Manny Machado

Eventually, the 1st-place Phillies will need help

Eventually, the 1st-place Phillies will need help

If you watch this Phillies team night in and night out, you come away with two definitive conclusions.

First, Aaron Nola is an ace. Much like Steve Carlton, Curt Schilling, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay before him. There is utter confidence every fifth day that he will pitch a gem and it’s very likely the Phillies will win when he pitches.

Second, Rhys Hoskins is a build-your-lineup-around type of centerpiece. He is must-watch when he steps to the plate.  

Beyond that, there are several pieces that you feel really good about going forward. Namely, Seranthony Dominguez, Odubel Herrera, Cesar Hernandez, Zach Eflin and Edubray Ramos. There are others that you see the potential in, but may not quite be there yet: Scott Kingery, Jorge Alfaro, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta.

What’s tougher to define is how exactly this flawed team has remained in first or close to the top of the division standings for the better part of the last couple of months. One that is on pace to win 90 games. 

The Phillies don’t hit particularly well. No regular is batting .280 or higher. They are a flat-out bad defensive team. They're third in the majors in errors. Some of that is attributable to youth, some to players playing out of position. But they commit far too many fielding mistakes, both physical and mental. Their high-priced free-agent starting pitching signee Jake Arrieta has been just OK, far from Cy Young-ish. The bullpen, which has been excellent of late, still has its share of question marks and undefined roles.

There are nights when you ask yourself how are they doing this? 
 
Their success lies in a team that has the clutch gene. The Phillies are 20-9 in one-run games, best in all of baseball, and 7-3 in extra innings. At times, it may not be pretty innings one through seven, but rare is a night when they go down without a fight. Fourteen of Hoskins' 18 home runs this season have tied or given the Phillies a lead. Give credit to Gabe Kapler for instilling the confidence in the youngest team in baseball to never think it is out of it. That trait can go a long way.

The starting pitching overall has been excellent and, really, the catalyst for the Phillies' pre-All Star break success. Nola has been brilliant, Eflin has gone from borderline fifth starter to a top-of-the-rotation guy. Velasquez appears to have finally figured out how to be a pitcher, not just a thrower. The much-maligned bullpen has really stepped up. The Phillies also get on base and work deep counts. It may make for long games, but it has been one of the biggest keys to their success.

That said, talent often trumps intangibles, and they lack a bat in the everyday lineup. Further, their bench is as bad as any in baseball. Jesmuel Valentin, Trevor Plouffe, Mitch Walding and Andrew Knapp are not going to cut it.

Matt Klentak owes it to the manager, players and last but not least the fans of this team to get help. The Phillies may be ahead of schedule, but here we are. Manny Machado is gone and there better be a plan B for a bat. A bullpen piece and/or a starter also makes sense. Despite the Phils residing in a less-than-great division, the club’s shortcomings will be hard to overcome as things get closer to September.

Help is needed.

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Phillies to promote Ranger Suarez, the prospect once coveted by Orioles in Manny Machado trade talks

cheryl_pursell_ironpigs_ranger_suarez_phillies_prospect.jpg
Cheryl Pursell/Lehigh Valley IronPigs

Phillies to promote Ranger Suarez, the prospect once coveted by Orioles in Manny Machado trade talks

The name Ranger Suarez has been surrounded by some significant buzz recently. Not only has the 22-year-old left-hander pitched very well for the Phillies’ Triple A Lehigh Valley club, he was also high on the Baltimore Orioles’ wish list in trade discussions involving Manny Machado.

The Phillies’ bid to land Machado failed — for now, at least, because it will ramp up again in the offseason when the slugging infielder becomes a free agent — and Suarez remains in the Phillies organization.

Now, he’s headed to the big leagues.

Suarez will make his major-league debut when he starts for the Phillies against the Cincinnati Reds on the road Thursday night. After playing a doubleheader on Sunday, the Phillies needed a starter and Suarez has earned a look. He is 5-3 with a 2.38 ERA in 15 starts at Double A and Triple A this season. His last three starts have come at Lehigh Valley. He has allowed just one run in 15 2/3 innings while striking out 12 and walking four in those starts. In 90 2/3 innings at Double A and Triple A this season, he has allowed just two home runs.

Manager Gabe Kapler said he was “very excited” about seeing what Suarez can do. The Phillies have not used a left-handed starting pitcher since Adam Morgan faced Atlanta on Sept. 28, 2016.

“He's shown the ability to get swings and misses in and out of the strike zone,” Kapler said of Suarez. “He’s got a good sinker, incredible demeanor — we saw it in spring training. There's some courage there. He has a lot of swag on the mound. There’s some bravado. I don't think situations get too big for him. We have a lot of confidence in him and we believe that he has a lot of confidence in himself.”

The Phillies signed Suarez for $25,000 out of his native Venezuela in 2012. He has two brothers, Rayner and Rosmer, and a sister, Rangerlin.

“We have a family tradition that every name starts with the letter R,” he said during a visit to Philadelphia in January.

