Phillies' victory over Marlins the ultimate 'team win'

Phillies' victory over Marlins the ultimate 'team win'


"There's no 'I' in 'team."

It’s a strong contender for biggest cliché in sports. It’s also what Vince Velasquez had to say after going just two innings in the Phillies’ 5-4 win over the Marlins on Saturday (see first take), and it’s not the worst way to sum up a night when the Phillies made the most of their expanded roster and secured a series victory for the first time since Aug. 2-5.

After another short start from Velasquez, seven relievers combined to throw shutout seven innings for the Phillies. Justin Bour laced a key two-out, two-RBI single as a pinch hitter for Velasquez. Cesar Hernandez hit a decisive three-run homer in the fifth inning. Just about everyone on the roster made sort of contribution. 

With the Phillies on the outer periphery of playoff contention, 6½ games back of the Braves in the NL East and five games behind the Dodgers for the second NL Wild Card spot, manager Gabe Kapler is still trying to squeeze every last win out of his team.

“Certainly [the bullpen] was the story of the game for us, putting up zeroes for us, each one of them looking out for each other,” Kapler said. “It was a team win. Everybody contributed. I think it's kind of interesting how we've gotten contributions from everywhere on the roster. It feels to me like we have the opportunity to use everyone on the roster every night. ... We're really playing team baseball the last couple of days, and it's interesting how the roster is making that possible."

That’s the plus side of these sort of team wins — just about every face in the clubhouse gets to chip in. But it might be a stretch to say everyone goes home happy. You can’t imagine Scott Kingery felt great about being pinch hit for with the bases loaded and one out in the second inning, with Marlins righty Brett Graves on the mound. While Kingery said he understood the decision to go with Asdrubal Cabrera and knew he might be replaced once lefty spot starter Jarlin Garcia left the game, it seems unlikely that starting a game and not getting an at-bat did anything positive for his confidence.

“Obviously I think every guy in the lineup wants to be the guy to get the big hit,” Kingery said, “but in that situation, we had a chance to get a big hit with a lefty and got a better chance there.”

Kapler said the move had everything to do with trying to win in the present and nothing to do with his view of Kingery as a key part of the team’s future.

"The most important message there is while that's happening right now, it's no indication that you're not going to be the guy pinch hitting down the road,” Kapler said. “It's no indication you're not going to have 700 plate appearances where you don't come out of the lineup. That's who I think Scott Kingery is. It's just that in this moment, we have a veteran, proven, left-handed bat that we pre-planned might come up in a situation like that. 

"None of these things are going to catch our players by surprise. Do they sting a little bit at times? Probably. Is it an ego blow? Absolutely. But at this time of the year with the weapons we have, in order to use them effectively, somebody is going to get their feelings hurt once in a while."

Velasquez’s feelings weren’t hurt about being pulled after just 46 pitches, in large part because Bour picked him up with a clutch hit. Still, Saturday night was the seventh straight start in which he failed to pitch more than five innings. He hasn’t thrown more than 84 pitches in any of those outings — with an oversized bullpen to call on, Kapler hasn’t given Velasquez much leash.

“He knows if you have your good stuff and he knows if you don’t,” Velasquez said. “My job is to put zeros on the board. … If you kind of are slipping a little bit, he’s going to end up taking you out and do what’s best for the team. In this situation, down four runs, bases loaded, he’s going to make some moves. 

"So again, I need to learn how to prepare myself for those situations, knowing that it is going to happen and it has happened before, and I tip my cap off to Bour for scoring those two runs. This is not about me. I should have done a better job, yes. But this is also a team. There’s no ‘I’ in team. The fact that we came out and we won as a team, that’s all that matters.”

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Phillies should pursue Michael Brantley if they whiff on Bryce Harper

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Phillies should pursue Michael Brantley if they whiff on Bryce Harper

Editor's note: This week across the NBC Sports Regional Networks, we'll be taking an in-depth look at some of the top free agents in MLB. Tuesday is dedicated to veteran outfielder Michael Brantley.

Bryce Harper aside, the Phillies don't have a glaring outfield need. If they miss out on Harper, they could still enter 2019 with a group of Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, Roman Quinn, Aaron Altherr and Rhys Hoskins vying for time in the outfield. That outfield was 13th among the 30 teams in OPS, with defensive issues in left field.

If the Phillies do pursue an outfielder not named Harper, it should be Brantley.

In 10 years in Cleveland, Brantley hit .295/.351/.430 with an average of 38 doubles, 13 homers and 81 RBI per 162 games.

The biggest issue with Brantley, 32 on May 15, is health. He had three surgeries between the end of the 2015 and 2017 seasons: shoulder, biceps, ankle. Those injuries caused him to miss 242 of 486 games the last three years — a game away from 50 percent on the nose.

The other notable issue is the discrepancy in his production against left-handed and right-handed pitchers. A lefty himself, Brantley last season hit .321 with an .889 OPS against righties — elite production. He hit just .277 with a .684 OPS against lefties — below league-average production. His career splits paint a similar picture.

If you're going to have splits like that, it's always better to be the guy who hits right-handers because righties make up about 70 percent of all major-league arms. Last season, Brantley faced a righty 73 percent of the time.

When healthy, Brantley is one of the most effective top-of-the-order hitters in the game. The two-hole these days is typically inhabited by a team's best hitter. It used to be the place you put a guy like Brantley, who is always between .285 and .300 and never strikes out.

He'd fit well with this Phillies lineup because, as with fellow free agent Nick Markakis, Brantley provides skills the Phils' offense didn't have in 2018. The 2018 Phils did not have a consistent singles and doubles hitter. Brantley would have led them in batting average and on-base percentage with eight more doubles than anyone aside from Hoskins.

If the Phillies don't land Harper, and Brantley is still out there, they should strongly consider a three-year deal in the $45 million range. That is a fair price for Brantley. Don't be surprised if the Braves also pursue him if Markakis leaves via free agency.

A key distinction between Brantley and A.J. Pollock, another talented but injury-prone outfielder: Pollock was extended a qualifying offer by his former team, the D-backs. Brantley was not. Therefore, in signing Pollock, the Phillies would forfeit a high draft pick — between Rounds 1 and 2 — whereas they'd give up no pick to sign Brantley.

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Gabe Kapler's Malibu home destroyed in California wildfires

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Gabe Kapler's Malibu home destroyed in California wildfires

Phillies manager Gabe Kapler was among the many who lost their homes to the wildfires spreading throughout California.

It was Kapler's residence in Malibu. He and his family are safe, and his thoughts are with the community affected by the tragedy, a Phillies spokesperson said.

At least 31 people have been killed, more than 200 remain missing, and hundreds of thousands were forced to evacuate their homes as multiple fires rage across California. 

Kapler was born in Hollywood. In addition to his home in Malibu, he has one in Philly, and was in Philadelphia as recently as last week.