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


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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Rhys Hoskins joins a special group with his 50th career home run

Rhys Hoskins joins a special group with his 50th career home run

With his solo shot in the first inning Wednesday night against the Mets, Rhys Hoskins joined a select group.

It was Hoskins' 50th career home run and it came in his 192nd major-league game. He is the seventh-fastest player in baseball history to 50 homers.

Here's the list:

Rudy York: 153 games

Mark McGwire: 161

Gary Sanchez: 161

Ryan Braun: 171

Aaron Judge: 174

Ryan Howard: 182

Rhys Hoskins: 192

Hoskins added a double in his second plate appearance, giving him 35 doubles and 32 homers on the season. The only other players in the majors with as many doubles and homers this season are J.D. Martinez, Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Javier Baez, Matt Carpenter and Trevor Story.

The only two who have also walked as much as Hoskins are Carpenter and Ramirez.

Hoskins has done a lot of damage in a limited sample vs. Noah Syndergaard. He's 4 for 9 with two homers, two doubles, four walks and a .615 OBP.

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Carlos Santana at 3B, Rhys Hoskins at 1B, Bryce Harper in the outfield?

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Carlos Santana at 3B, Rhys Hoskins at 1B, Bryce Harper in the outfield?

Wednesday night, the Phillies try to win their first series over any team other than the Marlins since July 25.

Carlos Santana gets the start at third base.

The more the Phillies use Santana at third base in a race to win the NL East, the more realistic it seems that we could see him play there next season. It's a more logical and probably more fruitful possibility than eating some of his contract to trade him.

This creates some interesting offseason dynamics. If the Phillies feel comfortable enough with Santana at third base, they could move Rhys Hoskins back to first base and have a natural spot for impending free agent Bryce Harper. (This would obviously mean a trade of Maikel Franco or more of a bench role.)

I've been on record this summer saying I expect Harper to sign with the Phillies. Odds released Wednesday by Bovada have the Phillies as the fourth-most-likely team to land Harper, behind the Cubs, Dodgers and Yankees, in that order.

Playing Santana at third base obviously would not be ideal. But it could be the most ideal setup the Phillies can piece together in 2019 if it means adding Harper and putting Hoskins back at his natural position. The Phils would be worse defensively at third base but better defensively in the corner outfield.

And they'd clearly be a much-improved offensive team.

Could the Santana-third base experiment carry over into next season?

"We're looking at it as a possibility to see how comfortable we feel with it," manager Gabe Kapler said Wednesday. "So far, it looks fine, but we're not going to cover this with a blanket.

"We don't ever expect him to be the best third baseman in baseball, we're just looking for him to catch the ball because we're optimizing for other things.

"I think he's done an admirable job over there under the circumstances. I don't think there's been a whole lot of action that would give us one feeling one way or the other. I think he's caught all the balls that have come his way. There haven't been a whole lot of opportunities for him to range left or right or towards home plate or behind him."

Santana has started just 32 of his 1,065 major-league games at third base. Six of them have come this season with the Phillies. He's played 40 innings there, error-free, after playing 226 innings at the hot corner for the 2014 Indians.

An example of what the Phillies would lose defensively with Santana at third: Last Friday night in the Phils' 14-2 win over Miami, J.T. Realmuto hit a sharp grounder directly at Santana, a potential 5-4-3 double play. Santana bobbled the ball momentarily before firing a strike to second base. The return throw to first didn't result in a double play, the way it likely would have if a more sure-handed third baseman started it.

But, again, under that scenario, the Phillies would have a substantially better lineup. You could be looking at a lineup with Harper batting second, Hoskins at cleanup and Santana in the five-hole. A team can win a division with Santana as its third- or fourth-best offensive player, despite how many Phillies fans feel about him.

The other component of this is that in order to play Santana at third base, you better have an above-average defensive shortstop. Scott Kingery has improved defensively at short but he's not yet an above-average defensive shortstop. There isn't much evidence at the major- or minor-league level that J.P. Crawford can be an above-average defensive shortstop. He flashes brilliance but also makes too many errant throws on routine plays.

Finding that shortstop may require some creativity. Aside from Manny Machado, the best free-agent options are Freddy Galvis, Alcides Escobar and Jose Iglesias — defense-first players who can't hit.

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