Phillies

This year, Gabe Kapler using his gut to set Phillies' lineup — here's what that means

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This year, Gabe Kapler using his gut to set Phillies' lineup — here's what that means

TAMPA, Fla. — With the Phillies' lineup as deep and as talented as it's been in a decade, fans can't get enough of lineup chatter.

Who should lead off? 

Is the two-hole still reserved for the Phils' best hitter, as Gabe Kapler laid it out in 2018?

How do the seven- and eight-spots shake out?

Will the pitcher definitely bat ninth?

Kapler talked at length Wednesday afternoon about lineups, both in a philosophical sense and practically with the 2019 Phillies.

Reading between the lines, it sounds as though we won't see as much of the pitcher batting eighth.

It sounds like Jean Segura will indeed bat second, not Bryce Harper or Rhys Hoskins. That may sound obvious but it's not, given the way modern lineups are constructed. Mike Trout bats second. Kris Bryant bats second. So does Aaron Judge. Christian Yelich was the Brewers' two-hole hitter. One-third of Paul Goldschmidt's plate appearances came batting second.

Segura is most comfortable in the two-hole. He had 505 plate appearances there last season.

Kapler's take:

Last year, we had a lineup where we had to optimize for every last advantage. Lineup optimization was critical to us. We also know that the right guy in the right spot does give you an edge over the course of a long season but it's barely a marginal edge. Now I'm weighing that marginal edge that we get from putting out the strategically optimized lineup every night and balancing that with how's the clubhouse going to feel with a particular player in a particular spot and how is that player going to feel. That's probably the thing that I'm thinking about the most.

It's difficult for some baseball fans to understand, but this is the way lineup construction is viewed around the league for the most part. Over the course of a full season, having the perfect lineup may net a team 10 to 15 additional runs, which theoretically is worth about one win. 

Could those same 10 to 15 runs be replicated by hitting guys where they're most comfortable, even if statistically, it's not the most optimal lineup?

The other consideration is that the "perfect lineup" is hard to formulate with certainty. A manager can put together what he feels is his best batting order, but it's easier to determine that perfect lineup in hindsight than in advance. This is made even truer by the fact that year to year, all players do not perform the same as they did the prior year. A quick example would be Odubel Herrera's 2015-17 vs. his 2018.

"Let's suppose that you think Bryce Harper is the best all-around offensive performer in your lineup," Kapler continued. "And let's suppose that you think the best all-around hitter should bat fourth. Maybe that's how you feel about it. But then you know that player feels most confident in a different spot in the lineup. Maybe that's what you go for. Especially when we're going to be a better offensive team.

"Maybe the (additional) runs that you score over the course of the season, maybe isn't worth it. Everyone is saying — and I'm hesitant to lead you in any particular direction — but let's go with the assumption that everyone feels best with Cesar Hernandez in the leadoff spot or Andrew McCutchen in the leadoff spot. Maybe that's the way to play it. Like, everyone is going to feel best with one of those guys in the leadoff spot."

The other factor to this is wanting your best players to compile the most plate appearances. This is one of the reasons you see so many MVP candidates bat second. Over the course of the season, it may get that hitter a meaningful number of plate appearances more than the third or fourth batter.

Yet, Segura has succeeded in the two-hole. He makes a ton of contact. He has standout bat control. He can hit behind runners. He can make use of the gap between first and second base when the leadoff man is being held on. Those skills, along with his comfort in that spot, could make him a more useful two-hole hitter than Harper or Hoskins, even if that duo provides more overall offense.

"Game on the line, if that's one more at-bat in that really important game, that matters," Kapler said. "I think it's really critical if you have a big on-base threat at the top of the lineup because even if that spot comes up and he doesn't hit a homer or doesn't hit a double, but he gets on base and keeps the line moving, yeah. Then it's Harper or Hoskins whoever is hitting in that (next) spot."

The Phillies, with this much offensive talent, can afford to bat a traditional two-hole hitter like Segura there and a traditional slugger like Harper third. McCutchen has a .356 OBP the last three seasons. Segura's is .353. The Phils have enough talent to not need the perfect formula every night.

"I'm going to go with my gut on this one," Kapler said. "I mean, I'm going to study the [bleep] out of it, but then I'm going to go with my gut on it."

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There are way bigger things to worry about with Phillies than Rhys Hoskins

There are way bigger things to worry about with Phillies than Rhys Hoskins

Rhys Hoskins is in a slump. An ill-timed slump, given the time of year and the Phillies’ position in a crowded but still somehow winnable wild-card race. 

Hoskins made four more outs Sunday. He’s 1 for his last 24. He’s hit .148 over his last 30 games. 

This rut from Hoskins has affected the Phillies’ record, but it’s nothing more than a slump and shouldn’t be viewed as such just because it is happening right now. It is not a sign that the organization needs to go out this offseason and find a better first baseman. It is not some definitive piece of evidence that Hoskins needs to move to the bottom of the order. 

We always overvalue what we’ve just seen. Hoskins hasn’t hit for a month, so his hot streaks become harder to recall and feel less long and less productive than they are. 

But consider this: Hoskins’ on-base percentage dipped below .380 Sunday for the first time since opening day. It took a stretch this cold for his on-base and power numbers to decrease to their current levels, which are still impressive. 

Hoskins’ OBP is 40 points higher than the league average for first basemen. His slugging percentage is 13 points higher than his first base peers and 40 points better than the league overall. He has made an out nearly 75 percent of the time he’s stepped to the plate over the last month, yet is still having an offensive season better than at least half of the league’s first basemen. 

