Aaron Altherr

This win as wild as it gets for Phillies ... with tons of questions, too

This win as wild as it gets for Phillies ... with tons of questions, too

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No doubt, there will be a lot of Tuesday morning quarterbacking after this one.

And arguments can certainly be made that the Phillies need a legitimate ninth-inning closer — did you notice that the Washington Nationals traded for a good one in Kelvin Herrera on Monday? — and that maybe it’s simply time to give Seranthony Dominguez a sustained look there.

But if you think about it, the bullpen really wasn’t the problem Monday night. Sure, Adam Morgan and Jake Thompson gave up big hits, but that was after the game should have been over, after the Phillies should have already been in the clubhouse with the music blaring, the lights flashing and the fog machine turning the room into something that resembles the inside of Jeff Spicoli’s VW bus.

What was looking like a terrible, inexcusable loss for the Phillies turned into a dramatic, 6-5, walk-off win over the St. Louis Cardinals when Aaron Altherr drilled a two-run double to left with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning (see first take).

Altherr’s hit got a lot of people off the hook. The offense scored four runs in the first inning then got nothing, and just two hits, before the extra inning. Morgan, who gave up a game-tying base hit in the ninth, and Thompson, who gave up a go-ahead homer in the 10th, benefitted from Altherr’s hit.

But catcher Andrew Knapp was the big beneficiary of Altherr’s clutchness.

With two outs in the top of the ninth, runners on second and third, the Phillies up, 4-2, and Yairo Munoz at the plate, Knapp called for a 1-2 slider from Victor Arano. The pitch was effective. It bounced in the dirt in front of the plate and Munoz swung. Third out. Game over.

Not so quick.

Knapp did not stay down on the ball in the dirt and it passed between his legs for a wild pitch. A run scored and Munoz reached first base safely, keeping the game alive for Kolten Wong to tie it against Morgan and the Cardinals to take the lead on a homer by Tommy Pham against Thompson in the 10th.

“I’ve got to make that play,” Knapp said afterward. “I’ve got to block it. I’ve blocked that pitch a million times. This one just got under my glove. It was a little shorter than I thought it was going to be. I just misplayed it.”

In the dugout, manager Gabe Kapler looked down for a second after Munoz’s swing.

"I thought the game was over,” he said. “But I think that's the natural reaction. I think that's a play that Knappy probably makes 99 out of 100 times. Kind of a fluky thing that happened there and I think if you ask Knappy, he knows he can catch that ball."

If the ball is blocked and the out recorded at first base, Nick Pivetta gets a much-deserved win on a night when he struck out a career-high 13 in 7 1/3 innings. In all, Phillies pitching registered 19 strikeouts, 18 in the first nine innings. Edubray Ramos pitched out of trouble in the eighth and Arano survived a couple of hits and actually had the game over until it wasn’t in the ninth.

“Ramos and Arano, those guys were awesome,” Kapler said.

Dominguez, Kapler’s favorite bullpen weapon, was unavailable after throwing 52 pitches the previous two games.

After the game, Kapler was asked the daily questions about the way he uses his bullpen. In short, he believes he has multiple pitchers who can get high-leverage outs and he praised Ramos and Arano for doing that Monday night. He did not rule out one day using Dominquez as his go-to ninth-inning guy, but did qualify that by saying matchups would be taken into account.

So, basically, you’ll know who is pitching the ninth inning when the bullpen door swings open and Kapler’s choice of the moment runs to the mound.

The Phillies are 38-32 and an NL-best 23-12 at home. They have not won a series against the Cardinals since 2014. They have two games to do it after a win turned into a loss and back into a win again Monday night.

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Phillies get 13 strikeouts from Nick Pivetta, luck in 10th inning for win

Phillies get 13 strikeouts from Nick Pivetta, luck in 10th inning for win

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From a terrible and inexcusable loss to a dramatic win ... what a night for the Phillies.

They rallied for a 6-5 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Aaron Altherr's two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning Monday night.

Altherr's hit got a lot of people off the hook.

The Phillies led, 4-0, after the first inning and had only four hits the rest of the way.

