Phillies feel they’ve weathered the storm, eager to see what a deeper roster can do

Phillies feel they’ve weathered the storm, eager to see what a deeper roster can do

NEW YORK — The Phillies enter the All-Star break with their first road series win in over a month. 

Yes, it came against the Mets. 

Yes, Mickey Callaway’s club in disarray. 

Yes, the Phillies are supposed to win when Aaron Nola pitches. 

Still, it was a series they needed to claim. They needed to end the first half on a high note, with momentum, with positive vibes and with their ace continuing to look like he’s recaptured his 2018 magic. 

Nola has done just that over the last three weeks. He has recorded 89 outs and allowed two earned runs over his last four starts, lowering his ERA from 4.89 to 3.74 in the process. He has looked totally dominant in two starts against the Mets, one against the Braves and one vs. the Marlins. It culminated Sunday with more brilliance in an 8-3 Phillies win. 

“I believe that with Nola's track record, what is most likely to happen is that he will return to his normal performance and we're going to be able lean on him as one of the best pitchers in baseball,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “And I think over the course of the last four starts, we've seen that. 

“It's tough to come into this ballpark against their big three in (Jacob) deGrom, (Noah) Syndergaard and (Zack) Wheeler and come out with a series win. So really proud of our guys for the work that they did in this series.”

At 47-43, the Phillies are 6.5 games behind the Braves and a half-game behind the Nationals. They’re in third place and on pace for 85 wins. Not good enough. Not what managing partner John Middleton had in mind when he signed off on adding more than $430 million of future payroll this past offseason. 

There is much work to do. To get to 90 wins, the Phillies must win 60 percent of their remaining games. And their second-half schedule is not soft, at least not right away. Out of the break, the Phillies have a seven-game homestand against the Nationals and Dodgers, who own the two best starting rotations in the league. 

The Phillies just won a series against the Mets’ big three, and right out of the break they will likely get the Nationals’ big three of Max Scherzer, Patrick Corbin and Stephen Strasburg. 

At least the bats are coming around. 

“I think it's a good time for us to step back and reflect and adjust and get to work,” Kapler said. “And obviously, we can enjoy the break but think about ways that we can do better in the second half. I think we're playing better baseball, swinging the bats better, and I think we've been swinging the bats better for several weeks now. So if we had more games coming up here, I'd feel pretty good about our chances. I feel like we are improving in some areas.”

The Phillies averaged 6.3 runs over their final 13 games of the first half. They will need to continue to approach that number the rest of the way to make up for a lackluster rotation behind Nola. While Nola has a 0.61 ERA in his last four starts, all other Phillies starting pitchers have a 7.58 ERA in the 13 games over that span. 

“Been kind of up and down in the first half,” Nola said of the Phillies’ play overall. “We were in first for a little while and the Braves kinda got hot at the right time. Still a lot of ball left. ... It’s not gonna be an easy road to the end.”

Injuries played a huge role in the Phillies’ disappointing first half. They’ve had 16 players hit the injured list — twice as many as the Braves — and lost their starting centerfielder to a season-ending suspension. 

No team in baseball has suffered more bullpen injuries than the Phillies’ nine. 

“We came in with a really good bullpen and a lot of the guys got hurt,” Nola said. “I think that’s gonna be a big part of the second half is getting more guys.”

Tommy Hunter returned in the final days of June and has looked fresh and effective. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning Sunday and has retired 13 of the 15 batters he’s faced since being activated. He will play a key role in the second half for a Phillies team in need of setup men. 

David Robertson is inching closer, though it’s not a given he will be back by mid-July. A couple bullpen sessions and rehab outings would be necessary first. 

Pat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez are expected back as well. At some point, maybe the Phillies will actually have their entire bullpen healthy at the same time. 

“I don't want to pin our struggles and our adversity in the first half on any one area in particular. I just don't think that would tell a complete story,” Kapler said. “However, I do think that the injuries that we've had in our bullpen have been impactful for us, and to some degree I believe that we've weathered the storm. 

“More importantly, Robertson coming back, Hunter now being back and kind of the version of himself that we expected, Adam Morgan continuing to look good. I think we're getting closer to what we expected when we set out at the beginning of the season. 

“We know that Seranthony is coming back at some point, or we feel confident that Seranthony is coming back at some point, so we can look forward to a stronger bullpen than we've had in the first half.”

