Phillies waste big opportunity and if it continues they'll be looking up at the Mets

Phillies waste big opportunity and if it continues they'll be looking up at the Mets

The ol’ schedule maker threw a nice layup in the Phillies’ direction this weekend.

Or so it seemed.

Three games against a lowly Chicago White Sox club that entered the series with just four wins in 20 games since the All-Star break. Two games against starting pitchers with ERAs over 5.00 and one against a starter with an ERA over 6.00.

Time to make some hay.

Or not.

The Phillies continued their maddeningly inconsistent play by losing two of three to the White Sox. The opportunity lost weekend ended with a 10-5 defeat in the series finale on Sunday.

“Tough weekend,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We’re not getting enough hits in big spots. We’re not making enough pitches. We’re not doing enough collectively to win baseball games the last three days. We’re a better team than this.”

Are they really?

The Phillies went 33-22 in their first 55 games of the season and were in first place by 3 ½ games in the NL East.

Over their last 56 games, they are 25-31, seven back in the division and in the thick of a wild-card race loaded with flawed clubs.

Don’t look now, but the Phils are only three games ahead of the fourth-place New York Mets in the division. The Mets have firepower in the starting rotation and they’ve won nine of 10.

The Phillies hit just .192 (25 for 130) over weekend and were 5 for 26 (.192) with runners in scoring position. They left 27 men on base. They were on their way to being held to three or fewer runs for the 12th time in 21 games on Sunday before newcomer Corey Dickerson clubbed a two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.

“I thought they threw the ball well,” Bryce Harper said. “We haven’t seen any of those guys, really. When you’re playing the American League, it’s definitely a tough task to figure those guys out immediately. I thought the first game got away from us, the second game we were able to come back and win that, and today we just got beat.”

The Phillies were beaten in one inning. Drew Smyly, who had given up just one run over 13 innings in his first two starts with the club, was tagged for five runs in the second inning, four on a two-out grand slam by Leury Garcia.

Garcia hit a 1-1 curveball left over the heart of the plate.

“I have to do a better job ending that inning and keeping it at a one-run game,” Smyly said.

Smyly said the loss stung. He pitched five innings. He was perfect in four of them but imperfect in the second inning when he gave up three singles, a walk and the grannie.

“This one stings because I feel like I was one or two pitches away from a much different outcome,” Smyly said.

Earlier in the day, the Phillies sent Maikel Franco, their opening day third baseman four straight seasons, to Triple A. It was a jarring move, but Franco was about to lose more playing time to Scott Kingery and the Phillies wanted a more versatile player on their bench. They activated Brad Miller from the injured list and kept right-handed hitting Sean Rodriguez over Franco (see story).

The Phils cut the White Sox’ lead to two runs in the sixth inning and Rodriguez had a chance to reward the brass’ faith in him when Kapler called on him to pinch-hit with two runners on base. Rodriguez bounced into a double play and the White Sox pulled away with five runs against the bullpen after that.

“It was a big play in the game,” Kapler said. “Nobody is more frustrated in that than Sean.”

The Phillies went 4-5 on the homestand. They play their next seven games in Arizona and San Francisco.

What type of shape will they be in when they come back home?

Will they be looking up at the Mets?

“We have to go out there and not really worry about what happened today,” Harper said. “Of course, we lost the series and you never want to do that. But just go into Arizona and have to turn the page as quick as possible. Get past this weekend and go out there and play Arizona and beat them, hopefully. Then go to San Fran for a big four-gamer.”

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Bryce Harper's Top 5 home runs as a Phillie

Bryce Harper's Top 5 home runs as a Phillie

Today is the one-year anniversary of Bryce Harper's first regular-season home run as a Phillie, a 465-foot solo shot off of former Phils first-round pick Jesse Biddle.

The Phillies swept the Braves in that opening series and Harper went deep in the second and third games. He hit seven of his 35 home runs against the Braves, three more than he had against any other team in 2019.

Let's look back at Harper's top five home runs as a Phillie in Year 1.

1. Walk-off grand slam vs. Cubs (Aug. 15)

You knew this was going to be No. 1. It was probably the top moment of the Phillies' 2019 season.

The Phillies were down 5-3 with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the ninth when Harper sent a 2-2 pitch from lefty Derek Holland into the second deck in right field.

Everything about the moment was great — from the height and majesty of Harper's walk-off grand slam to John Kruk's "Oh my god!" to Tom McCarthy's call.

This win made the Phillies 63-58 and was part of a season-long four-game winning streak. They won four in a row on five different instances but lost the fifth game each time.

Harper has six career walk-off home runs. This was his first since May of 2017.

2. Harper drops the mic in return to D.C. (April 2)

This one didn't affect the outcome of the game like the walk-off grand slam but it was definitely a memorable moment on a night when Harper was booed nonstop.

It was the Phillies' fourth game of the season and they had just swept the Braves. The Nats started Max Scherzer in one of many long, rainy games in D.C. between the Phils and Nats.

