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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Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

Bobby Abreu, Cliff Lee, Scott Rolen headline polarizing list of ex-Phillies on Hall of Fame ballot

MLB's 2020 Hall of Fame ballot was released Monday and it included six former Phillies of varying degrees of popularity. In fact, it's hard to even say which of the six is the most beloved in Philly. 

Bobby Abreu
Raul Ibanez
Cliff Lee
Scott Rolen
Curt Schilling
Billy Wagner

• At first glance, you might say Lee. He had great moments with the Phillies, memorable playoff games, and that low-key swag that drew fans to him. But things ended in a clunky way when he came back the second time. An elbow injury caused Lee to miss the final 1½ years of his contract and he was pretty much invisible during that time. He was also noticeably absent when the 2009 NL Championship team got together at Citizens Bank Park this past summer. The answer is still probably Lee, but it was a sour end for plenty of folks.

• Abreu is very well-respected around the game for being an ahead-of-his-time player with gaudy, well-rounded stats, but he was and still is polarizing around here. A portion of the fan base will always look at Abreu as an overrated compiler who was scared of walls. The other portion — it may be an even 50-50 split these days — appreciates the player Abreu was and realizes he'd be worth $200 million today.

• Phillies fans haven't forgotten Rolen's elite defense. Rolen was truly one of the best defensive third basemen of all time. But he orchestrated his way out of here and that is remembered equally, if not more so. 

• Schilling ... not delving into that one beyond an acknowledgment that his playoff performances were legendary, he had four excellent seasons and his post-playing career has been very strange.

• Ibañez was well-liked here and everywhere else he played. He may manage in the majors some day soon. He had an incredible first half in 2009, his first year with the Phillies, then was just slightly above average the rest of his three-year career with them.

• Phillies fans don't feel especially attached to Wagner, who was great here but lasted only two seasons. Unlike the other five on the list, Wagner should be in the Hall of Fame, in my opinion. Wagner was a more dominant reliever than Trevor Hoffman or Lee Smith. He had six seasons with an ERA under 2.00. He saved 422 games. He could have hung around for three more seasons to hit the arbitrary number of 500, which would have made him a Hall of Famer. Instead, Wagner retired on his terms after posting a 1.43 ERA for the Braves in 2010.

It will be interesting to see whether Abreu, a first-time candidate, gets the groundswell of support we've seen in recent years with players like Tim Raines.

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Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Phillies free-agent target: Zack Wheeler

Leading up to baseball’s winter meetings, we will take a daily look at some of the game’s top free agents and how they could potentially impact the Phillies.

Today, we check in on Zack Wheeler, a right-hander who is seen as having much untapped potential.

The vitals

The very talented Wheeler has a big fastball — his career-high 96.8-mph average velocity was fourth-best in the majors among starting pitchers in 2019 — and excellent breaking stuff, but injuries and inconsistency have prevented him from blossoming into a star. He is 44-38 with a 3.77 ERA lifetime. He was the No. 6 overall pick by San Francisco in the 2009 draft. He was traded to the Mets two years later for Carlos Beltran, who is now the Mets' manager. Wheeler will turn 30 in May.

Why he fits

His career is trending upward and a team might be getting him just as he’s about to put it all together. Wheeler has been mostly healthy the last two seasons, going 23-15 with a 3.65 ERA in 60 starts. He has pitched 182⅓ and 195⅓ innings, respectively, the last two seasons, a good sign after struggling with injuries early in his career. In both 2018 and 2019, he was one of the best in baseball after the All-Star break, going a combined 14-3 with a 2.26 ERA.

Wheeler also reached a career high by throwing a first-pitch strike 65.8 percent of the time, a top-10 mark that placed him ahead of Jacob deGrom, Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander.

Given the supply and demand for starting pitching in the majors, Wheeler is headed for a big payday, but not as big as the top arms in this market. That might allow the Phils to spread around their dollars and fill multiple holes.

Why he doesn’t fit

From Charlie Morton in the starting rotation to David Robertson, Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter in the bullpen, the Phillies have been burned by injuries to free-agent pitchers. Wheeler missed significant time recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2015 and 2016. He spent time on the injured list in 2017 and was briefly sidelined in 2019 with what was called shoulder fatigue. He rebounded quickly and was able to make 31 starts, but his health history can't be ignored.

The Phillies need to be protective of their high draft picks. They would surrender a second-round pick for the right guy. The question remains: Is the inconsistent Wheeler the right guy? When push comes to shove, the Phils would probably do it.

The price tag

Some team is going to bet on Wheeler being ready to reel off several years of good health and effectiveness. The industry feel is that Wheeler could come in somewhere between the four-year, $68 million deal that Nathan Eovaldi got from Boston last year and the six-year, $140 million that Patrick Corbin got from Washington. In other words, he could be looking at a $100 million payday. 

Scout’s take

“The velocity is intriguing. My concern is he gets hit too hard for the kind of stuff he has. He’s had some health glitches so that makes it a risk for the kind of money he’s going to get. But the raw stuff and potential are definitely there. It just depends on a team’s willingness to risk.”

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