Phillies

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

Playing the Red Sox tough is nice, but some wins would be nicer for struggling Phillies

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Coming out of spring training, the consensus opinion on the Phillies was that they’d pick up on the improvement they showed in the second half of last year’s 66-96 season and maybe push .500.

The thinking was that would be a nice step in the right direction for a team that had pushed its rebuild into field-goal range.

Then the season got going and the Phillies started winning, and contending, and by the first week of July they were in first place in the NL East.

They entered August in first place and that was meaningful because, in a sport where the long haul matters, four months is a significant chunk of time.

Becoming a contender a year before most envisioned changed the way these Phillies are viewed. Had they been plugging along hoping to finish the season at .500 and fuel a little optimism for the future, then Tuesday night’s loss to the Boston Red Sox might have been seen as a good thing, an oh-look-at-how-we-hung-with-the-big-boys moral victory (see first take).

But as a contender and a team with legitimate postseason hopes, the 2-1 loss stung and it stung even worse when the out-of-town scoreboard flashed the final score from Atlanta, where the Braves beat the Marlins, 10-6.

In two days, the Phillies have lost two games in the standings to the Braves and now trail them by two games in the NL East.

The Phillies are 2-5 in their last seven games and they have scored just 16 runs over that span. They have another one on tap against Boston on Wednesday night.

The Red Sox are the majors’ best team, on pace to win 115 games, and the Phillies have played them tough in three games over the last two weeks. Boston has won a pair of 2-1 games and the Phils have won a 3-1 contest. But the Phils are past the point where playing a good team tough makes them feel good. 

They need some hits.

They need some wins.

“We know that we can go toe to toe with this team,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We showed that we could at Fenway Park. We did it tonight. We came out on the losing end because they played a better baseball game. But we're very confident that tomorrow we're going to be playing the better baseball game. We're looking forward to that.”

The Phillies’ offense ranks second to last in the majors with a .234 batting average and below average in many other important offensive categories. It ran into a good pitcher on top of his game Tuesday night and the results were not good. Boston’s Rick Porcello, a Cy Young winner in 2016, dazzled with seven innings of one-run ball. He walked none and had six 1-2-3 innings. Porcello gave up just two hits – that’s all the Phillies had – and struck out 10. The Phils struck out 13 times as a team – they’ve reached double digits in Ks 60 times this season – and walked just once.

That’ll lose you some ballgames.

“Porcello deserves a lot of credit,” Kapler said. “He was really awesome. Great job by him.”

The Phillies got a strong game from their starter, as well. Nick Pivetta delivered six innings of one-run ball, walked one and struck out six. He exited early for a pinch-hitter as Kapler tried to nudge the offense only to see Roman Quinn go down on a first-pitch fly ball in the bottom of the sixth.

All the scoring came via the long ball. Sandy Leon took Pivetta deep in the third and Rhys Hoskins got Porcello leading off the fifth. Hoskins, who was dropped from second to cleanup, was 1 for 28 before hitting his 23rd homer. The Phillies need his bat to come alive.

With no margin for error, the Phillies’ bullpen – neither bullpen, for that matter – could afford a mistake. Tommy Hunter made one with one out in the eighth and pinch-hitter Brock Holt clubbed it off the facing of the upper deck in right to break a 1-1 tie and propel the Sox to their 86th win.

Holt ambushed the first pitch.

“Yeah, it was a cutter,” Hunter said. “He got it. He hit it. I'll probably throw 16 of them again tomorrow. He got it. Tip your cap.”

The cutter is Hunter’s best pitch and Holt was looking for it.

“Yeah, coming off the bench, he's going to swing at the first pitch,” Hunter said. “I left it a little too far on the plate. I probably should have buried it in off the plate.”

The atmosphere in all three of the Phillies-Red Sox games over the last two weeks has been intense, almost playoff-like.

“It’s two pretty good teams going toe to toe,” Hunter said. “That’s the way you like it though. Throw blows and see who comes out on top.”

Vince Velasquez will try to help the Phillies come out on top Wednesday night.

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This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

This indefinite delay may be frustrating for these five Phillies

Everyone is disappointed that the 2020 MLB season didn't start on time — owners, executives, managers and coaches, players and of course the fans who have been longing for baseball's return. There are so many intriguing storylines surrounding the Phillies. We were all so excited to watch this season play out.

The players themselves are all undoubtedly bummed. But this indefinite delay has to be especially frustrating for these five Phillies.

Rhys Hoskins

I can't imagine anyone was more anxious to get back to work in 2020 than Hoskins. The second half of his 2019 season was brutal. He hit .180 with just nine HR and 26 RBI in 71 games following the All-Star break. You could see that prolonged slump taking its toll on Hoskins. He wore the frustration outwardly on a nightly basis. For a guy who has experienced success at every stop of his baseball career, his struggles last season had to be confusing. What am I doing wrong? How can I get this fixed? Will I ever break out of this slump?

Hoskins spent a lot of time in the offseason adjusting his mental and physical approach at the plate. He admitted he was thinking too much last year. He worked with new hitting coach Joe Dillon, lowering his hands and opening his stance. He was eager to get back to being a force in the middle of the Phillies batting order, eager to prove that the second half of 2019 was a fluke. He wanted to get back to being one of the premiere sluggers in the National League.

But now Hoskins waits just like the rest of us to find out when (or if) he'll get that opportunity.

