Phillies

Phillies should clean up against Tigers in rare matchup

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Phillies should clean up against Tigers in rare matchup

After taking three of four from the Marlins and having a day of rest for the first time since April 11, the Phillies welcome in the Detroit Tigers for a rare visit to Citizens Bank Park.

The Tigers aren't too far from the Marlins in terms of overall talent level. A split wouldn't be some big disappointment, but the Phillies should win both of these games.

When: Tonight at 7:05 p.m.; Pregame Live starts at 6:30

Where: NBC Sports Philadelphia and streaming live on the MyTeams app and NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com

Tigers without teeth

Bloated contracts and bad decisions have turned a once contending Tigers team into one of the worst in the AL. Miguel Cabrera is unfortunately a shell of the player he used to be. He can barely move on the bases or in the field. If he hits a ground ball, it's more often than not a double play no matter how softly it's hit. His power has been sapped.

Aside from Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos in the two-hole, there's no real threat in Detroit's lineup aside from a player who can hit a mistake. This Tigers team struck out 20 times on Sunday, 14 against White Sox righty Reynaldo Lopez, who is not a strikeout pitcher.

Plus, Cabrera might not play both of these games in the NL park. He has started only 10 of the Tigers' 26 games at first base and hasn't played the field on consecutive days since April 3-4.

The Tigers have scored just 91 runs this season, by far the fewest in the AL and a whopping 41 runs below the American League average.

Vinny Velo exceeding expectations so far

There are certain players Phillies fans have little patience for. Vince Velasquez, Cesar Hernandez, Odubel Herrera, even Adam Morgan despite his flawless 2019 season to date. When any of those players struggles, you hear about it often and loudly on the interwebs.

Velasquez has pitched very well this season but really hasn't received much credit from the fanbase. Through four starts, he has a 1.99 ERA, a 1.01 WHIP and a .195 opponents' batting average. He lasted six innings in only one of those starts, but he's kept the Phillies in each game, allowing no more than two runs.

If you could have told the Phillies before the season began that they'd get this kind of work from Velasquez through four starts, but that he would average only 5.4 innings per start, they'd still gladly take it.

Velasquez's pace was incredibly slow in the first inning of his last start but he picked it up thereafter. He also displayed his excellent athleticism defending his position. 

This is a strikeout-prone Detroit team not used to seeing Velasquez. Should be another strong outing for him as long as he has his usual stuff and isn't off from a control standpoint.

Carried by the bats

The Phillies averaged just 2.9 runs in the 10 games Jean Segura missed. With him, they're just a completely different offense. His presence improves the Phillies in three spots: the two-hole, the five-hole with J.T. Realmuto returning there and the eight-hole because it means Maikel Franco can hit in the spot where he's been best this season.

The Phillies have four different players with at least 18 RBI. They have four different players with at least five home runs. 

Most impressively, they have an OPS of at least .789 from six of their eight starters. The only NL team that has more players with an OPS that high is the Braves.

Rhys Hoskins' 1.005 OPS leads the team. If he has a good game tonight, he'll be the first Phillie to enter May with an OPS over 1.000 since Raul Ibanez in 2009.

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MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

MLB trade deadline tracker: Latest news and rumors across baseball

Track all the latest MLB trade deadline news and rumors here through July 31.

Phils show interest in Stroman (July 19)

Unsurprisingly, many front offices will have an eye tonight on Blue Jays right-hander Marcus Stroman when he faces the lowly Tigers tonight, MLB Network’s Jon Morosi points out, adding the Phillies are one of the interested parties.

The Phillies hold some level of interest in every available starting pitcher, ranging from the top and most expensive tier to the marginal upgrades.

Stroman is one of the most attractive pitchers on the market. He’s 28, he was an All-Star, and he’s bounced back strong this season. In 19 starts, he has a 3.25 ERA and is allowing a career-low rate of hits. His strikeout rate is similar to Jake Arrieta’s or Zach Eflin’s. Stroman relies on ground balls and has been effective this season getting out of jams. He’s fun to watch when he’s doing it, the most demonstrative starting pitcher in the majors.

Will Cards move Martinez? (July 16)

The Cardinals are 47-45, two games out of first place and tied with the Phillies for the second wild-card spot. Yet they could look to trade Carlos Martinez this month, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Martinez is acting as St. Louis' closer with Jordan Hicks out for the season. Martinez has pitched well in relief, posting a 2.18 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning in 18 appearances.

But he's also making $11.5 million, more than a team in the Cardinals' position would ideally like to pay a pitcher to get three or four outs. 

Martinez was a very effective starting pitcher from 2015-18, going 50-33 with a 3.22 ERA and making a pair of All-Star teams. A year's worth of shoulder pain forced the Cardinals to move him from the rotation to the bullpen.

Martinez is an interesting trade candidate because there figure to be at least a few teams who check in on him as a starting pitcher.

