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 add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Phillies add veteran depth in bullpen, infield with a flurry of signings

Three weeks before the start of spring training, the Phillies were busy Wednesday finalizing minor-league contracts with three pitchers and a utility infielder.

The team announced the signings of veteran relievers Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Francisco Liriano, as well as veteran infielder Neil Walker.

Of the group, Liriano, 36, might have the best chance to impact the 2020 Phillies. The left-hander, a starter for the bulk of his major-league career, was used exclusively as a reliever with Pittsburgh last season. He pitched in 69 games and recorded an ERA of 3.47 over 70 innings. Liriano was particularly effective against lefty hitters, holding them to a .194 batting average (14 for 72.)

Storen, 32, and Norris, 34, are both right-handers with significant big-league time. Neither pitched in the majors last season because of health reasons. Storen was recovering from Tommy John surgery and Norris had a forearm injury. There are opportunities in the Phillies’ bullpen and both will be given a look in spring training.

Walker, 34, is an 11-year veteran who has spent much of his career as a regular second baseman, mostly with Pittsburgh. He has bounced around the diamond in recent seasons, particularly with the New York Yankees in 2018, where he played first base, second base, third base and both corner outfield spots. He played first, second and third with the Miami Marlins last season and hit .261 with eight homers and 38 RBIs in 337 at-bats.

Walker, a switch-hitter, will vie for a spot as a reserve with the Phillies. Rosters expand from 25 to 26 men this season and that will allow the Phillies to carry an extra player on their bench. There are plenty of candidates for that job. Earlier this winter, the Phillies signed veteran infielders Josh Harrison, Phil Gosselin and Ronald Torreyes to minor-league deals. The team is also bringing veteran outfielders Matt Szczur and Mikie Mahtook to big-league camp on minor-league deals. The competition for a spot as a reserve outfielder will also include Nick Williams and Nick Martini, both of whom are on the 40-man roster.

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Phillies agree to deal with Francisco Liriano

Phillies agree to deal with Francisco Liriano

After months of inactivity in the bullpen, the Phillies have added three relievers in two days. The latest signing is of left-hander Francisco Liriano. It's a minor-league deal in which Liriano will earn $1.5 million if he makes the team, with up to $1.25 million in incentives, according to Robert Murray.

Liriano is better than the pair of pitchers the Phillies agreed to minor-league deals with earlier this week: Drew Storen and Bud Norris. Those two didn't pitch at all in the majors in 2019.

Liriano, though, was effective in 2019. He had a 3.47 ERA in 69 appearances with the Pirates. Control has always been an issue dating back to his early days with the Twins, whether Liriano has been a starter or reliever. He has walked 4.9 batters per nine innings over the last three seasons.

Still, Liriano has the potential to be a solid left-handed weapon in the Phils' 'pen, and perhaps a spot starter in a pinch. Lefties were just 29 for 160 (.181) against Liriano the last two seasons.

If he makes the team, it would give the Phillies three left-handed relief options in Liriano, Adam Morgan and Jose Alvarez. Morgan can face hitters from both sides but Alvarez is a lefty specialist. Alvarez, who had a 3.36 ERA in 59 innings, was one of the Phillies' unsung players in 2019.

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