Now the entire team, minus All-Star J.T. Realmuto, gets four full days of rest. 

As for Kapler, the second-half game-planning has already begun. The first order of business is figuring out whether Nola, who has thrown 216 pitches in his last two starts, will get an extra day or two before his next outing. 

“Personally, it’s not the easiest thing for me,” Kapler said of leaving baseball mode for even a few hours, “but I think I’ll get a chance to do some reading, get some rest and relaxation.”

Phillies fans could probably use the rest too. Those first 90 games conjured quite the range of emotions.

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Phillies fans, you're gonna love Didi Gregorius based on his Twitter personality

USA Today Images/NBC Sports Philadelphia

Phillies fans, you're gonna love Didi Gregorius based on his Twitter personality

MLB free agency is in full swing and the newest addition to the Phillies, Didi Gregorius, has quite the personality on Twitter.

More specifically, he really enjoys tweeting after his team wins ... especially with emojis.

It almost feels like Groundhog Day scrolling through his feed. And by the looks of things, he rarely forgets.

Take a look:

Of course, these are only a few of the many he has tweeted out. If you have the time though, look at the rest — there are definitely some hidden gems.

Will he continue this tradition with his new club? Will we be able to see tweets from him stating that the bullpen was worth four fire emojis? What emojis will he assign for Bryce Harper, Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins and the rest of the team?

These are the hard-hitting questions we want answered right after the news of a signing breaks — but we'll just have to wait and see once Spring Training comes to a close in a few months.

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Phillies agree to deal with shortstop Didi Gregorius

Phillies agree to deal with shortstop Didi Gregorius

Updated: 6:28 p.m. 

The Phillies got their pitcher last week.

Now they have their infielder.

The club on Tuesday reached agreement with free-agent shortstop Didi Gregorius, according to sources. The deal is for one year and $14 million, according to sources. The New York Post initially reported the agreement.

The signing likely concludes the Phillies' heavy lifting for the offseason. They signed right-handed pitcher Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million deal last week.

The Phils are still looking for some bullpen help and starting pitching depth, but those are expected to be low-profile additions. 

The Gregorius signing puts the Phils within about $6 million of baseball’s $208 million luxury-tax threshold. Phillies ownership has not ruled out going over the threshold and paying a 20 percent penalty on overages, but the decision to do so might not come until the 2020 season unfolds and the team sees where it is in the standings. General manager Matt Klentak on Monday said he expects the team to contend. The Phils have not made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2011.

Gregorius’ addition means Jean Segura will come off shortstop in 2020. He will likely play second base, though a move to third is not out of the question. Scott Kingery will likely fill the remaining spot with Adam Haseley getting a shot to win the center field job.

In Philadelphia, Gregorius will be reunited with Joe Girardi, his manager with the New York Yankees from 2015-2017. Girardi was hired by the Phillies in October.

Girardi does not hide his affection for Gregorius.

“He’s a treat to be around,” Girardi said last week. “He brings a smile every day and works extremely hard. He’s a very talented player. I think there’s 30 teams that would love Didi’s services. I’m a big fan.”

The Phillies’ need for infield help became acute after the team cut ties with second baseman Cesar Hernandez and third baseman Maikel Franco last week.

Gregorius, who made $11.75 million with the Yankees last season, turns 30 in February. He hit .277 with a .791 OPS and averaged 24 homers and 81 RBIs with the Yankees from 2016-2018. He played only a half-season as he recovered from elbow surgery in 2019. He hit just .238 but had 16 homers and 61 RBIs in 324 at-bats. By signing a one-year deal, Gregorius can rebuild his value and go back on the free-agent market next season. The Phils can attempt to retain him with a qualifying offer and would receive draft-pick compensation if he leaves.

Last week, Girardi was asked what Gregorius would bring to the Phillies.

“Left-handed bat, power, plays an outstanding shortstop,” Girardi said. “He can play second, as well. He’s a real character guy and he’s a real hard worker that is a really important clubhouse presence. I felt that he was important to the clubhouse in New York in what he brought every day. I’ve always been a big fan of Didi and what’s he’s been able to accomplish. You have to remember, I got him when he first came over and he was replacing a legend (Derek Jeter) and how difficult that was and to see the growth that he made was really pleasing to me.”

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