Maikel Franco has been basically unplayable for six weeks. Since a three-RBI game on May 1, he had gone 18 for 118 entering Monday's game. That's a 40-game stretch in which he hit .153 with a .206 on-base percentage and only two home runs.
He had lost starting reps to Sean Rodriguez. He lost playing time to newcomer Brad Miller. When Roman Quinn started in center, Scott Kingery played third base and Franco sat.
This happened last year as well. Franco lost playing time on separate occasions to J.P. Crawford, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana and Jesmuel Valentin. He reclaimed the job by finishing 2018 strong and getting out to the scalding start in April.
We're seeing the ebbs and flows of Franco play out again. On Monday night, he was a huge difference-maker, hitting the game-winning home run in an eventual 13-7 Phillies victory (see observations). A game-winner in a six-run win might not sound all too important but it was, as it put the Phils ahead 7-6 at the time and was the third time in five innings the Phillies were able to wrestle the lead away from the Mets.
In all, Franco went 3 for 4 with that mammoth blast to the brick wall in center field, two hard-hit singles, two runs scored, an intentional walk and two impressive defensive plays at third base, where he has been more sound than Kingery.
It felt like April again.
"We need this guy," Jean Segura said of Franco. "We are a different type of team when we have him because Maikey can change the dynamic of the game from one swing of the bat. We saw it today. One swing and he gives you the lead, swinging 3-0 there. For me, to have him next to me and to rely on is huge. Our lineup is gonna look better and more powerful when we have him in it."
What led to Franco starting this game?
"I was hoping it would remind him of how good he was just thinking about his at-bats against (Steven) Matz," manager Gabe Kapler said. "You could tell right when he stepped in the batter’s box that there was a determination and a focus that we had not seen in some time."
This particular Phillies lineup, utilized by Kapler for the first time, indeed looked powerful. You take it for what it is — one game, against a left-hander the Phillies have hit in the past, Matz. It was still the kind of night you needed to see from the Phillies, who had scored just 15 runs in their last seven games and looked lifeless offensively for the better part of two weeks.
Kingery led off for the first time and had three hits. He continues to show that he can not only play all over the field but also hit up and down the batting order.
"When he's right, it doesn't matter if he's playing left field or center field or shortstop or third base or second base," Kapler said. "It doesn't matter if he's hitting in the three-hole, the five-hole, seven-hole or one-hole. He's good enough. He's athletic enough. He's mentally tough enough to handle those transitions. What we're seeing right now is it doesn't matter what position he's playing or what lineup spot he hits in, he's just a good baseball player."
Segura, in the two-spot, had four hits for the first time as a Phillie. Segura's batting average had dropped from .325 to .268 in one calendar month but he raised it to .277 with four well-struck balls, including his eighth home run of the season.
The lack of the "good Segura" these last three weeks has loomed as large as the season-ending loss of Andrew McCutchen. In conjunction, those two circumstances led to meager performances from the top of the Phillies' order.
"I'm coming back," Segura said with a smile. "It's a long season, still plenty of games left. I know what type of player I am, I know what I can contribute to the team. It's a tough division to play in and to be honest with you guys, being my first time in the East, it takes a tough stretch to step on it and keep going."
One win over the Mets won't cure all the Phillies' ills, nor will it greatly reduce the pressure on Kapler or GM Matt Klentak. If the Phils go cold Tuesday night, the same concerns will again be raised.
But for one night, we saw again what this Phillies lineup can look like when more than one or two guys are seeing the ball well. They had 19 hits in the win, with five players contributing multiple hits and every starting position player reaching base before one out was made in the fourth inning.
All hail the curveball machine.
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