During that visit, Suarez was asked what his goal was for the 2018 season.

“Grandes ligas,” he said.

And now it’s happening.

With the Phillies.

Not the Orioles.

Roster moves
In need of a fresh arm in the bullpen, the Phillies recalled right-hander Drew Anderson and sent Yacksel Rios to Triple A before Tuesday night's game against the Dodgers.

Outfielder Roman Quinn continues to progress quickly after his return from May surgery to repair a ligament injury in his right middle finger. He has been moved from Reading to Lehigh Valley and could be in play for a spot on the big-league bench soon.

Eickhoff heads back to Florida
Jerad Eickhoff headed back to Florida on Tuesday night. He will throw to hitters over the weekend in Clearwater.

Eickhoff has not pitched all season, most recently because of tingling in his right fingers. The condition has plagued him for nearly a year. The pitcher recently had a second anti-inflammatory injection in his wrist and reports improvement. He remains optimistic that he will pitch this season.

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Little mistakes add up in Phillies' 'extremely tough loss' to Dodgers

Little mistakes add up in Phillies' 'extremely tough loss' to Dodgers

BOX SCORE

The up-and-coming Phillies have progressed to the point where they are playing big, meaningful games after the All-Star break. That is a good thing because it has been too long between pennant races around here.

The increase in the importance and intensity of the games means that little missteps no longer get dismissed as things a young team needs to improve on.

No. The glare is getting hotter with each day and when little things go wrong, they not only get noticed, they cost you an important ballgame.

That was the plight of the rising Phillies on Monday night as they let one slip away in a 7-6 loss to Chase Utley, Manny Machado and the Los Angeles Dodgers in front of 33,753 at Citizens Bank Park (see first take).

“Extremely tough loss,” manager Gabe Kapler said.

It sure was. There was an electricity in the building that was reminiscent of the title years from 2007 to 2011. Part of that had to do with a former Phillie (Utley) being back in town (see story), part of it had to do with a possible future Phillie (Machado) being in town and a whole lot of it had to do with playoff-intensity baseball being back in town. Both teams entered the game in first place in their respective divisions. The loss dropped the Phillies (55-44) back into a first-place tie with Atlanta in the NL East.

The Phillies did some good things in this game. Most notable was Rhys Hoskins clubbing a two-out, game-tying, three-run home run to rescue the Phillies from a 4-1 deficit in the fifth inning and Odubel Herrera following with a solo shot to put the Phillies ahead, 5-4. Yacksel Rios kept the game close out of the bullpen and Austin Davis did a nice job protecting a lead.

But, ultimately, the Phillies did too many things wrong to win the game.

To wit:

• Starter Zach Eflin, pitching for the first time in two weeks, was rusty. He gave up five hits, including three solo homers, and three walks in 2 2/3 innings.

“It's on me,” Eflin said of the loss. “I did a horrible job of setting the tone for the game.”

• In the seventh inning, the Phillies lost their one-run lead when Herrera hesitated ever so slightly after catching a fly ball to shallow center field by Max Muncy and that allowed Machado, who had tripled with one out against Tommy Hunter, to daringly race home with the tying run.

After the game, Herrera confirmed that he did hesitate. He said he did not immediately get a good grip on the ball and had to reset. That split-second proved huge as Machado slid headfirst across the plate, just in front of Jorge Alfaro’s tag.

• The Dodgers rallied for two runs in the top of the ninth inning after bullpen ace Seranthony Dominguez could not throw strikes and Alfaro could not catch a fastball that ran off the plate. The resulting bases-loaded wild pitch allowed the go-ahead run to score from third base. Dominguez faced five batters in the inning. He gave up three walks and a single. The fatal wild pitch could actually have been scored a passed ball on Alfaro.

“I should have caught it,” Alfaro said. “I should catch that ball, at least keep it in front. There's nothing else I can say about it.”

Before the inning ended, Dominguez was charged with a second run when Matt Kemp stroked an RBI single against Luis Garcia to put the Dodgers ahead, 7-5. That proved to be a big run because Maikel Franco made it a one-run game with his second homer of the night in the bottom of the ninth.

Kemp’s hit scored Joc Pederson. He had reached base on a base hit against Dominguez. The hit, a hard one-hopper, went through the heart of shortstop, which was uncovered because the Phillies were in a defensive shift. If the Phillies were aligned straight up, they might have been able to turn a double play and everything might have turned out differently.

Little things become big things when the stakes are high.

“I’m really, really proud of the way our guys fought tooth and nail,” Kapler said. “I never felt like they were out of it being down to a strong opponent with a ferocious lineup. We never felt like we were out of the game. We battled to the last pitch.

“The Rhys home run and the Odubel home run created a playoff-like atmosphere in the ballpark. The momentum shifted in our direction and I think we all felt like we could win that baseball game and we were in a position to win that baseball game.”

Indeed, they were.

But it didn’t happen.

Little things.

“We’re going to make mistakes,” Alfaro said. “We’re humans. We just have to let it go. We have two more games to win the series.”

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