Jake Arrieta

This is the final year of the three-year, $75 million contract that Arrieta signed with the Phillies prior to the 2018 season. He'd be the first one to tell you that the Phillies haven't gotten their money's worth on that deal. Arrieta battled injuries and inconsistency in his first two seasons in Philadelphia. He pitched through a knee injury that required surgery in 2018, finishing that season with a 3.96 ERA in 31 starts. His 2019 season was cut short due to surgery in August to clean out a bone spur in his right elbow. He posted a 4.64 ERA in 24 starts before he was shut down.

The 34-year old Arrieta has hardly resembled the guy who won a World Series and Cy Young Award with the Cubs. But this spring he said he's 100 percent healthy and ready to make the type of impact the Phillies bargained for when they signed him to that big contract. Arrieta looked sharp in spring training. He was going to slot into the third spot in the rotation behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler. A big year from Arrieta would do wonders for the Phillies' playoff chances. It would also put him in a great position as he ventures back into free agency following the 2020 season.

Bryce Harper

A lot of signs pointed to Harper having a monster 2020 season. He had a full offseason and spring training to focus solely on baseball as opposed to a year ago when he didn't know which team he'd be playing for or where his family would be living until the end of February. He was settled in playing with his new team and living in his new city. And perhaps maybe most telling, he was tearing the cover off the ball in spring training. Harper hit .500 with three doubles, three HR and 11 RBI in eight exhibition games. He was locked and loaded for the regular season.

But now Harper's potential MVP caliber season has been put on hold. If there is a 2020 season, it almost certainly won't be 162 games. Which means we won't find out what numbers he was capable of putting up in his second season with the Phillies. At 27 years old, Harper still has plenty of his prime years ahead of him. But this one could have been special. Hopefully it still can be.

Zach Eflin

Of all the Phillies starting pitchers, Eflin may be best positioned to make 'the leap' in 2020. The righthander is coming off an uneven 2019 season, posting a 10-13 record with a 4.13 ERA. It was a year full of ups (a pair of complete games) and downs (a July demotion to the bullpen). Eflin's skill set didn't mesh with how former pitching coach Chris Young wanted pitchers to attack hitters. Young stressed the importance of throwing fastballs up in the zone. Eflin is most effective when he relies on his sinker.

New pitching coach Bryan Price wants Eflin and the rest of the Phillies starters to pitch to their strengths. Price preaches efficiency, he wants Eflin to use his sinker early in the count to get ground ball outs. This appears to be a perfect union of coach and player. Eflin turns 26 on Wednesday, he enters his fifth big league season with 74 career starts under his belt. A lot of evidence suggests he may be poised for a career year.

Scott Kingery

After bouncing all over the diamond during his first two seasons with the Phillies, it looks like Kingery will finally get the chance to settle in at his natural position of second base this year. He played mostly shortstop, center field and third base in his first two major league seasons with cameos at second base, left field and right field. He's been valuable in that super utility role but he's mentioned his desire to play second base regularly. With Didi Gregorius at shortstop and Jean Segura playing third base during spring training, Kingery appears to be penciled in as the starter at second base.

Kingery's offensive numbers improved significantly from 2018 to 2019. He hit .258 last season with 34 doubles and 19 home runs, up from .226 with 23 doubles and eight HR in 2018. Being more comfortable at his natural position in the field should only enhance his production at the plate. Kingery bulked up in the offseason in hopes of taking his game to the next level. Time will tell if he gets the chance to do so.

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How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

How Jean Segura's heroics vs. Mets in 2019 further debate on his future

There’s few things Phillies fans enjoy more than a comeback, walk-off win against the Mets. So make sure to give yourself a smile by watching just that on NBC Sports Philadelphia today. 

Specifically, we’re bringing you a 5-4 win from June of last season that ended with a Jay Bruce RBI double in the bottom of the 10th. But it was the play of Jean Segura that night that got the Phillies into a position to win it. The then-Phillies shortstop hit a solo home run off future and past teammate Jason Vargas (what a Phillies career he had) in the bottom of the 6th to cut the deficit to 4-1. In the 7th, Segura connected off Seth Lugo for a game-tying 2-run single.

That game proved to be a positive moment in a below-average season for the veteran infielder. In his 1st campaign with the Phillies, the walk and strikeout averse Segura hit .280. That’s 24 points lower than he batted with the Mariners the year before. His home runs only improved from 10 to 12, despite moving from cavernous T-Mobile Park to the much more long-ball conducive Citizens Bank Park.
    
All signs point to Segura moving from shortstop to 2nd base when regular season baseball takes place with Didi Gregorius signed in the offseason to play shortstop. While the returns on the infield realignment remain to be seen, Segura’s impact needs to be most felt at the plate and in the Phillies lineup.
    
So was last season the beginning of a decline for the recently-turned 30-year old Segura? Or just a slight dip for a player that hit .300 or better in each of the previous three seasons? 
    
A reason for optimism is Segura’s assertion that he entered spring training in February in much better shape than the previous season. That said, we don’t definitively know how this current hiatus will impact that physical conditioning. Pessimists will point out that history (not including the late 80s to the early 2000s) suggests players don’t get better as they enter their 30s.
    
Ultimately, it will add to the degree of difficulty for the Phillies to get where they want to go this season if Segura is not a .300 hitter that sets the table for the heart of the lineup.

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