillies had become increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of Miller. One of the Phils’ offseason goals was to add a high-profile lefty to the bullpen and Miller, who can close or get high-leverage outs at other points late in the game, certainly fits that bill. The Phils have also had interest in lefty reliever Zach Britton, but Miller now appears to be the focus. He’d be an excellent pickup.

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