Phillies

Phillies' wild loss to Dodgers drops them into 1st-place tie in NL East

Phillies' wild loss to Dodgers drops them into 1st-place tie in NL East

BOX SCORE

There was some of that old life in the ballpark Monday night, you know the kind that used to fill Citizens Bank Park during the title days from 2007 to 2011.

But the electricity, fueled by a showdown between two first-place teams and the presence of Chase Utley back on the diamond where he starred for 13 seasons, did not translate into a victory for the Phillies. They lost, 7-6, to the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of a crowd of 33,753.

The loss dropped the Phils (55-44) back into a tie for the top spot in the NL East with victorious Atlanta. The Dodgers lead the NL West at 56-44.

Bullpen ace Seranthony Dominguez took the loss. He entered a tie game in the top of the ninth inning, faced five batters and retired just one. He walked three, allowed a single and was charged with a bases-loaded wild pitch that brought home the tie-breaking run. The wild pitch easily could have been scored a passed ball on catcher Jorge Alfaro.

Before the inning was over, Dominguez was charged with a second run when Luis Garcia gave up an RBI single to Matt Kemp to put the Dodgers up, 7-5. That run proved huge because the Phillies rallied for a run on a homer by Maikel Franco in the bottom of the ninth.

The home run came against Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers' All-Star closer. He settled down and got three outs for the save.

Dominguez walked the first batter of the ninth inning. He then gave up a hard-hit one-hop single through shortstop to Joc Pederson. The Phillies were in a defensive shift on the play. Had they been playing straight away, they might have had a shot at a double play.

The teams combined for eight home runs. The Dodgers hit four solo shots. Franco had two solo shots for the Phils. Odubel Herrera also had a solo homer and Rhys Hoskins had a three-run shot.

Hoskins’ homer — his third in as many games — came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning and tied the game at 4-4. Herrera then followed with his homer to put the Phils ahead, 5-4. Both of the home runs came against Dodgers starter Ross Stripling.

Rookie lefty Austin Davis protected the lead in the sixth inning, but Tommy Hunter could not in the seventh. He gave up a one-out triple to right to Manny Machado and a game-tying sacrifice fly to Max Muncy. Muncy’s ball was not hit deep to center field and Machado made a daring base-running play in testing Herrera’s arm. Herrera appeared to briefly hesitate before making the throw home and Machado was able to dive across home plate ahead of the tag.

Hunter stayed on for the eighth and survived a two-out double by Chris Taylor by getting Utley on a hard-hit comebacker to the mound.

Zach Elfin, pitching for the first time in two weeks because of the All-Star break and a trip to the disabled list for a blister on his pitching hand, was clearly rusty. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings and allowed five hits and three walks. Three of the hits were solo home runs.

Eflin, who had pitched to a 2.32 ERA in his previous seven starts, left the game trailing, 3-1, and the Dodgers built their lead to 4-1 on a solo homer by Pederson against Yacksel Rios in the fourth. That was the only run that Rios gave up as he kept the game close until the Phillies could get to Stripling in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Notes
• Second baseman Cesar Hernandez did not start for the second game in a row. He fouled a ball off his right foot two weeks ago in Pittsburgh and it is still bothering him.

“It's been a little bit sore,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We just want to kind of manage it. We are being cautious about this. He’ll most likely be back in there [Tuesday].”

• Roman Quinn continues to make his way back after having surgery to repair a ligament in his right middle finger in May. After playing for a few days in Clearwater, he was in the lineup at Double A Reading on Monday night. Quinn, a switch-hitting outfielder with lots of speed and the ability to play some infield, could be an option for a role on the Phillies’ bench very soon.

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Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

Phillies have a number of options in filling infield need

SAN DEIGO — On Day 1 of the winter meetings, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak reiterated his team’s need to add a starting infielder.

“That's been the focus,” Klentak said Monday afternoon. “Today is Day 1, but technically we've been here for almost two full days. It feels like that is what we have mostly been working on since we've been here. We're just trying to explore all different avenues. Single-year and multi-year fits. Trade and free-agent fits. In the way that the pitching market has really come together quickly, this one doesn't seem to be coming together quite as quickly. But not because there aren't options.”

The free-agent pitching market is indeed moving quickly. Stephen Strasburg returned to the Washington Nationals on a staggering seven-year, $245 million deal on Monday and Gerrit Cole is expected to blow past that deal in the coming days. The Phillies made some (sort of) news Monday when their signing of Zack Wheeler became official after the right-hander passed his physical exam.

