Phillies

Thursday's formula is Phillies' only real path to playoffs

Thursday's formula is Phillies' only real path to playoffs

If J.T. Realmuto started hitting like this earlier in the season, he might've found himself squarely in the NL MVP conversation in September.

If the Phillies started hitting like this earlier in the season, they'd have a more realistic chance at making the playoffs.

Realmuto provided the final insurance in a 9-5 Phillies win over the Braves Thursday night. The Phillies split this four-game series and avoided falling farther back of the second wild-card spot after the Cubs, Brewers and Mets all won earlier in the day.

The Phillies homered four times after going deep five times in Tuesday's win. In between was a weak offensive performance, just five singles, which exemplifies the 2019 Phillies' offensive inconsistency.

I think everyone's being more aggressive at the plate," Realmuto said. "We feel like we're starting to get to where we needed to be all year long. We feel like we could've done a lot better offensively the first half of the season, but we feel like we're clicking at the right time. The teams we have coming up have good pitching but also have really good offenses so we're gonna need to continue scoring runs.

Realmuto will win a Gold Glove but won't win MVP. He won't finish in the Top 3 but could finish in the Top 6 or 7. Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon will be the top three vote-getters. But the only player on the list who comes close to Bellinger defensively is Realmuto, who has graded out as the best defensive player in baseball according to Fangraphs and also a Top 10 baserunner.

"Certainly (been an MVP) for us," Kapler said. "I don't think there's a Phillies player, staff member, front office member or fan who wouldn't say the same."

Drew Smyly started the game for the Phillies but lasted only four innings. So did Braves starter Julio Teheran. Both allowed hard contact and multiple home runs early. The key for the Phillies' pitching staff in this one was Jared Hughes, who came in and picked up five huge outs in the fifth and sixth innings (including Ronald Acuña Jr., Freddie Freeman and Josh Donaldson) to settle the game down and give the Phillies' offense a chance to win it.

Ranger Suarez, Blake Parker, Jose Alvarez and Hector Neris followed. All told, the Phillies' bullpen allowed two runs in 16⅓ innings the last three nights. Without the surprising success from that group, the Phillies wouldn't have split this series and wouldn't still be a position to strike over the final 16 games.

"It allowed our offense to get in a rhythm. We throw up zeroes, our offense becomes more confident, our plate discipline becomes better and we attack fastballs more," Kapler said. "That's just the ebb and flow of the game. When zeroes are put up in the middle innings, our offense feels like it has the chance to win late."

For the Phillies to vault past the Cubs and Brewers, they will need to use Thursday's formula: power from the lineup, zeroes from the bullpen.

"It goes without saying what a tremendous job our bullpen did this entire series. The guys who weren't expected to contribute ... guys like Blake Parker and Jared Hughes stepped up in huge situations for us. Those are really tough lineups, tough hitters. They're getting big outs for us in a pennant race."

Sixteen games remain.

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Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

Joe Girardi doesn't see penalty for Astros players as a deterrent

The calls for Astros players to get suspended have gotten louder and louder as players have descended upon Florida and Arizona for spring training this past week. From Cody Bellinger to Mike Trout to Trevor Bauer to Nick Markakis and everywhere in between, players have made clear how angry they are about Houston's cheating scandal. 

It's going to take a long time for Astros players to gain back the respect of their peers.

It's not some easy fix, though. Astros players were granted immunity from discipline in order for their cooperation in MLB's investigation. MLB cannot, after the fact, revoke that immunity and decide to suspend players knowing what it now knows. That would never fly, and it shouldn't. Whether immunity should have been granted in the first place is the big question, but that point has passed.

Joe Girardi was asked on ESPN's Golic and Wingo Show Wednesday whether he thought MLB's punishment was sufficient.

The Phillies' first-year skipper doesn't think the current punishment serves as much of a deterrent.

"There are some people that lost their jobs that really were the people that had to pay for it, but there were a lot more people involved," Girardi said. "The financial gain for the players is substantial if they have big seasons because of this, so if there's no punishment for them, I'm not sure that it stops. I'm really not sure. Because the financial gain, similar to the steroid era, is very similar. If you know it's coming and you have a big year and you're a free agent, there's a lot (of money) to be made there and players want to take care of their families.

"I'm not exactly sure what the right answer is, but I don't know how much of a deterrent it is for players right now. There's not a huge deterrent for the players and I think there has to be to make sure that it stops."

People made fun of commissioner Rob Manfred for saying this but it should be acknowledged that the public ridicule the Astros are feeling right now will actually serve as some sort of deterrent. That doesn't mean MLB made the right call, that their decision-making process has been sound or that Manfred has done himself any favors publicly. But the disrespect factor around the league and around the country is real. Guys like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, George Springer, even a Justin Verlander — will they ever again command the respect they did before this? This is a permanent stain.

MLB recognized how difficult an investigation would have been without cooperation from key figures and went the route of immunity. It's a decision that will be questioned for years.

"If you're not in the clubhouse and you don't admit yourself that you did it, how do you take the word from another player that he was doing it? That's the hard part," Girardi said. "Like, if you get caught with something on your body, that to me definitely should be a suspension and a huge fine. But to say that someone was using it, it's his word against his word, that's pretty tough to penalize a player."

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A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

A small step in Phillies camp for pitching prospect Spencer Howard

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Spencer Howard, the Phillies' top pitching prospect, returned to a bullpen mound Wednesday and threw 27 pitches.

Ordinarily, a bullpen session in spring training is not news, but Howard had temporarily stopped his bullpen work after sustaining a minor knee injury — manager Joe Girardi called it a "tweak" — 10 days earlier.

Howard threw all of his pitches during the bullpen session as a gaggle of fans watched at Carpenter Complex.

"I only saw two pitches," said Girardi, who was busy bouncing around four fields. "But he felt great. That's the important thing."

Girardi said there was no timetable for when Howard would pitch in a Grapefruit League game. The Phillies are on record as saying they will take things slowly with Howard in the early part of the season. The 23-year-old right-hander is on an innings/workload limit this season and the Phillies would like to get a good chunk of those innings in the big leagues.

"Spencer has an innings limit so we have to think about this because we believe at some point he's going to play a role for us," Girardi said earlier in camp. "We can't go wear him out by June so we have to think about that. We're not going to waste a lot of innings in spring training."

It's possible that the Phillies could hold Howard back in extended spring training in the month of April so they can maximize his innings later in the season.

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