Phillies author latest chapter of why it's difficult to believe they can make a run

Phillies author latest chapter of why it's difficult to believe they can make a run

SAN FRANCISCO — Corey Dickerson belted a solo home run against Jeff Samardzija in the first inning Saturday and Bryce Harper immediately filled with optimism.

“Dickerson got us ahead, 1-0, and I thought as a group we were going to have a big day,” Harper said. “Samardzija had different plans and did his job."

Welcome to the latest chapter of why it’s difficult to believe the Phillies can make a serious run at the National League wild card: The offense is just too damn inconsistent.

Dickerson’s first-inning homer was the only run that the Phillies scored on Saturday.

Less than 24 hours after their offense exploded for 10 hits and nine runs on Friday night, the Phillies were held to just three hits in a 3-1 loss to the San Francisco Giants (see observations).

The loss was the Phillies’ fourth in six games on this trip. They have scored one or zero runs in three of those games.

They have been held to one hit through five innings in three of the last four games and one hit through six in two of the last three. They were one-hit by the Giants on Thursday night.

After Dickerson’s feel-good homer with two outs in the first inning, the Phillies managed just a bloop single from Cesar Hernandez in the eighth inning and a broken-bat hit from Sean Rodriguez in the ninth.

Samardzija worked over Phillies hitters with a fastball-cutter combo. After Dickerson’s homer, he retired 20 straight batters.

Why is this Phillies offense so inconsistent?

“I don't know,” Harper said. “We prepare every day the same. We come in here and want to hit the ball, we want to score runs and get those runs on the board, so I'm not sure.”

Samardzija has beaten the Phils twice in his last three starts. He’s allowed just five hits and a run in 14 innings in those starts.

One might think Phillies hitters would have made some adjustments and handled Samardzija better seeing him for the second time in 11 days. But they didn’t.

"I thought he came at us pretty well,” Harper said. “He threw backdoor cutters, mixed well. I think as a team we just missed some pitches. I think we hit some balls hard and they made some plays on us. I thought he threw the ball well."

Samardzija did not walk a batter. He struck out five.

“He's got a fastball-cutter combination and it's difficult to pick up which is which,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He does a really good job of changing eye levels. He commands all his pitches. He throws it where he wants to throw it. That makes it very difficult.

“At the same time, we're just not a team that's built to shut out the opposition on a regular basis. In some form or fashion, we have to scratch out runs. We've all read the four-run stat. We have to find a way to get to that magic number more frequently.”

The Phillies are 52-15 when they score four or more runs. They have done that just five times in the last 11 games.

Vince Velasquez did not pitch badly over five innings, but he allowed three runs, all on a pair of homers. One was preceded by a hit batsman. Kapler did not show a lot of patience with Velasquez. The right-hander teetered in the fifth inning and was gone.

“I thought his command was not his best, and I thought his stuff was also not his best either,” Kapler said. “Specifically, when his stuff is really good and his fastball has life, he gets foul balls and swings and misses. When it's not his best, you see fly balls. That was sort of an indication.

“One of the adjustments that Vince is making is when things aren't going well for him, he's been pretty consistent at grinding through and giving us a chance to win baseball games. I thought today he did just that. It just wasn't his best outing. At the same time, when he came out of the game, we were still in it.”

The Phillies were in it until the end. They put two runners on base in the ninth inning, but Giants closer Will Smith survived the top of the Phillies’ order and got strikeouts of Harper and Dickerson (sandwiched around a walk to Hoskins) to end the game.

The umpiring behind the plate has not been standout in this series. CB Bucknor did not have a good night Friday and Nic Lentz missed a 1-1 pitch on Harper, the potential tying run, calling it a strike.

The Phillies limp into the final game of the trip Sunday night.

“What makes sense for us is to quickly turn the page and get ready to put up numbers tomorrow,” Kapler said. “My mind's already there, and I know our guys are going to turn the page quickly.”

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2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

2020 Phillies schedule: Looking at long list of elite pitchers Phillies will face in 2020

Bryce Harper spent the bulk of his video press conference last Friday discussing the unprecedented circumstances surrounding this 2020 MLB season. There were a lot of questions about health protocols, social distancing and doubt from some players that attempting to play this season is actually the right decision.

Harper talked a little baseball too. And one answer towards the end of the press conference stood out. 

He was asked whether he felt he'd have enough time in a three-week training camp featuring just three exhibition games to adequately prepare for the season. 

Harper acknowledged it would be a challenge, particularly given the Phillies’ regular season schedule.    

"East vs. East, are you kidding me?" Harper said of his team's 60-game slate consisting of solely NL East and AL East opponents. "We're going to face a lot of good teams, a lot of good organizations, a lot of good pitching. I went down each roster and was thinking to myself there could be 14 Cy Youngs in this East vs. East. I mean, that's crazy."

Harper's math is spot on. 

