Phillies

Phillies are tied for 1st on cusp of All-Star break, but how are they doing it?

Phillies are tied for 1st on cusp of All-Star break, but how are they doing it?

As we sit here 10 days into July on the cusp of the All-Star break, the Phillies are tied for first place in the NL East, sporting a 50-39 record. That’s pretty damn impressive considering most viewed them as .500 team. Keep in mind this is a club led by a first-year manager and a roster that is the youngest in baseball and aside from Aaron Nola, does not have a superstar or even an All-Star.

Dive a little deeper and you’ll see a lineup without anyone hitting above .276. A former Cy Young award winner in Jake Arrieta, who signed a three-year, $75 million deal in the offseason, with a 6-6 record and a 3.47 ERA. Not bad, but far from great. A bullpen without a designated closer; last year’s man who got the ball in that spot is residing in Lehigh Valley. The club’s high-priced relief signees, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, have either been out hurt or grossly underachieved. 

So how are they doing this?

Let’s start with the top of the rotation. The aforementioned Nola has been spectacular. A valid argument could be made that he’s the best pitcher in baseball. He’s 12-2 with a 2.27 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP. He has been dominant. And he’s only 25.

Zach Eflin, finally healthy, is a different pitcher. His stuff is better now that his knees work, but it’s his approach that has really stood out. He is now an attacker rather than a nibbler. If the reports are true that he was untouchable in a Manny Machado deal, he has come a long way the last few months from fringe rotation guy to must-keep.   

The bullpen, much maligned and deservedly so, has been much better of late. Gabe Kapler’s best arm, Seranthony Dominguez, has been deployed in the highest of leverage situations — against the other team’s best hitters, whether it’s the seventh, eighth or ninth, multiple innings, whatever’s needed. This is partly by design, mostly by necessity. The 'pen needs one or two more arms and Hunter and Neshek need to start earning their money.

Offensively, while the batting averages are far from impressive, this team thrives off of getting on base and walking. There’s no better example than Carlos Santana, who’s hitting .219, but his on-base percentage is .365 and he’s walked 72 times, good for third in baseball. But their team numbers overall at the plate are just OK. They're 18th in runs, 17th in home runs and 15th in RBIs.

But there is something to be said for the clutch gene, and this team appears to have it. It is 19-8 in one-run games and 6-2 in extra-inning contests. Kapler deserves a lot of credit for the start. The clubhouse is loose, he’s made far more right calls than wrong whether it’s analytics or gut. Pitching coach Rick Kranitz has been a major upgrade from Bob McClure last year.

The trade deadline could bring some reinforcements, but the question is, can the Phillies sustain this with some of the obvious shortcomings and statistical anomalies? 

What we do know is they have overachieved thus far and considering the schedule, should head into the All-Star break on a high note.

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Phillies get a handful of clutch performances in beating Dallas Keuchel and keeping season alive

Phillies get a handful of clutch performances in beating Dallas Keuchel and keeping season alive

ATLANTA — The Phillies survived a ninth-inning high-wire act from Hector Nervous, er, Neris and held on for a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on Tuesday night.

With 13 games to go, the Phillies are barely alive in the National League wild-card race.

But they are alive.

“We still have odds and we know that,” Rhys Hoskins said. “Sure we know they may be long and we have a lot of work to do, but we’re still in it and I think getting this win tonight is huge.”

It was a good way to open an 11-game road trip that will take the Phillies to Cleveland and Washington after this three-game stop in Atlanta, where the Braves will wrap up a second straight NL East title any day now.

The Phils would rather the Braves not do that while they are here. That happened last year and it was painful.

The entire ending to last season was painful. The Phils went into the final 14 games of last season with a 76-72 record — the same slate they had going into Tuesday night’s game — and went 4-10 down the stretch to finish under .500 at 80-82.

“Everyone that was part of that last year carries that with them,” Hoskins said. “Nobody wants to go through what we went through last year at the end of the year, nobody likes watching people clinch. I think everybody in the whole league is in the same boat there. But we still have a chance and we know it. It started tonight and we just have to continue it tomorrow.”

At 77-72, the Phillies need five wins to have their first winning season since 2011.

They just need wins to stay in the postseason hunt.

They are four games back in a crowded wild-card race.

Picking up wins against the Braves, Indians and Nationals on this trip will require a lot of clutch work and the Phillies got some of that Tuesday. To wit:

• Starting pitcher Vince Velasquez limited damage and stayed in the game after throwing 30 pitches and allowing two runs in the first inning. He delivered five innings of two-run ball.