Late in the night, with the Phillies already up 6-2, Harper absolutely crushed a Jeremy Hellickson pitch to the second deck in right-center. There were a ton of Phillies fans in attendance and they made up most of the remaining crowd. 

Check out how that section in right field stirs after the crack of the bat.

3. Harper splashes into McCovey Cove for the win (Aug. 9)

Another late-game home run against a left-handed reliever. The Phillies were down 6-5 in the seventh inning in San Francisco when Harper hit a 3-run shot into McCovey Cove against Tony Watson.

It went 456 feet. The Phillies badly needed it because it was their only win in the final six of a seven-game West Coast trip.

This was when Harper was at his hottest. In 20 games from Aug. 5 through Aug. 31, he hit .304 with 10 homers and 24 RBI.

4. Blasting off onto Ashburn Alley (May 18)

This was Harper's longest home run of the year, a 466-footer on a Saturday afternoon to straightaway center field that cleared almost everything and landed on Ashburn Alley.

The Phillies swept the Rockies in this early-season series and emerged 27-19. Remember those days? The Phils' high watermark came 10 days later at 33-22.

5. Bryce beats the Dodgers early and late (July 16)

Probably Harper's best game of the season.

The Phillies jumped on Dodgers ace Walker Buehler for six runs in one of Buehler's worst starts. Harper punctuated the Phillies' second-inning rally with a 458-foot, three-run shot off Buehler on a fastball just over 98 mph. He did even more damage later.

This was one of the Phillies' wildest games of the year. They led 6-1 after three innings but the Dodgers came all the way back and went ahead 8-6 in the top of the ninth. 

With one out in the bottom of the ninth against Kenley Jansen, Andrew Knapp doubled, Cesar Hernandez singled, Scott Kingery drove in a run with an RBI single and Harper hit a walk-off two-run double.

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Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

Delay in MLB season gives Phillies star J.T. Realmuto something to think about

At least the Phillies got one full season of J.T. Realmuto.

The Los Angeles Dodgers could end up getting nothing from Mookie Betts.

While there is hope of a Major League Baseball season in 2020, no one knows for sure if one will happen. One-hundred games, 120, 88, zero. No one knows. Our world is at the mercy of this beast called coronavirus and baseball is just a small part of our world.

But baseball is what we do here, so we have to consider these possibilities and one of them is that the popular and talented Realmuto has played his last game with the Phillies.

Last week, Major League Baseball and the Players Association agreed that players would continue to accrue service time during the game's health-related shutdown. This means that established players who are just one season shy of free agency will still arrive at that precious and lucrative destination next offseason, regardless of whether or not there is a 2020 season.

Now, all sides are hopeful that there will be baseball in 2020, and the guess here is that there will indeed be some type of a season. But if this pandemic does not subside and the sport is shuttered for the season, Betts, picked up by the Dodgers in a February trade with the Red Sox, will enter the free-agent market next winter without ever wearing Dodger blue in an official game.

If the sport is shuttered for the year, Realmuto will become a free agent after just one All-Star season with the Phillies. Pitchers Trevor Bauer, James Paxton and Marcus Stroman will all become free agents without throwing a competitive pitch in 2020.

The Phillies have made it clear that they would like to keep Realmuto off the free-agent market. They have long called him the best catcher in baseball and with that praise seems to come an acknowledgment that they’d be willing to give him a multi-year deal with an average annual value of more than $23 million, which would exceed Joe Mauer’s record AAV for a catcher. The Phils had been engaged in talks with Realmuto’s representation about a potential contract extension before spring training camps were shut down earlier this month.

When camps were shut down, health and safety of players, staff and fans became the top priority, and contract negotiations, as a practical matter, were back-burnered. Now, they are officially off the stove as MLB has issued an indefinite freeze on transactions and negotiations.

If and when MLB comes up with a clearer idea of when the season will start, the Phillies will surely engage Realmuto’s side in contract talks again.

But now, a new variable has entered the picture.

The Phillies' best bit of leverage in talks with Realmuto was the season itself, the 162-game grind of the schedule and the risk of injury that all players assume. Suffering an injury in a walk year could seriously impact any player’s earning power in free agency so, in that regard, opening day and the length of the season was seen as an ally for the Phillies.

But what happens if the season is shortened dramatically? A shorter season would not eliminate the risk of injury because injury has no calendar and it does not discriminate Game 25 from Game 152. But, could fewer games be enough of a mitigating factor in Realmuto’s mind that he takes the risk of playing whatever the 2020 season looks like without the security of an extension so he can take his chances on greater free-agent riches in just a few months?

It’s something to think about.

But so is this:

Regardless of whether the 2020 season is simply altered, shortened or canceled altogether, revenues throughout the game are going to shrink, maybe drastically. The shutdown affects everything from ticket sales, to parking, to merchandise and concessional sales. It affects the huge revenues that teams generate through national and local media deals (TV and radio) and sponsorships. Fewer dollars coming in will affect the overall pool and that could impact next winter’s free-agent market in the amount of money that teams have to spend.

So, Realmuto has a few things to think about. Some of it might excite him. Some of it might not.

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