“We felt it was important to add someone to our rotation that could pair with Aaron Nola at the top and give us a chance to win any series against the best pitchers in baseball,” Klentak said. “I think those are as good a twosome as you'll find in the league.”

New manager Joe Girardi concurred.

“We have 1 and 1-A,” he said.

Now, the question is: Who will play second base, third base and shortstop behind Wheeler and Nola?

Scott Kingery and Jean Segura are likely to hold down two of the spots. We say “likely” because there’s always the chance that Kingery could play center field (right now it looks like Adam Haseley will be the guy there) and Segura could be traded if the Phils could find someone to take on the three years and $45 million that remain on his contract. That won’t be easy, even if the Phils eat some salary.

Ideally, the Phillies would land a shortstop like free-agent Didi Gregorius on a one-year or manageable multi-year deal and move Segura from shortstop to second base and play Kingery at third. The Phillies have had serious talks with Gregorius, but have to be ready to pivot if they can’t lock him up. As Klentak said, there are options in the infield. Most of them, however, are not shortstops. A free-agent second baseman like Jonathan Schoop could be a good fallback if the Phils can’t sign Gregorius. He had 23 doubles and 23 homers in 433 at-bats for the Twins last season. Signing Schoop would mean that Segura would have to stay at shortstop or move to third with Kingery playing shortstop.

There are plenty of options at third base, from veteran Todd Frazier to top-of-the-market superstars Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson. There are also versatile veterans like Starlin Castro and even Brock Holt who could be used in mix-and-match, platoon scenarios.

“There’s a bunch of different ways we can go,” Klentak said. “We can go a shorter-term variety, we can look at a longer-term solution, we can look at the trade market, we can look at the free-agent market and we can look into piecing it together with multiple players potentially, which not only would help the starting infield, but would improve the bench. That’s where a lot of our focus this week is being turned.”

All right, let’s address those top-of-the-market names: The Phils have had contact with the representatives for Rendon and Donaldson and they have not tapped out of those markets, but signing one of those big-money players remains a longshot. The Phils signed Bryce Harper for $330 million last winter, Wheeler for $118 million this winter and still have to budget for a potential $100 million contract extension for J.T. Realmuto. Rendon is expected to command well over $200 million and Donaldson should get more than $25 million per season when he lands. The Phils are creeping up on the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in total payroll. Managing partner John Middleton would go over the tax for the right opportunity. There’s a lot of never-say-never here, but …

“Ownership has always encouraged us to stay engaged on everything,” Klentak said. “If there's an opportunity to bring something to them we will. I think the most notable example was signing Jake Arrieta two years ago. That was not necessarily on our radar. It came together late and the owners jumped on it. I'm not going to sit here today and declare that we are or are not in on certain players or that we will or will not exceed the tax threshold. Our job is to keep an open mind and continue to pursue all avenues and see what makes sense for us. There is an element of this from a management perspective in making sure we apply the proper balance to roster building and not get too top-heavy. We need to be responsible about it, but we're not going to shy away from pursuing or at least exploring opportunities, whether we bring them to the finish line or not.”

With Wheeler on board, an infielder on the way, the return to good health of some key players and the projected improvement of others, Klentak is confident of this:

“We are definitely building a team that we expect will contend in 2020,” he said.

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Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Good thing the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the offseason as the No. 2 starting pitcher in free agency behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Wheeler, is returning to the Nationals on a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

As historically good as Strasburg was in October, that is an insane number for him. He will turn 32 midway through the first of the seven years. He has made 30 starts in just three of nine seasons and reached 200 innings twice. He was more durable than ever in 2019 and, boy, did he cash in because of it. 

Two seasons ago, in 2018, Strasburg made 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Had he had that type of season in 2019, he probably wouldn't have even opted out of the remaining three years and $75 million to find this next payday.

Good for him. But also good for the Phillies in agreeing with Wheeler five days before the Nats retained Strasburg. Because if Wheeler was still on the board today, that number is at least $20 million higher and maybe more. Would a team go to $140 million for Wheeler? What about $160 million? Think about how many free agents the White Sox have struck out on in recent years. Wouldn't they have been likely to up their offer one more time if Wheeler was still out there to see what Strasburg signed for?

Strasburg is a great pitcher, don't get it twisted. He proved in 2019 that he can be the most reliable and important arm in the league when the pressure is at its peak. But forget Year 6, by Year 3 or 4 of this deal, the Nationals could be regretting it mightily.

And if this is what it took to sign Strasburg, Gerrit Cole is even more likely to approach $300 million.

There has been much more offseason activity leaguewide than there was at this point a year ago. The five best remaining free agents are Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The next three would be Nick Castellanos, Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna and then you're getting into back-end-rotation types.

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