• Hoskins and Jose Pirela both clubbed two-run homers against Keuchel to help the Phils build a 5-2 lead in the fourth inning. Keuchel came into the game on a big roll. He’d won his previous five starts and had given up just four runs in those games. Beating him would not be easy, but the Phils did it. They had to.

• Overall, the bullpen did some clutch work — four innings, two runs — despite allowing a pair of late homers to make it a one-run game. 

Neris gave up a leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth as the Braves made it a one-run game. He then issued a walk to Ronald Acuna Jr., who stole second and moved to third on a ground out. Neris then walked dangerous Freddie Freeman to put runners on the corners for cleanup man Josh Donaldson, who has 88 RBIs. As the ballpark rocked and the tomahawk chop chopped, Neris remained cool and struck out Donaldson before getting Nick Markakis on a pop up to end the game.

“To be able to collect himself after walking Freddie and to get a huge second out against Donaldson was, I think, what kind of tipped it back in our favor,” Hoskins said. “Huge props to Hector. We’ve seen him do that a lot. It was cool to see him come out on top.”

Manager Gabe Kapler praised the composure that Velasquez and Neris showed in the first and ninth innings, respectively.

“I think today, the reason we won the game, in addition to Hector’s composure and Vinnie’s composure, is that we were able to put a big inning on the board highlighted by a really good swing by Rhys Hoskins,” Kapler said.

The manager knows making the playoffs is a long shot. He’s not giving in.

“We spent a lot of time today talking about the importance of these last 14 games,” Kapler said. “We know where we are in the standings, we know what the numbers say, but that’s not what we’re paying attention to right now. We’re paying attention to fighting for each other all the way through the finish line.”

The fight continues Wednesday night with Zach Eflin on the mound. Thirteen games to go and the Phils have no margin for error.

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Phillies get to Dallas Keuchel this time around, hold on to win series opener over Braves

Phillies get to Dallas Keuchel this time around, hold on to win series opener over Braves

BOX SCORE 

ATLANTA — The Phillies kept their faint playoff hopes alive with a 5-4 win over the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park on Tuesday night.

The Phils got two-run homers from Rhys Hoskins and Jose Pirela — both against Atlanta’s Dallas Keuchel — and Vince Velasquez and the bullpen held the Braves to two runs over the final eight innings. All in all, it was a good way to open an 11-game road trip.

The Phillies’ bullpen survived two late homers as the Braves made it a one-run game.

Hector Neris allowed a leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth and got the final two outs of the game with runners on the corners.

The standings

The Phillies entered the night five games out in the NL wild-card race. The victory left them with a chance to pull to within four games of the second wild-card playoff spot depending on the outcome of the Chicago Cubs-Cincinnati Reds game.

The Phils have 13 games left. They are 77-72 overall. They need five wins to have their first winning season since 2011.

Velasquez’ night

Though he lasted only five innings, Velasquez did a pretty good job for the Phillies. He had a tough first inning in which he threw 30 pitches and that prompted early action in the Phillies’ bullpen. But the right-hander maintained his composure and held the Braves to just two runs in the inning. It could have been worse, but Velasquez’ ability to limit damage was huge.

After the first inning, Velasquez racked up four scoreless innings and held the Braves to two hits.

Keuchel’s night

The left-hander who had been passed over by the Phillies earlier in the season came into the game on a big roll — five straight wins in which he’d allowed a total of just four runs.

Keuchel sailed through the first three innings then allowed a pair of infield hits and a pair of two-run homers as the Phillies rallied for five in the fourth inning to take the lead.

Hoskins hits one

There have been times this season when Hoskins has looked pull-happy at the plate. He’s a better hitter when he uses the whole field like he did in the fourth inning when he clubbed a two-run homer to right-center to tie the game at 2-2. It was his 29th homer of the season and first solidly to the opposite field. He had four opposite-field homers last season.

Hoskins did a good job staying back on a high changeup to the outside part of the plate from Keuchel. He hit the ball right where it was pitched. He has homered in back-to-back games and has nine since the All-Star break.

Pirela rewards Kapler

Looking to get right-handed bats in the game against Keuchel, manager Gabe Kapler started Sean Rodriguez at third base and Pirela in left field. (Kapler did not start Maikel Franco at third because he did not believe Franco would fare well against Keuchel’s sinker.) Pirela rewarded his manager’s faith with a two-run homer with two outs in the fourth. He had previously been 0 for 5 with two strikeouts against Keuchel.

Braves set team mark

Adeiny Hechavarria’s home run in the eighth was the Braves’ 236th of the season, a team record.

Phillies pitchers have allowed 238 homers this season. That is a team record. The old one was 221.

Up next

Zach Eflin (8-12, 4.20) opposes right-hander Julio Teheran (10-9, 3.50) on Wednesday night.

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