I identified 12 starting pitchers that the Phillies could face this season who have either won a Cy Young or are capable of pitching at a Cy Young level.

And if you add a pair of Harper's teammates — Aaron Nola, who finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2018, and Jake Arrieta, who won the NL Cy Young in 2015 — that brings the grand total of Cy Young caliber pitchers in this East vs. East format to ... 14. 

Just like Harper said. 

Let's run through all the big arms the Phillies could face in 2020. 

After a season-opening three-game series against the Marlins, the Phillies play four straight games against the Yankees. They'll almost certainly face Gerrit Cole and James Paxton during that four-game stretch. Cole, who signed a $324 million contract with New York in the offseason, is generally regarded as the most dominant starting pitcher in baseball. Paxton is fully recovered from a back injury in the spring and has been among the top starters in the American League over the last six years.

The Phillies get their first look at the Braves a week later. Atlanta's rotation features 22-year-old ace Mike Soroka and 36-year old veteran Cole Hamels. Soroka posted a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts last season, finishing sixth in the NL Cy Young voting and second in the NL Rookie of the Year race behind the Mets' Pete Alonso. Hamels has finished in the top 10 of the Cy Young voting four times in his career and remains an elite starter when healthy. 

The Mets come to town in mid-August, led by two-time reigning NL Cy Young winner Jacob deGrom. New York's rotation also includes Marcus Stroman, who finished in the Top 10 of the AL Cy Young voting three years ago and finished with a 3.22 ERA in 32 starts last season. 

The Phillies don't play the Nationals until late August. But their 10 games against Washington will feature a heavy dose of three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, World Series MVP Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin, who finished fifth in the NL Cy Young race two years ago and 11th in the voting last season. 

If there's a team that has a “Big 3” comparable to the Nationals, it may be the Rays, who the Phillies visit in a three-game series to end the season. Blake Snell, Charlie Morton and Tyler Glasnow highlight Tampa Bay's rotation. Snell won the 2018 AL Cy Young, Morton finished third in the 2019 AL Cy Young race, and Glasnow is an emerging star who posted a 1.78 ERA in 12 starts last season.


But there is a silver lining — the Phillies don't have to worry about Chris Sale, Luis Severino or Noah Syndergaard. They're all out for the season with injuries. 

Nonetheless, the Phillies' bats better be ready from the outset. They'll be put to the test early and often. 

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Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper has earned right to speak his mind on J.T. Realmuto's contract status

Bryce Harper provided the first memorable moment of Phillies summer camp on Wednesday afternoon. 

It wasn’t with a swing or a web gem, but rather it was two words that has everyone talking.

“Sign him!” 

That’s what Harper exclaimed as he returned to the dugout following a home run by J.T. Realmuto in an intrasquad game. 

Harper can claim to be a five-tool player, but you might be able to add a sixth tool to the arsenal because he’s been as effective a representative for Realmuto in contract negotiations as Jeff Berry, Realmuto’s agent. 

In addition to Wednesday’s on-field statement, Harper donned a t-shirt with Realmuto’s name and number during his initial workouts at Citizens Bank Park earlier this month. While Harper denied sending a message to the front office with his wardrobe, he did acknowledge that it would be “terrible and sad” if the Phillies were to lose Realmuto in free agency this offseason. 

If you want to argue that Harper’s actions and statement are an admirable attempt to help a teammate to a large pay day, that’s fair. It’s also likely that Harper views retaining Realmuto as the best path towards contention for the ballclub. 

The Phillies would be naive if they did not expect Harper to have a significant voice in team construction when they inked him to a 13-year, $330 million deal last year. Although it’s fair to assume they would prefer if Harper wasn’t hurting their negotiating position.  

Either way, a player of Harper’s stature and salary certainly has the right to speak his mind on roster matters.  

Let’s say Realmuto and the Phillies agree to a record-setting contract extension for a catcher. That would make the All-Star backstop the third nine-figure player on the Phillies’ payroll (Harper and Zack Wheeler). Keep in mind, this is an organization without a winning season since 2011 and that looks to be several key pieces away from true contention. 

Who knows where the Phillies will find themselves four years down the road? It’s possible Harper and Realmuto will have taken a late October ride or two down Broad Street in that time. It’s also possible that the club will have failed to take the next step in their development, the young pieces never reaching the level needed to contend. At that stage, the club could lack the flexibility to improve due its significant financial obligations. 

If the latter happens, let’s be clear: Harper has forfeited the right to justifiably complain about a perceived lack of commitment or a feeling of being misled about the intentions of ownership. It might be hyperbole to suggest the former NL MVP is forcing the Phillies’ hand with Realmuto, but he’s certainly making it known how he wants the team built. 

Harper does not appear to be that type of person that will turn on the Phillies if things do not go as hoped, but we’ve all been down this road before with unhappy superstars across the sporting landscape. 

It might not be an issue for today, but there’s a chance that day just may come.  

Stay tuned.

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