Hoskins’ numbers likely won’t end up where they are now. We’ve seen too much evidence that he is a better hitter than this. A multi-year track record matters more than four weeks. It is a simple concept that always sounds logical until a player is in the midst of a run as poor as Hoskins’. 

Will Hoskins finish the year hitting .237? Will his slump last much longer? If you’re looking for a couple positive signs, take his 400-foot flyout to straightaway center that was a foot shy of tying Sunday’s game in the eighth inning. Hoskins had better swings and tracked pitches better in that game than he has for much of the past month.

He was confident and didn’t seem defeated after the game Sunday. 

“Look, I feel great,” he said after the Padres took two of three. “Obviously, it sucks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise, I feel great. I feel like for the most part I’m seeing pitches. I’m seeing the ball fine. Just for whatever reason things are a little off and the last couple weeks when I do click something, it’s right at somebody. 

“That’s baseball. Unfortunately, I know that’s really cliché. I wish I had a different answer. I’ve sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn. Water will find its level.”

“I'm feeling pretty protective of him right now,” manager Gabe Kapler said, “because I know how hard he's working and I know how much effort and time he's putting in. The at-bat quality remains strong even though at the end, the results aren't there. 

“I know how disappointed he is in it and I'm disappointed for him because I know this is going to turn around for him. I know these at-bats are going to end in doubles and homers.” 

Still realistic for Hoskins to finish with an OPS around .900 with 30-plus homers and 90-plus RBI. That would be a very good season. Maybe not a “great” season, but remember again that this is a third-year player making less than $600,000. Should a very good player be blamed for not being a great player?

There are just far more important things to worry about with this team in 2019 and beyond than Rhys Hoskins. 

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A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

A new feeling for Bryce Harper and a familiar feeling for the Phillies in disappointing end to homestand

As the Delaware Valley held its breath awaiting word of what happened to Bryce Harper, the Phillies again fell short against the Padres, losing 3-2 to close out a homestand that began with fireworks and ended with the excitement of a suburban dad mowing his lawn.

After sweeping the Cubs and winning a fourth straight game in the series opener vs. San Diego, the Phillies managed just five runs and 10 hits total in the final two losses.

This team ...

As for Harper, he is OK. He was suffering from blurred vision after the fourth inning and was forced to exit after five. The Phillies called it dehydration. Harper had an IV and was feeling better after the game. This was something he hadn't experienced before.

"An hour ago, I couldn't see in front of me," Harper said postgame, his eyes still sensitive to light.

He will be fine by Tuesday — good news because the Phillies are not going anywhere without him — when the quick two-game series at Fenway Park begins. 

Manager Gabe Kapler was happy Sunday with the quality of the Phillies' at-bats. He referenced the 110 pitches they made starter Joey Lucchesi throw and the 27 more they forced from closer Kirby Yates.

If a team is winning consistently or hitting consistently, maybe that kind of grind-it-out approach can make up for a loss or a series loss. But not as much when it's said about a team that hasn't been able to sustain momentum at any point this season, especially offensively. 

Sure, the Phillies made Lucchesi and Yates work. They also made an out in 18 of 23 plate appearances against them. 

The best example of the Phils' falling short on Sunday was Rhys Hoskins' 400-foot blast to the 401-foot sign in center field in the eighth inning. Padres centerfielder Manuel Margot raised his glove above his head and caught a ball that was a foot, maybe less, from going out and tying the game. In every game, you will find the sort of baseball randomness that impacts winning and losing. That deep, loud flyout was Sunday's example.

It was an 0-for-4 day for Hoskins atop the lineup, but ...

"Look, I feel great," said Hoskins, who is 1 for his last 24 and has hit .148 over his last 30 games.

"Obviously, it sucks to not contribute and not produce, but swing-wise, I feel great. I feel like for the most part I'm seeing pitches. I'm seeing the ball fine. Just for whatever reason, things are a little off and the last couple weeks when I do hit something, it's right at somebody. 

"That's baseball. Unfortunately, I know that's really cliché. I wish I had a different answer. I've sat for hours and hours and looked at film trying to find something that I can go in the cage and take a thousand swings to fix, but at some point you just have to keep going up there and stuff will turn. Water will find its level."

Water has found its level with Harper and J.T. Realmuto, two of baseball's hottest hitters in the month of August. Had Hoskins also been going well at this time, just imagine the run totals or win streaks the Phillies could have run off. 

Instead, on Sunday they wasted a rare strong pitching performance from someone other than Aaron Nola. Jason Vargas limited the Padres to two runs over 5⅔ innings. He has allowed two runs or fewer in three of his four starts as a Phillie but the team is just 1-3 because it has scored a total of five runs with Vargas in the game in his four starts.

"If we keep pitching like we do and the bullpen keeps pitching like (it has), we've seen how hot we can get quickly," Hoskins said.

"We swept a good team in the Cubs. Obviously, disappointing to lose a series to the Padres, but we talked about this a couple nights ago — you could feel the difference in here this week. It just feels a little different. There's a little more swagger and a little more confidence. Tough loss today but we'll be all right."

The Phillies have 38 games left to make a run and end a playoff drought of seven years. Harper was surprised when it was relayed to him Sunday that no Phillies team since 1990 has had its longest winning streak last just four games.

"That's crazy," he said. "In the game now, you see (Jacob) deGrom for six and see somebody else out of the bullpen, four other guys, three other guys. The game has definitely changed. It's evolved.

"Hopefully we can break that a little bit and win five in a row. Why not?"

One reason to remain skeptical: The last two times the Phillies have won four in a row, they lost their next series to the Marlins and Padres. You just don't know which Phillies will team show up on a given day.

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