Detroit Tigers

Gabe Kapler's decisions on Bryce Harper and Aaron Nola show how important skipper believes upcoming stretch is

Gabe Kapler's decisions on Bryce Harper and Aaron Nola show how important skipper believes upcoming stretch is

DETROIT — The Phillies have a day off on Thursday before they begin an important nine-game homestand Friday that features three games against the NL East-leading Braves, three more against the surging Giants and an interleague series against the White Sox. In the middle of it all, the trade deadline will arrive and the calendar will flip to August and a stretch drive that will ultimately determine whether the Phils will be booking tee times for an eighth straight October or playing some playoff baseball.

Gabe Kapler isn’t usually one to emphasize one series over another, but in action spoke of how important the games are about to get for his team when he constructed a lineup that did not include Bryce Harper for Wednesday’s game against the lowly Detroit Tigers.

Harper had played in all but one game this season and needed a blow, as the expression goes. Getting him one Wednesday would allow him back-to-back off days before the Braves series and the stretch drive of the season. Kapler gave Harper the day off knowing that if all goes well for the Phillies the rest of the way — if they stay in the race — Harper probably would not get another day off the remainder of the season.

This is why Kapler said it felt like the Phillies pulled off “a double win” on Wednesday afternoon. The Phils got more outstanding pitching in beating the Tigers, 4-0, at Comerica Park and Harper got a little breather before this crucial stretch of the season (see observations).

“To not have Bryce in the lineup and still come away with a victory, that was pretty big for us,” Kapler said.

J.T. Realmuto, who caught 15 innings the night before, got a little break from that position. He played first base and hit a home run. Nick Williams also homered. Vince Velasquez pitched shutout ball for 5 2/3 innings and the bullpen was once against stellar (it racked up 11 1/3 scoreless innings in two games in Detroit) in closing out the win.

The Tigers have the worst record in the majors and one of the worst offenses. Phillies pitching did exactly what you should do to a poor hitting team — it held them to one earned run in 24 innings in the two games.

Wednesday’s victory gave the Phils a 4-1 road trip to Pittsburgh and Detroit. Those clubs play in big ballparks and that was OK with Phillies pitchers, who did not allow a homer on the trip after being tagged for 15 in four games by the Dodgers last week at Citizens Bank Park.

The Phils have won three in a row for the first time in a month and are six games over .500 for the first time in over a month. They have won five of six. They fumbled first place in the NL East and let the Braves take control of the division over a six-week collapse, but seem to have weathered the storm. With continued good play and some help from the front office at the deadline, they should be able to stay in the wild-card picture — and the division remains within shouting distance with two months to go.

“We feel good about the trip and going home for the Atlanta series pretty healthy, in good sprits and with some confidence,” Kapler said. “I think we’re getting plenty of support from the front office. I think this showing on the road is reason to be optimistic. I think if we play well against the Braves, that will provide more optimism.”

Clearly, Kapler sees this series against the Braves as vital — and it is. Jake Arrieta will pitch Friday night and Zach Eflin on Saturday night. There had been some question as to whether the Phils would use Aaron Nola on regular rest in Sunday’s series finale. Sometimes the Phils give Nola extra rest when the schedule permits. His numbers are very good with that extra day.

But as he packed his bags for the trip back to Philadelphia after two wins in Detroit on Wednesday, Kapler made the call: Nola will go Sunday against the division rival Braves. It was another decision that showed just how important this upcoming stretch is. Nola pitched seven innings and gave up just one earned run Tuesday night. He is the Phils’ best. He needs to be on the mound as much as the schedule permits.

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Phillies 4, Tigers 0: Phillies sweep Tigers to go 6 over .500 for first time in more than a month

Phillies 4, Tigers 0: Phillies sweep Tigers to go 6 over .500 for first time in more than a month

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — The Phillies completed a two-game sweep of the lowly Detroit Tigers with a 4-0 win at Comerica Park on Wednesday afternoon.

The victory gave the Phillies their first three-game winning streak since June 24-27 when they swept a four-game series from the New York Mets. At 54-48, the Phillies are six games over .500 for the first time since June 19.

Starting pitching — and pitching in general — has fueled the Phillies’ modest winning streak. Starters Drew Smyly, Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez have combined to allow just two earned runs in 18 2/3 innings over the three wins. The bullpen has been impressive, as well.

Solid start for Vinny Velo

He still has completed six innings just once this season, but what Velasquez was able to give the Phillies on Wednesday was very good. He pitched 5 2/3 shutout innings, scattered four hits, two walks and struck out nine. Velasquez’s pitch count was typically high at 110. However, he got 16 swinging strikes, 10 on his riding fastball.

Overall pitching

The Tigers entered Wednesday’s game with the worst record in the majors. The Tigers’ offense entered the day ranked last in the majors with a .233 batting average and second-to-last in runs per game (3.63) and OPS (6.76).

Phillies pitchers did what you’re supposed to do against an offense like that. They combined to give up just one earned run in 24 innings in the two games.

A little long ball

Comerica Park is one of baseball’s biggest, a tough place to hit home runs. The Phillies hit three in the two games. Roman Quinn had a two-run shot on Tuesday night and J.T. Realmuto and Nick Williams both went deep against Jordan Zimmermann on Wednesday to give the Phils a 2-0 lead in the middle innings. Zimmermann is 0-8.

Controlling the long ball

Phillies pitchers have had a huge problem keeping the ball in the yard this season. They gave up 15 homers in four games against the Dodgers at home last week. But the staff rebounded on this five-game trip and did not give up a homer. Of course, Pittsburgh and Detroit have big parks, but the Phillies pitchers weren’t about to complain.

