Phillies

Phillies enter All-Star break off 'solid' road trip ... but it could have been better

Phillies enter All-Star break off 'solid' road trip ... but it could have been better

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MIAMI – There was no music and there were no smiles as Phillies players showered, dressed and headed out of the clubhouse for the All-Star break.

They knew they let one get away.

A road trip that started with the euphoria of two straight wins in Pittsburgh ended with consecutive losses against the lowly Miami Marlins, including an ugly one Sunday afternoon in which the Phillies blew a five-run lead on their way to a 10-5 defeat (see first take).

“This was not the prettiest series by any stretch,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We'll acknowledge that.

“But it was still a solid all-around trip.”

It was. The Phillies played 11 games in 10 days and went 6-5.

But it could have been so much more than just solid considering that none of the teams the Phillies played have a winning record. It could have been so much better than just solid had the offense not been shut out twice, had it not averaged under three runs over the final 10 days, had it not bloomed briefly Sunday only to quickly wilt and not be heard from again.

On the plus side, the Phillies do go into the break leading the National League East.

But watch out in the rearview mirror. The Phils’ lead over the Atlanta Braves is just a half-game and third-place Washington is just 5 ½ back.

While Phillies players enjoy four days of rest and relaxation, the front office will be busy trying to ensure that the team stays in contention. The Phils remain hot and heavy after Manny Machado and Zach Britton. Landing those two talents from Baltimore could be a difference-maker in the division race and return the Phillies to the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Everything was set up Sunday for the Phillies to go into the break on a high note. They led 5-0 after rallying for five runs against Miami starter Jose Urena in fourth inning. The Phils got four hits in the inning, including two for extra bases.

That was their entire offense for the day. There was no more and that was killer.

In the fifth inning, the Marlins rallied for eight runs to take the lead.

It all started with rookie Enyel De Los Santos, starting in place of Zach Eflin, who is out with a blister on his pitching hand, allowing five straight Marlins to reach base with one out. Cameron Maybin, the first batter to reach base, hit a solo homer and Brian Anderson, the fourth batter to reach, hit a three-run homer. Even after that, Kapler stuck with De Los Santos. The pitcher hit the next batter, J.T. Realmuto, and Kapler went to reliever Edubray Ramos with the score 5-4.

Did Kapler stick with De Los Santos too long?

“He's working such a low pitch count and really moving quickly through their lineup,” Kapler said. “For me, he was right where he needed to be. 

"I thought he pitched well up until the time he sort of just fell apart. It happened fast. I thought he did a good job of attacking the zone and working out of some jams early on. Overall, a solid performance by him. But it certainly didn't end the way he wanted it to end.”

Ramos and Adam Morgan both allowed two-out, two-run singles as the Marlins sent 13 men to the plate in the inning. But the Phillies could have gotten out of the inning with the lead had home plate umpire Todd Tichenor not called a ball on a full-count pitch to Martin Prado. The pitch was close, so close that it appeared to be a strike on replays. If the Ramos gets that pitch, the inning is over and the Phils are still up, 5-4.

“I thought it was a strike,” Ramos said. “It changed the inning completely. I thought I’d be out of the inning. But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Catcher Andrew Knapp said, “I had it as a strike. He (the umpire) said it was down.”

There was another play in the inning that might have preserved the Phillies’ lead. First baseman Carlos Santana recorded a putout for the second out and started to run to the dugout as if he thought it was the third out. It was not clear whether Santana would have had a shot at an inning-ending double play had he been thinking that way, but the play did stand out for the wrong reasons.

After the game, Santana acknowledged that he forgot how many outs there were.

“That can’t happen,” he said.

But he also said he would have had no chance at a double play, and Kapler agreed.

“It’s tough,” Kapler said. “The way I saw it, it was probably a one-out play. Obviously, losing track of the outs is something that can't happen. But he's one of our most locked-in and focused players most of the time. I think he's earned a pass on this one.”

There will be no passes for the Phillies in the second half. When they return Friday, they will be in the heat of a pennant race and every phase of their game will be tested.

Rest up, boys. This thing is only just getting started.

“We're still going into the break in first place,” Kapler said. “I think that's going to feel good to our club. Our club needs a break. This is going to be a good, solid break for us.”

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Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Will we see Scott Kingery start in center field regularly?

Sunday was Scott Kingery’s first career start in center field and it came in his first game back. Kingery was sidelined for a month with a hamstring strain that was worse than the ones suffered by Jean Segura and Odubel Herrera. 

Kingery fared well in his return. There were no issues in the field, and at the plate he went 1 for 3 with a walk and a stolen base. The hit was a smooth line drive to left field in his first at-bat. 

With Herrera not providing much at the plate (.234 batting average, .297 OBP), Kingery will continue to see time in center field. It doesn’t make sense right now to sit Cesar Hernandez for him given how hot Hernandez has been for the last month. But Herrera and Maikel Franco are different stories. 