Race for Ray (July 15)

The Phillies are again showing interest in Robbie Ray, according to Jon Morosi. We have mentioned Ray frequently here as a Phillies trade target dating back to last summer.

Ray would help any contender. He’s a 27-year-old lefty with an extremely high strikeout rate. He experiences bouts of wildness and does lead the National League with 56 walks, but he has also settled in to a mid-3.00s ERA the last three seasons.

The left-handedness and legit swing-and-miss stuff make Ray the type of pitcher the Phillies do not have.

Ray turns 28 on Oct. 1. Based on his age and remaining contract — 2020 is his final arbitration year before he becomes a free agent — he would be a great fit for the Phillies, even if they do continue to fall out of the playoff race. Ray would help them now and next season and would be a prime extension candidate if he pitches well.

The competition for his services via trade will be intense. The Astros (more on them below) are also in on Ray, and plenty of other clubs have expressed interest in the past. The Phillies would have to trade a player or two they don’t want to trade to acquire him.

Speedsters available (July 15)

The Royals have made lightning-fast outfielders Billy Hamilton and Terrance Gore available. Neither is much of a fit for the Phillies, who already have Roman Quinn in that role.

Hamilton and Gore could both help a contender in need of a late-inning defensive replacement/pinch-runner. They are both impactful defenders and baserunners who can't hit.

As for Whit Merrifield, it seems unlikely Kansas City would move him despite being 30 games under .500. Merrifield is such a good, multi-dimensional player that the Royals deserve a huge score for him. At 30 years old, he is enjoying by far his best season, hitting .309/.361/.500 with 26 doubles, eight triples, 11 homers, 45 RBI and 14 stolen bases. Merrifield's .861 OPS is 55 points higher than his previous career-high.

Merrifield's dynamic offense and positional versatility make him a fit anywhere. The Cubs would make a ton of sense. 

Astros after a starter? (July 15)

The Astros have gotten huge production from their top three starters, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley. But the back of the rotation remains a question mark. Collin McHugh is pitching in a mop-up role, Brad Peacock is dealing with a sore shoulder, Framber Valdez has been lit up three starts in a row, and Corbin Martin underwent Tommy John surgery the first week of July.

The Astros are still maybe the deepest team in baseball. Anything less than a World Series win would represent disappointment in 2019. Madison Bumgarner would make a whole lot of sense for Houston, which is still rich in prospects after all of their graduations to the majors.

Trade season begins

A pair of solid but unspectacular starting pitchers were moved this past weekend to kick off trade deadline activity.

Remember, these next two weeks figure to be even more frenzied than usual in July because there is now a hard trade deadline of July 31. No more August trades, except those involving a swap of minor-leaguers.

The Orioles sent Andrew Cashner to the Red Sox for a pair of 17-year-old position player prospects who had been playing for Boston's Dominican Summer League team. 

The soon-to-be 33-year-old Cashner went 9-3 with a 3.83 ERA in 17 starts with the Orioles. Baltimore went 11-6 in his starts and 17-59 in all other games.

The Red Sox needed another starting pitcher with the Nate Eovaldi experiment going sideways. Eovaldi has missed much of the season and will shift to the bullpen upon his return later this month. 

As of Monday afternoon, the Red Sox were 2½ games out of the second AL wild-card spot.

The Royals, meanwhile, traded Homer Bailey to the A's for a fringy Double A infielder. Bailey has been just OK this season, with a 4.80 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. 

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Phillies reach deal with free-agent starter Drew Smyly, who could help ... a little bit

Phillies reach deal with free-agent starter Drew Smyly, who could help ... a little bit

The Phillies have reached a deal with free-agent starting pitcher Drew Smyly, NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury has confirmed. 

Smyly, 30, became a free agent Thursday when he opted out of his minor-league contract with the Brewers. 

While Smyly should help, he likely won’t be a savior. After not pitching in the majors in 2017 or 2018 as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, the lefty struggled with Texas earlier this season before he was released in June. In 51 1/3 innings this season, Smyly had an 8.42 ERA, 1.909 WHIP and a 50.6 hard-contact rate. 

There was a time when Smyly would have been a much bigger get. From 2012 to 2016, with the Tigers and Rays, he went 31-27 with a 3.74 ERA in 156 games (85 starts). 

Here’s what Salisbury said yesterday about the Phillies’ desperation for starting pitching: 

It is well known that the Phillies are in the market for starting pitching. They have spoken to the Texas Rangers about Mike Minor, the Detroit Tigers about Matthew Boyd and the San Francisco Giants about Madison Bumgarner. They have also investigated the possibility of trading for Zack Greinke, Arizona’s high-priced right-hander.

In addition to inquiring about and gauging what it would take to get a top starter — the price is high and the Phils don't want to give up the multiples of top prospects that other clubs are asking for — the Phils have also considered marginal upgrades like Andrew Cashner, who was traded from Baltimore to Boston, and Homer Bailey, who went from Kansas City to Oakland.

Smyly appears to be one of those marginal upgrades. But it won't hurt to have him. 

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