Phillies

Phillies far behind Nationals in 2019 win totals from Caesars Entertainment

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USA Today/AP Images

Phillies far behind Nationals in 2019 win totals from Caesars Entertainment

The first baseball win totals released Wednesday by Caesars Entertainment provide an interesting window into how the NL East is being perceived.

The Nationals, despite potentially losing Bryce Harper, are viewed as the team to beat with a projected win total of 88.5.

The full list:

• Nationals 88.5

• Braves 84

• Mets 83.5

• Phillies 83

• Marlins 65.5

There is growing buzz that Harper and the Nationals could reunite. Just keep in mind that Washington's 2019 payroll is already nearing $200 million, and the Nationals are already deferring money to Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin. How high can their payroll go? How long can they kick the can down the road? I still don't buy that Harper is returning to the Nats. 

It's interesting to find the Braves just a game ahead of the Phillies after finishing 10 games ahead of them in 2018. Atlanta should get even more out of Ronald Acuña Jr. this season, and if Josh Donaldson can stay healthy, he's more of an offensive difference-maker hitting behind Freddie Freeman than Nick Markakis was. The Braves' rotation did tire out down the stretch.

As for the Phillies, this backs up the notion that the Phils currently have the fourth-best roster in the division. We wrote about this 10 days ago (see story)

Obviously, things would change drastically if the Phillies end up with Harper or Manny Machado. If the Phillies end up with one of them and the Nats don't, you'd figure the Phils would vault to the top of the NL East projections. 

In other words, if you think they're getting one of those guys, now would be a good time to bet the over.

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Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

Phillies break camp, head home with highest expectations in years

On his last day in Florida, Gabe Kapler put the top down and took his new and improved lineup for a spin.

The Phillies manager used what figures to be his opening day lineup — minus starting pitcher Aaron Nola — for the team’s final spring-training game Monday.

The unit — with a little help from minor-leaguer Malvin Matos — pulled out a curtain-closing, 3-2, win over the Tampa Bay Rays at sun-splashed Spectrum Field. Matos, up for the day from minor-league camp, won it with a walk-off homer in the bottom of ninth and everybody left happy.

The new season starts Thursday when the Phillies host the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of 162. Nola, who finished third in National League Cy Young voting last season, will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran.

The Phillies added two former NL MVPs, a former NL hits leader and the best catcher in baseball this winter and expectations are high for this club that hasn't been to the playoffs since 2011, its last winning season.

Kapler had his game face on after Monday's spring finale.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” he said. “I think this team has a ton of potential, but we have to stay focused every single day.

“We have to come to the ballpark every day with a game plan of doing the little things right, running the bases hard and executing fundamentals. If we do that, we can do good things.”

The Phils will send Nick Pivetta to the mound in the second game of the series on Saturday. He will face rookie right-hander Bryse Wilson. Jake Arrieta will start Sunday night’s nationally televised game against another Atlanta rookie right-hander, Kyle Wright.

The Phillies will play their fourth game of the season Apr. 2 at Washington and send Zach Eflin to the mound. That should be a wild scene with Bryce Harper, the hood ornament on Kapler’s new and improved lineup, returning to the city in which he played for seven seasons.

Harper, a former NL MVP, anchored Kapler’s lineup in the No. 3 spot Monday. He will be right back there Thursday and could stay there all season as Kapler, with improved personnel, has said he’ll try to keep guys in consistent spots in the order this year.

Kapler’s sneak-peek lineup looked like this Monday:

Andrew McCutchen LF
Jean Segura SS
Bryce Harper LF
Rhys Hoskins 1B
J.T. Realmuto C
Odubel Herrera CF
Cesar Hernandez 2B
Maikel Franco 3B

Last season, Hernandez was the Phillies’ primary leadoff man and Franco often batted in the middle of the order. They significantly strengthen the bottom third of the order. Franco homered on Monday and Hernandez doubled.

Four of the top five spots in the batting order were occupied by newcomers, McCutchen, another former MVP, at the top followed by former NL hits champ Segura and Harper. Realmuto caught and hit fifth.

“It’s exciting,” Arrieta said of the lineup. “More than anything I think it puts a little fear into the opposition. I don’t know if you call it fear, it’s just maybe a little more preparation goes into facing a lineup like we have this year.