A find?

Lefty Ranger Suarez, a starter throughout his minor-league career, and still a candidate to start down the road, is coming up big out of the bullpen. He pitched 1 1/3 scoreless inning and has allowed just one run in 13 1/3 innings in his last 10 appearances.

Harper's last rest?

Bryce Harper was not in the starting lineup for just the second time this season. He served as the designated hitter on Tuesday night. Monday was an off day in the schedule and so is Thursday. What gives? Harper is fine. Manager Gabe Kapler said he was just trying to get Harper a little extra rest and a day game after a 15-inning game made sense. The hope is that getting three days off in the same week will maximize Harper’s performance the rest of the way. It’s possible that Harper will not get another day off this season, or as long as the Phillies are in the race.

After catching 15 innings Tuesday night, Realmuto got a break from the position. Kapler considered using Realmuto as the DH but the player said he preferred to play the field. So Realmuto started at first base and Hoskins was the DH. Realmuto had played in 23 games for the Marlins at first base over the previous three seasons.

Up next

The Phillies begin an important three-game series against the Braves on Friday night. The Phillies will start Jake Arrieta on Friday, Zach Eflin on Saturday and Nola on Sunday.

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As trade deadline approaches, Phillies GM Matt Klentak to get firsthand look at much-coveted Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd

As trade deadline approaches, Phillies GM Matt Klentak to get firsthand look at much-coveted Tigers lefty Matthew Boyd

The Phillies began an important week in the schedule with a 2-1 victory in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Despite scoring just three runs in the final two games, the Phillies took two of three from the Pirates to remain entrenched in the National League wild-card race as next week's trade deadline (and big decisions for the front office) steams toward us.

And, this year, it's a real trade deadline. There are no more August waiver deals, the kind that once brought the Phillies Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs and the Houston Astros Justin Verlander in 2017, two months before they won the World Series.

The Detroit Tigers traded Verlander to the Astros in August 2017. Two years later, the Tigers, who entered Monday tied with Baltimore for the worst record in the majors, remain in a rebuild and they have several trade candidates that intrigue contending teams.

The Phillies will get a good look at one of them — maybe more — over the next couple of days when they travel to Detroit for a quick, two-game interleague series on Tuesday night and Wednesday afternoon.

Phillies general manager Matt Klentak will join the team in Detroit for the series and will no doubt have his eyes trained on Tuesday night's Detroit starter, lefty Matthew Boyd.

Though Klentak would surely prefer otherwise, it's possible he could also get a look at Shane Greene, the Tigers' All-Star closer. Outfielder Nicholas Castellanos and lefty starter Daniel Norris are also on Detroit's trading block.

The Phillies have big needs in the starting rotation and at the back end of the bullpen. Sources say the Phils have had conversations with the Tigers about all of their available players, particularly Boyd and Greene. Both are the type of pitcher the Phillies would like to acquire in that they are talented and under contractual control beyond this season. In other words, they are not rentals. Boyd has three years of control after this season and Greene is under control through next season.

Now, here's the rub: That type of control raises the price tag on these pitchers and by all accounts, the Tigers are looking for a huge score — as they should.

One baseball executive familiar with the Tigers' thinking said the club was looking for four young players for Boyd — "two with star potential and two more with a chance."

The Tigers are in position to seek a huge score not only because Boyd has so many years of control remaining but also because the market for starting pitchers heavily favors sellers. Toronto's Marcus Stroman (the Phillies have scouted him recently) and Boyd are the top two controllable pitchers on the market. It remains unclear if Arizona will deal lefty Robbie Ray, who is under control for another season, or Zack Greinke because the Diamondbacks are still in the wild-card chase. The D-backs could hold on to both and look to deal them in the offseason if they desire. The market for Greinke will be limited, now and in the offseason, because he is owed over $80 million through 2021 and he has a no-trade clause. The Phillies have plenty of money and would prefer to use that over prospect capital, but even they would have reservations about taking on that amount of money for a guy who will pitch at 36 and 37 the next two seasons and has Philadelphia on his no-trade list.

Madison Bumgarner is another pitcher that the Phils have long liked, but his availability is now complicated by the fact the Giants have gotten hot and are now in the wild-card race. (Surely, teams with available starters like Toronto and Detroit love that.)

In the end, Bumgarner might not be quite as attractive for a team that is more than one piece away from a title because he will be a free agent at season's end. The Phillies, just four games over .500 and with multiple holes, have to consider the prospect cost of a rental player because they just don't appear to be good enough to make a significant October run.

Can we beat the Dodgers by adding just one player, or are we better off hanging onto our prospects? That's a question teams like the Phillies have to ask themselves. It is a question they have already asked themselves.

For someone like Boyd, the Tigers would probably ask the Phillies for a package that would include position players such as Alec Bohm, Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley, or pitchers Adonis Medina, Spencer Howard and Francisco Morales. The Phils might part with a couple of these guys — hey, they're going to need pitching next season, too — but their current place in the standings would suggest that they will also be very protective of this group, especially Bohm and Howard.

Nonetheless, it should be interesting to watch Boyd pitch against Aaron Nola on Tuesday night in Detroit. Boyd is 6-8 with a 4.13 ERA in 20 starts for the lowly Tigers. He walks under 2.0 batters per nine innings and strikes out an even 12.0. He pitches a little like J.A. Happ, unafraid to go after hitters up in the zone with a sneaky fastball and complement it with a good changeup. He'd be a nice pickup for the Phillies, for now and beyond, and Matt Klentak will be watching. Is he willing to pay the price? Tick, tick, tick. The trade deadline is nine days away.

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