Phillies

Phillies-Dodgers one of the most interesting July series you'll see

Phillies-Dodgers one of the most interesting July series you'll see

It doesn't feel like hyperbole to call these next three nights against the Dodgers the most interesting and important series for the Phillies so far in 2018.

Between the two teams' success, the pitching matchups, the Manny Machado addition and the last chance (barring playoffs) for Phillies fans to see Chase Utley as a player at Citizens Bank Park, there's no shortage of storylines. 

Playoff preview?

The Phillies and Dodgers are both in first place, with the Phils a game ahead of the Braves and the Dodgers 1 ½ games ahead of the Diamondbacks.

On opening day, nobody expected the Phillies would be in this position. In mid-May, few expected the Dodgers to turn things around so quickly. The Dodgers were 10 games under .500 on May 16 and have gone 38-18 since, largely because of their immense power. The Dodgers already had eight players with double-digit home runs before trading for Machado.

This series will be a big measuring stick for the Phillies, just as the Yankees series was at the end of June. The Dodgers are the most talented team the Phillies have faced since those three games against the Yanks.

The Phils will not have to deal with Clayton Kershaw, but on Monday, they'll see second-year breakout right-hander Ross Stripling, who is 8-2 with a 2.08 ERA and a gaudy 108-to-14 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Zach Eflin pitches for the Phillies in that game.

In Game 2, it's Aaron Nola (12-3, 2.30) against boom-or-bust righty Kenta Maeda (7-5, 3.12).

The Phils will go with Jake Arrieta in the series finale; the Dodgers' starter is TBD but will likely be lefty Rich Hill. Hill, like Maeda, can be untouchable or can be pulled in the third inning on any given night.

Here's Manny

The two runners-up in the Machado sweepstakes were the Brewers and Phillies. And don't you know it, Machado's first two series as a Dodger are against the Brewers and Phillies.

Machado was cheered heavily when the Orioles came to town the week of July 4. A lot of times, players will say they block out the noise, but Machado admitted the day of the Home Run Derby that he heard and appreciated the applause.

"Philly. I did hear that nice ovation when I was there," he told reporters. "That was pretty awesome.”

On Friday night in Milwaukee, Machado was booed … which is a pretty silly reaction considering he didn't pick his trade destination. Philly fans are smart enough to know that and to know that giving him a huge reception can only help the team's attempt to land him in free agency.

Machado has been batting second and playing shortstop for the Dodgers. That's where he'll be on most nights unless the Dodgers decide to rest Justin Turner and move Machado to third and play Chris Taylor at short. (The Max Muncy experiment at third base went horribly this weekend in Milwaukee and it's unlikely the Dodgers go back to that alignment.)

Machado lengthens an already deep and powerful Dodgers lineup. Phillies starting pitchers have their work cut out this week. The Dodgers have a bunch of players — Machado, Turner, Muncy, Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger — who do not expand the strike zone. They see a lot of pitches, all while striking out less than the league average. Expect some high-stress innings.

Last chance to see Chase

There will be huge reactions every time Utley comes to the plate this week, but Phillies fans may see him only as a pinch-hitter. Utley has started just two of the Dodgers' last 19 games, and that was before the team added maybe the best infielder in baseball.

Between Machado, Muncy, Turner, Taylor, Bellinger and Logan Forsythe, the Dodgers have no real reason to start Utley unless they face a starting pitcher he's owned. Utley's also been a big weapon off the bench, going 12 for 27 (.444) as a pinch-hitter with three doubles and a triple.

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Krukcast: Why Philadelphia sports fans are great

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Krukcast: Why Philadelphia sports fans are great

On this edition of Krukcast, John Kruk and Gregg Murphy discuss Philadelphia sports fans. Despite the national narrative, why the fans of this city are great. Also, the expectations of the fans are not unreasonable at all.

Plus, Kruk shares his favorite fan stories from his playing days. One involves having beers with opposing fans after a game.

1:00 -  The national myth that Philadelphia fans are the worst.
5:00 -  Are fans here that different from other fans?
10:00 - Most creative fans around baseball.
14:00 - Murph's worst fan story (shocker).
18:00 -  If the fans here are so bad, why do players choose to play in Philly?

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Keep an eye on the record – will they finish over .500? – and Scott Kingery in final week of Phillies season

Keep an eye on the record – will they finish over .500? – and Scott Kingery in final week of Phillies season

ATLANTA — The final week of the Phillies season is upon us.

The team has been eliminated from all postseason possibility after a collapse that has seen it post a record of 15-29 since it was in first place in the NL East on Aug. 5.

Here are a few things worth keeping an eye on over the final week:

• Will the team finish with a winning record?

On Aug. 5, the Phils were 15 games over .500 and the thought of a sixth straight losing season seemed incomprehensible. Now they are just a game over .500 and need to win four of their final seven — no easy task with four against contending Colorado on deck — to finish with a winning record.

“It’s very important,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “Everybody understands that there's a lot of value in having a winning season.”

The Phils have not had a winning season since 2011, the last time they made the playoffs. They finished .500 in 2012.

• Will Aaron Nola get one more start (see story)? 

• How much more will Nick Williams, Jorge Alfaro and J.P. Crawford play?

Williams is nursing a sore and swollen right middle finger and it hurts when he swings. Alfaro came out of Sunday’s game with a sore right quad muscle. Crawford still has a sore right shoulder. He fell on it making a play in the field Wednesday night and was not ready to play Sunday.

• Will Scott Kingery get some time at second base?

It’s his natural position and he could be the guy there next season if Cesar Hernandez is dealt.

“I don't think there's a need, but I think it would be cool to see him out at second base before the season's over,” Kapler said. “We're not going to force anything. If it makes sense for our club and it gives us a chance to win and is the right thing for Scott Kingery, we'll do it.”

Kingery has played just 23 innings at second this season and not started there since April 16.

“At this point, I think it might feel a little bit weird to go over there,” Kingery said. “But I think to get back to the natural position, maybe just find some rhythm over there and get at least a couple games over there. So if something ends up happening and I play there a little more next season, I’ll be ready for it.”

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