“With the guys we’ve got, there’s really not a break in our lineup. It’s going to be fun.”

Arrieta started Monday and struck out eight over six innings in his final spring tune-up. Pivetta pitched into the sixth inning in a minor-league game and struck out nine.

Over the weekend, Nola said: “We have a team to make the playoffs, but we still have to go out there and win and we still have to go out there and compete. Expectations are better than no expectations and that’s going to raise our game up, I believe.”

Arrieta concurred.

“Of course, I think we're a playoff team,” he said Monday. “You look at the team we had last year, we were borderline. We had our chances. Some youth, some inexperience, maybe some hangover from a tough series carried on to the next vs. the cliché of turning the page quick. This group is much better suited to deal with adversity.

“The Braves doing what they did to us last year in winning the division, not that there has to be a chip on our shoulder, but a lot of guys in here remember how it shook down for us, the way the season finished, and we don’t want that to happen again.”

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Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

Phillies' Odubel Herrera does some between-the-ears work — and it shows

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Despite having just 12 plate appearances coming into Sunday’s Grapefruit League game against the Baltimore Orioles, Odubel Herrera sure looked locked-in.

He singled, doubled and homered on his way to a four-RBI day in the Phillies’ 11-4 win.

Opening day is Thursday.

“I’m ready,” Herrera said. “I want to start the year hot. I want to get going quickly. It’s important to the team and it’s important to me.”

Herrera missed significant time early in camp, first with a hamstring injury then a flu bug that visited a number of players this spring.

Herrera offered up Sunday’s performance at the plate as proof that he didn’t just sit around the athletic trainer’s room for three weeks before playing in his first Grapefruit League game March 16.

He worked in the batting cage, seeing pitches and fine-tuning his swing.

He worked in the weight room.

He also did some between-the-ears work.

While his mates were on the field, he spent some time in the video room with Geoff Miller, the team’s mental skills coach.

“We did exercises where I could visualize the game and kind of not lose time, as if I was still playing,” Herrera said through Diego Ettedgui, the team’s Spanish-language translator.

According to Herrera, Miller cued up videos of some of Herrera’s stellar performances last season.

“Maybe we’d watch a really good at-bat that I had in a game,” Herrera said. “He’d ask me to go through the at-bat. ‘What were you thinking in the at-bat? What was your approach? Try to visualize yourself in that moment again. How can you repeat what you did there because you were successful?’ Little tactics to build confidence.”

Herrera, 27, is one of the Phillies’ most talented players. He made the NL All-Star team in 2016 and signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract extension later that year. In addition to being talented, however, Herrera is also inconsistent. Last season was a case in point. He hit .361 with a .989 OPS in his first 40 games. Over the final two months of the season, he hit just .189 with a .530 OPS and lost playing time to Roman Quinn.

Herrera’s poor finish last season earned him a mandate from general manager Matt Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler: Get into better physical shape. Herrera reported to camp down 20 pounds in February. The bosses also wanted to see Herrera become more focused mentally. Herrera said he’s embracing the mental side of the game more now.

“I feel like I need to take advantage of everything that can help me or the team,” he said.

Kapler has seen improved focus in Herrera’s behind-the-scenes work this spring — and on the field Sunday.

“It’s really interesting how his performance coincides with his engagement so strongly,” Kapler said. “When he’s locked in from every angle, he just plays great baseball. He looks like one of the best players on the field all the time and I think that’s what is happening right now for him.

“We want to maintain this level of focus. It’s wonderful to do it in spring training. Our expectation is that he continues to maintain that focus and concentration and that high level of play throughout the season.”

If Herrera needs a reason to be motivated to maintain his sharp mental focus, there is one getting at-bats at the minor-league complex. Quinn will open the season on the disabled list, but he won’t be out long. There is no landing spot in left or right field for Herrera. Andrew McCutchen and Bryce Harper are going to play. If Herrera wants to stay in the lineup, he has to lock down the center field job with more performances like Sunday’s.

We’ll begin finding out if he can do that Thursday.

“I feel like this will be a really good year for me and the Phillies and hopefully we can make something special happen,” Herrera said.

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