The Cardinals came all the way back in a bizarre ninth inning and went ahead on a solo homer by Tommy Pham against Jake Thompson in the top of the 10th.

The Phillies should have won this one earlier (see story).

With two outs in the top of the ninth, Victor Arano registered the team’s 18th strikeout of the game. It should have ended the game and given the Phils a 4-2 win. The pitch, however, a slider in the dirt, got by catcher Andrew Knapp, scoring a run from third and keeping the inning alive for pinch-hitter Kolten Wong to tie the game with a single against Adam Morgan.

Rhys Hoskins started the Phillies' rally in the bottom of the 10th inning with a single.

The win improved the Phillies to 38-32 and a NL-best 23-12 at home.

The Phils came out of the chute with four runs in the first inning against Miles Mikolas. 

Nick Pivetta struck out a career-high 13 in 7 1/3 innings of work. Right-handed reliever Edubray Ramos picked up Pivetta with runners on second and third and one out in the eighth. With the game on the line, Ramos registered two huge strikeouts to preserve a two-run lead.

Arano was called on to pitch the ninth. He, too, faced a second-and-third jam with one out. He essentially pitched out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts but the one that would have ended the game went for a wild pitch. It gave the Cardinals life and they capitalized.

In case you’re wondering, bullpen ace Seranthony Dominguez was not available after throwing 52 pitches the previous two days.

Pivetta had struggled in his previous three starts this month. He’d lost all three and given up 13 runs in 14 innings.

This one was a different story. The right-hander had dominant stuff from the beginning. He threw 108 pitches and got 21 swinging strikes, 11 on his curveball and seven on his four-seam fastball, which topped out at 97.6 miles per hour.

A day after scoring 10 runs in Milwaukee, the Phillies scored four times in the first inning. Three of the runs came on a home run by Odubel Herrera after Mikolas allowed a leadoff single to Cesar Hernandez and a walk to Hoskins.

Herrera’s bat has really come alive after a hellacious slump that dropped him from a league-best .361 to .283 in a 23-game span. Over his last five games, he has nine hits, including three home runs.

Knapp drove in the Phillies’ fourth run.

Rightfielder Nick Williams was forced to leave the game in the eighth inning when Matt Carpenter’s double clanged off the wall and struck Williams in the face, drawing blood (see video).

Vince Velasquez will look to follow up last week’s gem against Colorado in the second game of the series on Tuesday night.

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What each Phillie must do to jumpstart weak offense

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What each Phillie must do to jumpstart weak offense

The Phillies' offense broke out Thursday in a 9-3 win over the Rockies. Their four-run seventh inning ended a stretch of 257 straight frames without more than two runs.

That may be hard to believe for an outsider but not to anyone who's watched this offense closely of late. There's not one reason the Phillies' offense has been quiet. Everyone is deserving of blame.

Let's take a look at what each individual starting position player must do specifically to improve the offense moving forward. We'll go in order of a typical Phillies lineup.

1. 2B Cesar Hernandez

Hernandez has been the Phillies' most consistent position player since 2016. After hitting .294 with a .372 OBP in 2016-17, he's hit .256 with a .368 OBP this season.

You know that he's going to get on base. That's rarely in question. Hernandez has walked 45 times this season and is on pace for 110, which would shatter his previous career-high of 66.

But would you believe that over his last 42 games and 190 plate appearances, he's hit just .227/.337/.362?

Hernandez also strikes out a ton for a leadoff hitter. He's struck out 67 times out of the leadoff spot, which is 20 more than the next man on the list, David Peralta. 

These days, strikeouts aren't viewed as negatively as they once were. Some teams look at them as just another out. But for someone with Hernandez's speed, you'd like him to put the ball in play a little bit more because soft groundballs could turn into base-hits.

The Phillies could also use a few more stolen bases. He has one steal in 23 games since May 20.

2. LF Rhys Hoskins

It looks like Hoskins is back after a slump and some time on the DL with a fractured jaw. His 3-for-5 afternoon Thursday with a homer, double and three RBI is the type of game the Phillies have seldom gotten from someone in the top-half of the batting order lately.

Hoskins is still getting on base at a great rate (.369 OBP), but he's going to need to hit for more power if the Phillies want to seize a wild-card spot this season. 

