Christian Yelich

One swing of the bat makes a big difference for Phillies and foes in NL wild-card race

One swing of the bat makes a big difference for Phillies and foes in NL wild-card race

One swing of the bat can mean so much in a playoff race.

Look what happened Tuesday night in Miami.

Look what happened in Philadelphia.

Down in Miami, the Milwaukee Brewers, who are locked in the same National League wild-card race as the Phillies, lost their best player, reigning league MVP Christian Yelich, for the remainder of the season when he suffered a broken right kneecap on a foul ball in the first inning.

Yelich entered the night leading the league in slugging (.672) and OPS (1.102). The Brewers won their game in Miami, but can they survive the rest of the way without Yelich? His injury could change the complexion of the wild-card race as it nears the wire.

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, the Phillies were 6-5 winners over the Atlanta Braves. The Phils won it on the strength of five home runs and some nifty bullpen work turned in by five relievers, three of them who’d been released by their old clubs over the last six weeks. In all, the ‘pen pitched six innings and allowed just one run after Jason Vargas had trouble throwing strikes and exited after three innings.

“That's a very difficult lineup to navigate through six innings and our bullpen did a tremendous job,” manager Gabe Kapler.

The Braves are a power plant. They have 230 homers, second-most in the NL and six shy of a team record.

The Phillies are not a power plant. They entered the night ranked 11th in the NL with 186 homers. But the power came on in this one and the win left the Phils with a chance to close to within two games of the second NL wild-card spot, depending on the outcome of the Cubs-Padres game in San Diego. Oh, by the way, the Cubs have also endured a recent injury to a star player as Javier Baez went down with a broken thumb last week. The Phils have 18 games left and are in the thick of the race with the Cubs, Brewers and Diamondbacks.

The Phillies came out with four runs — on three homers — in the first inning. J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper and Corey Dickerson all went deep against Max Fried.

Vargas gave up the lead in the third inning, but the Phillies got it back — for good — on one swing of the bat, one swing of the bat that will make it onto the team’s end-of-season highlight video.

With two outs and the game tied, 4-4, in the bottom of the third, Scott Kingery launched a long fly ball to center. The ball cleared the wall, but Braves centerfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., leaped and was able to get the ball into the pocket of his glove. As Acuna Jr., brought the ball back over the fence, he lost control of it and it hit the ground. No catch. No home-run robbery. With the play in front of him, Kingery kept motoring and got his home run inside-the-park style.

If Kingery hadn't run hard out of the box, he might not have made it home. As it was, he had to dive into home plate.

“The hustle he showed,” Kapler said. “We talked since spring training how important sharp turns around the bases were and how important it is to hustle out of the batter’s box on any ball. And we weren't sure if it was a home run. Kingery wasn't sure if it was a home run. Acuna wasn't sure if it was a home run. And he never stopped running. And that's why he walked away with an inside-the-park home run, one of the more exciting plays we've seen all year.”

The 360-foot sprint left Kingery winded, but elated.

“I wasn’t really sure what the rules were once the ball came out of his glove, so I just kept running and thankfully Dusty (Wathan, the third base coach) sent me home,” Kingery said. “I just tried to run even faster when I saw him sending me. For the next full inning I was trying to catch my breath out there."

Eventually, the Phillies’ bullpen gave up a run when Jared Hughes allowed a homer in the eighth, but by that time the Phils had a two-run lead thanks to Dickerson’s second home of the game. Both of his homers came against left-handers.

General manager Matt Klentak has taken plenty of heat for not making more significant additions at the trade deadline, but Dickerson has been a pretty good one as evidenced by his eight homers and 34 RBIs in 33 games.

“One of the things we're noticing is that left or right, he's probably got to be in the lineup right now,” Kapler said of Dickerson. “And if a left-handed reliever comes into the game, we almost feel comfortable and confident in Corey. I know the Pirates were using him in a platoon role. But certainly he looks dangerous against left-handers and right-handers and perhaps has really made a change for the better in his career.”

In addition to the five homers and six innings of one-run ball from the bullpen, the Phils got three huge defensive plays from Kingery, Realmuto and Harper.

Eighteen games left and this imperfect team is still in this imperfect wild-card race.

Zach Eflin faces Dallas Keuchel on Wednesday night.

Will one swing of the bat make a difference again?



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Phillies 6, Brewers 4: Vince Velasquez leads big effort by the bullpen

Phillies 6, Brewers 4: Vince Velasquez leads big effort by the bullpen

BOX SCORE

MILWAUKEE — The Phillies' hard-working bullpen delivered six shutout innings Friday night to help the team win the opener of a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, 6-4, at Miller Park.

The Phils' bullpen has picked up 47 1/3 innings in the last 12 games.

Vince Velasquez made his first appearance of the season out of the bullpen and delivered two scoreless innings. Edgar Garcia, Seranthony Dominguez, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris (three K's) picked up the rest of the relief innings after starter Jerad Eickhoff failed to make it past the third inning.

Bryce Harper, Andrew McCutchen and Rhys Hoskins had big hits to put the Phils over the top.

The Phils are 3-2 on this seven-game trip. They are 30-21 overall.