Kingery will not start Monday night in Chicago. The Phillies are monitoring his workload with him fresh off the IL. He will, however, likely start multiple games in the Cubs series. The Phillies face lefties Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester in consecutive games Tuesday through Thursday. Seems like a logical spot to sit Herrera for Kingery. 

Kingery was hitting .406 when he was sidelined. He started the season looking like a completely different player than last season. 

“The most important thing (while I was out) was trying to keep my timing,” Kingery said after the Phillies’ 7-5 win over the Rockies Sunday. “As soon as I could pick up the bat I was in the cage, working on my swing, fastball machine, doing whatever I could, seeing live arms BP-wise and stood in on a few bullpens just to see some different pitches. That's about all you can do when you're hurt. I feel good now.”

Defensively, Kingery will face some adjustments. Center field is not his natural position nor does he have extensive experience there. But his speed, range and instincts give him a chance to be an above-average defender there. 

“I think the main goal is my arm slot has always been for an infielder,” Kingery said. “So I have to work at getting a little more over the top and get a little more carry on the ball. I'd say that's one of the most important things for me right now.”

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Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

Bryce Harper back to feeling like Bryce Harper as Phillies head to the Midwest with something to prove

For a little while, all of those "What's wrong with Bryce Harper?" pieces can be shelved. 

Harper's not on the verge of breaking out of his slump. He's already broken out of it.

"It's not a close thing, I think he's there," manager Gabe Kapler said after the Phillies completed a weekend sweep of the visiting Rockies with a 7-5 win.

Harper had the game-winning home run, a 404-foot blast into the Phillies' bullpen to untie the game in the sixth inning (see observations). It was his second straight game with a homer and gave him four extra-base hits in his last three games. He's raised his slugging percentage by 47 points over that span.

"He might not get two hits and a home run tomorrow, but that doesn't mean he's not where he needs to be," Kapler said. "I think the home run that he hit to center field (Saturday) was the turning point and the moment where he started to feel more like Bryce."

In the all-important sixth inning Sunday, J.T. Realmuto tied the game with a pinch-hit home run off of a right-handed reliever and Harper followed three batters later with the deciding home run against a left-handed reliever. The inning highlighted how the Phillies' best hitters are equipped to deal with specialists from both sides. 

Realmuto's longball came against veteran reliever Bryan Shaw, who has lasted 10 years in the bigs because of his ability to retire right-handed hitters. Coming into Sunday, righties were 8 for 58 against Shaw, hitting .138.

Realmuto, like Rhys Hoskins, has reverse career platoon splits. Realmuto's hit .286 against righties with a .777 OPS compared to .250 vs. lefties with a .730 OPS. From 2016-18, Jean Segura and Realmuto ranked second and third in the majors, respectively, batting .292 and .291 against right-handed breaking balls.

The pitch Realmuto hit out from Shaw was not a breaking ball but a changeup. It was his first career pinch-hit home run and it came a few days after Kapler noted that Realmuto's power should be coming based on the quality of hard contact he'd been making.

Harper, meanwhile, took Dunn deep for the second time in a month. He is hitting .304/.407/.537 this season against lefties with six doubles and three homers.

Rare is the left-handed power hitter who doesn't have a major hole in his swing against lefties. Harper is that rare lefty. Last season, he had nine homers, 12 doubles and an .857 OPS against southpaws. The pace he's on this year is even better.

Harper knows he's faced Dunn a ton but doesn't pay attention to his career numbers against him or many other pitchers for that matter.

"He's always been a tough matchup for me," Harper said of Dunn. "Since I was younger, 2012, faced him my rookie year in the East when he was with Miami. Being able to face a guy like that, see his tendencies ... got him today.

"I just go with the feel. I don't really look at (the batter vs. pitcher matchup). Any given day, you could go out there and punch me out in three pitches, it's part of the game. Just gotta keep going. Any given day could be different."

In the span of three days, the Phillies removed the bad taste of the Brewers series from their mouths. They followed a season-high three straight losses with three straight wins. They head to Chicago leading the Braves by 2½ games, the Mets by 6½ games and the Nationals by 7½ games, pending Sunday night's result.

In Chicago, Harper's sample size of 54 plate appearances against lefties will grow. The Phillies face three straight lefties Tuesday through Thursday in Jose Quintana, Cole Hamels and Jon Lester.

The Phillies aren't looking past the Cubs, who are the hottest team in baseball. But they definitely have the following series circled.

"We're really looking forward to getting back at Milwaukee," said Jerad Eickhoff, who started Sunday's game. 

"We didn't put our best foot forward against them. We're gonna take care of Chicago first and go into Milwaukee with a chip on our shoulder."

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