Hoskins' .446 slugging percentage ranks 73rd in the majors. He's on pace for 20 homers in 140 games after hitting 18 in 50 games as a rookie.

3. CF Odubel Herrera

The ever-streaky Herrera is in an extended downward phase that has been common throughout his four years with the Phils. 

Since May 20, the night his on-base streak ended, Herrera has gone 15 for 89 (.169) with a .204 OBP. He's scored four runs and driven in four in 22 games. This after he hit .345 in his first 45 games.

Again, not a huge surprise. 

In his rookie year, Herrera hit .251 through the end of June then .335 thereafter.

In 2016, he hit .320 the first 10 weeks and .268 the rest of the way.

Last season, he hit .218 the first two months and .318 the next four.

This is just who Herrera is. His approach at the plate is so variable and involves so much randomness and so many moving parts that you have to take the good with the bad.

There's no doubt the Phillies need more consistency from him because his slumps are just worse than most other players'. When Herrera is slumping, he becomes a near-zero at the plate.

4. 1B Carlos Santana

Defensively, the Phillies need the Santana that played sturdy defense at first base in Cleveland.

Offensively, there hasn't been much to dislike with Santana since the beginning of May. Since May 4, he's hit .286/.389/.556 with 17 extra-base hits and 27 RBI in 36 games.

Folks will still complain about Santana's .224 batting average, but it's a loud .224 fueled by extra-base hits. He's also walked 44 times and struck out 38. 

The only other player in the majors with as many walks as Santana who has walked more than he's struck out is Joey Votto (47-41).

5. RF Aaron Altherr

Not going to put Nick Williams on here because he's been pretty productive lately, off the bench and as a starter, vs. lefties and righties alike.

Altherr, however, has struggled most of the season but evaded criticism because fans have had others to blame.

In 197 plate appearances, Altherr has hit .182/.305/.327. He has 11 extra-base hits and 60 strikeouts.

The Phillies need Altherr to be a lefty-masher. He's hit .170 against southpaws this season with two homers after slugging .505 against them last season.

The five-spot in the Phillies' order hasn't been great this season, and the offense would've looked a lot different recently if Altherr got hot when Hoskins and Herrera cooled off. He was able to carry this offense for most of May 2016 so we know it's in him.

6. SS Scott Kingery

Kingery has swung at 37.4% of pitches outside the strike zone this season, seventh-most in the National League. He's struck out in one-fourth of his plate appearances.

The Phillies need him to stop swinging at low-and-away breaking balls well off the plate. It's been his kryptonite in the majors and he admitted as much earlier this season. He swings at a lot of pitches he has no chance at making contact with, much less driving.

He gets leeway because he's a rookie who just turned 24. But it's hard to imagine Kingery being an effective offensive piece when chasing and whiffing this much.

7. 3B Maikel Franco, J.P. Crawford

Franco is such a strange player. He swings at bad pitches and often wildly, yet his plate appearances rarely end in strikeouts. Would you believe that since the start of last season, 92% of National League players have a higher strikeout rate than Franco? 

The issue is the quality of contact. Franco hits the ball to shortstop or third base so often. He pops up to the shallow outfield with regularity. For a guy with 1,855 big-league plate appearances, it's time to accept this is who he is — a corner infielder with 25-home run power but an inability to post an OBP higher than .300.

As for Crawford, the Phillies need more production across-the-board offensively. He's hit .209 in 182 career plate appearances, and for a guy who walked a lot in the minors with a calling card of plate selection, six walks in 95 plate appearances this season ain't gonna cut it, especially out of the 8-hole when turning over the lineup is crucial.

8. C Jorge Alfaro

Alfaro has been a revelation in several ways this season — power bat, power arm — but there are few major-leaguers who can stick with a strikeout-to-walk ratio like his. Alfaro has 70 K's and eight walks this season, and 111 K's to 12 walks in his career.

Again, at the bottom of a lineup, a walk is important because it betters the chances that the top of the order bats in either that inning or to begin the next. It's tough for any team to score with multiple players at the bottom of the lineup posting OBPs of .295 or lower.

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