The keys

• Harper tied the game with a double in the fifth, McCutchen put the Phils up by a run with a double in the sixth and Hoskins' ended a 15-game home run drought with an important one in the seventh.

• Velasquez entered a tie game in the fifth. He allowed a walk and a hit to the first two batters he faced then struck out four of the next five to finish with two scoreless frames. His shutdown work and the Phils' offense earned him the win.

• J.T Realmuto and shortstop Jean Segura hooked up for a big defensive play to end the fifth inning. The Brewers tried to execute a double steal and the catcher and shortstop both delivered perfect throws to cut the run and keep the game tied. The Phils took the lead in the next inning.

Eickhoff's night

Eickhoff gave up five hits, a walk and four runs over three innings. Four of the hits were for extra bases and two of them were homers. He has given up seven homers in his last three starts after giving up none in his first four.

Eickhoff had some bad luck in the first inning as Ryan Braun reached on a swinging bunt with two outs. Mike Moustakas then hopped on a curveball and stroked it for an RBI double.

Eickhoff gave up three damaging hits on fastballs, none of which were above 91 mph. Orlando Arcia hit one for a solo homer in the second. Christian Yelich hit a 3-2 fastball for his 20th homer in the third and Yasmani Grandal clubbed a 2-2 fastball for an RBI double after a two-out walk in the third.

Over his last three starts, Eickhoff has been tagged for 17 hits and 13 runs in 12 innings.

What's up with Pat?

Pat Neshek did not appear happy as he left the field after working out with the rest of the relievers late in the afternoon. He clearly was not available to pitch as he did not even report to the bullpen for the game. It's not immediately clear what the issue was.

(Update: Neshek has a sore shoulder and is headed back to Philadelphia, manager Gabe Kapler said after the game. He will go on the 10-day injured list.)

Transaction

Velasquez was activated from the IL and assigned to the bullpen, at least for the next few days. He or Nick Pivetta will start Tuesday. All the details here.

Health check

Roman Quinn has recovered from his groin strain. He is doing all baseball drills and working toward starting a minor-league rehabilitation assignment late next week, according to Kapler.

Up next

Jake Arrieta (4-4, 3.77) opposes Jhoulys Chacin (3-5, 4.65) on Saturday afternoon.

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If only the Phillies could have pulled off that Christian Yelich trade ...

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If only the Phillies could have pulled off that Christian Yelich trade ...

The Phillies were interested in Christian Yelich for years. They weren't alone — every front office is interested in a very good, ascending player on a team-friendly contract.

But the Phils wanted him badly. What was there not to like? He's a five-tool player who always had the most important tool, the ability to hit.

When Derek Jeter took over the Marlins and the purge began, Yelich was made available. The Brewers beat out other offers, trading Miami a package of outfielders Lewis Brinson and Monte Harrison, middle infielder Isan Diaz and right-handed pitcher Jordan Yamamoto.

Brinson, Harrison and Diaz were all regarded as top-100 prospects league-wide at some point over the last two years. Brinson was the biggest name of the group, a former first-round pick by the Rangers.

You may recognize Brinson's name from the Phillies' prior dealings with Texas. As reported by our Jim Salisbury, when the Phillies negotiated the Cole Hamels trade with the Rangers, they chose Nick Williams over Brinson because they thought Williams was closer to the big leagues.

The Rangers ended up trading Brinson to the Brewers on Aug. 1, 2016, for Jonathan Lucroy, and then the Brewers used him to acquire Yelich, the favorite to win NL MVP.

No player who changed teams this past offseason has made more of a difference than Yelich. J.D. Martinez would be next on the list but is a DH. Yelich adds value with his above-average defense and speed.

Since the All-Star break, Yelich leads the National League in batting average, slugging, OPS, homers, RBI and runs scored. He's done it for a team that clinched a postseason berth Wednesday and is still fighting to win the NL Central. 

On Tuesday night, Yelich added to his MVP case with a three-run triple and a three-run homer over the desperate Cardinals.

The Brewers acquired Yelich and Lorenzo Cain on back-to-back days this offseason. Those moves may end up deciding the National League pennant.

The Phillies, meanwhile, will likely make their splash this offseason. Adding Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta were more so B-level moves, and there's obviously no comparison between the 2018 production of those duos.

Not acquiring Yelich was a bummer for every team involved in the trade talks other than the Brewers. It especially hurt the Phillies, who saw him up close for five years and figured what he would be capable of as he reached his prime and in a more hitter-friendly ballpark.

Aside from Aaron Nola, the Phillies haven't been able to develop a star in recent years. Rhys Hoskins is a very, very good player and could finish his first full season with 35 homers and 100 RBI, but he doesn't have the all-around package of a Christian Yelich, who was on the cusp of superstardom.

Players like Yelich don't become available often. Perhaps he would have cost more for the Phillies to acquire than the Brewers because the Marlins didn't want to face him 19 times a year. Perhaps it would have required more than just a comparable package from the Phils involving Williams and several prospects at Single A or Double A.

But every difference-making extra-base hit from Yelich this summer and as he enters his prime will be a reminder of what could have been.

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