After the Phils split a 2 game series with the Red Sox and took the series opener with a walkoff from Maikel Franco, the rest of the weekend was about 2 things: remembering the past and watching the future (with an eye on the present).
In game 2 of the Marlins series, Vince Velasquez kept up his torrid pace. The night started by honoring one of the Phils best center fielders in team history, Shane Victorino but it was a pitcher and possibly their center fielder of the future who capped this one off. Velasquez went 5.2 innings before even allowing a hit. He allowed just 2 hits in 6.1 while striking out 7 compared to just 1 walk. His ERA over his last 5 starts is 0.71. After throwing just 85 pitches, one could ask why he got lifted (especially when his replacement went and hit the only batter he faced on his 2nd pitch as a Phillie) but we’ll give Gabe Kapler a pass this time. The offense didn’t exactly keep pace with Velasquez as he was clinging to a 1-0 lead when he left thanks to a 3rd inning RBI single from Rhys Hoskins. The Phils got a (soon to be needed) insurance run in the 7th when Cesar Hernandez scored on a wild pitch. After Pat Neshek allowed his first run of the year in the top of the 8th, the Phils offense came back to put things away. Jorge Alfaro singled home a run before Roman Quinn doubled home 2 more. Seranthony Dominguez recorded the final 4 outs for his 12th save and the Phils went up 2-0 in the series with a 5-1 win.
Saturday started with an emotional tribute to a couple more greats from recent history. In front of the past WOF inductees and the 2008 Championship team, Pat Gillick and Roy Halladay were inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame. The pregame ceremonies, highlighted by a tearful (for everyone involved AND watching) speech from Halladay’s wife, Brandy. Carlos Ruiz unveiled Halladay’s plaque and kissed his hand before rubbing Halladay’s likeness (really, my allergies were bad that night).
Once the game got started, Zach Eflin did his best Halladay impression and later reminisced about his interactions with Halladay at previous Spring Trainings. This time around, the offense would do their part to help Eflin out. Nick Williams came out of the gate with a 3 run HR in the first and Asdrubal Cabrera added a 2 run shot of his own in the 3rd, staking the Phils to a 5-0 lead. After Justin Bour got he Fish on the board in the 5th with a bomb to center , Carlos Santana added a blast of his own in the bottom of the inning. Hernandez added a 2 run shot of his own in the 6th making it 8-1 while Eflin cruised along. Eflin mowed the Marlins down until the 8th when Miguel Rojas hit a 2 run homer. Eflin closed out the 8th at 85 pitches, allowing just 4 hits and striking out 6. Kapler later noted that he would have allowed him to finish the game if not for the fact that Adam Morgan hadn’t pitched in 9 days and needed to throw. So up 5, Morgan closed out the 9th and the Phils went home winners of 4 straight and clinched another series win, 8-3.
Sunday was another emotional day but only happy tears this time around. With just a few exceptions, the 2008 World Series Champions were present and honored pregame. Highlights, pre-recorded speeches from Hamels, Utley and Chris Coste, on field speeches from Charlie Manuel, Jimmy Rollins and Brad Lidge, a nice ovation for Jayson Werth (thanks for not screwing that up, Phils fans) and a pretty badass Brad Lidge bobble head were the focus of the pre-game festivities. No F-bombs this time around!
On a hot and humid Sunday afternoon, the fans in attendance were greeted with…not much. Through the first 5 innings, both teams would get base-runners but were unable to get them around. In the bottom of the 6th, the Phils finally struck first. After loading the bases on 3 walks, Odubel Herrera came up with a 2 out, 2 run single to left followed by another RBI single from Maikel Franco. They would be extremely important when Aaron Nola came out and allowed a single and a HR on his first 2 pitches of the 7th inning. Dominguez came in and struck out the first 2 batters he faced before Justin Bour took him deep to center again (his 3rd straight hit that had left the ballpark) tying the game at 3. Dominguez K’d the next hitter but Nola would get another no decision. While the quickly diminishing crowd at CBP feared another extra inning game, one of their newest teammates made sure that didn’t happen. After a leadoff single in the 8th by Nick Williams, Cabrera came up and launched one into the atmosphere landing about 8 rows up in the 2nd deck in right field making it 5-3. I’m sure I was not the only one in attendance or watching at home who took a deep breath when Tommy Hunter entered in the 9th. Hunter retired the first 2 batters easily before Brian Anderson jumped on his first pitch for a single up the middle. Starlin Castro tried the same approach (with Justin Bour on deck) and hit a line drive to right but Nick Williams waited and put the game away. The 5-3 win capped a 4 game sweep and kept their lead at a game and a half over the Braves with a tough stretch coming up out west.
Despite scoring 27 runs in the 6 games this week (which sounds decent), the problem was the one dimensional approach. 12 of those runs were scored via the HR, including all 8 on Saturday. They’ll need to produce more runs in against tougher teams/pitchers. Roman Quinn has looked good since coming up. He was 6-17 with 2 doubles and 2 RBI this week. He even stole a base. Who knew the Phillies were allowed to do that?!?! Possibly the biggest sign of hope was the 8 hits (to go along with 4 walks) that came off the bat of Carlos Santana, raising his average to .220. Franco kept up his torrid pace with 8 hits in 25 AB’s, none more important than his walk-off on Thursday. The Phils actually had 4 players with an average over .320 for the week. Hoskins’ 22 HR have moved him into the top 10 in the N.L. and his 72 RBI are 7th (just imagine what he’d do if not in the 2 hole). He joins Santana and Hernandez in the top 10 in walks. They’re getting base runners. If they can continue to move them and get them around the bases, they may just hold on to this lead.
It was a pretty good week if your job takes place 60 feet, 6 inches from home plate (Aaron Loup excluded). The Phils team ERA for the week was a minuscule 1.88. The team allowed just 12 earned runs in 6 games.Jake Arrieta and Nola went into Fenway and dominated the best lineup in baseball. Then, when they returned home to honor past heroes, they gave everyone a reason to believe in them just like they did the Phils of 2008. AS a staff, they walked just 7 betters all week and allowed just 37 hits for w WHIP of 0.77. Aaron Nola is tied for 2nd in wins in the N.L. and he’s 3rd in ERA (he isn’t catching deGrom though). They have kept it up this long, there is no reason to think they can’t do it for another 2 months.
Around the N.L. East
Braves– The Braves did what they needed to do as they beat up on the teams at the bottom of the division. They won the first 2 at home against the Marlins before game 3 was postponed. Then, a trip to New York started well with 2 wins to start the series. The Mets shut them out in game 3 and it took a late inning comeback and a 10th inning HR to take the finale and win the series. Now the Braves have an interesting week ahead. the week starts with 4 games in D.C. against the Nats. With a 4.5 game lead over Washington, the Braves could essentially knock them out of contention OR the Nats could jump right back into the thick of things depending on how the series plays out. Then, it’s back home for 3 against the Brewers who are fighting the Cubs for the Central crown. This is an important series for both teams.
Nationals– I think Washington may have found its missing offense. The Nats opened the week putting up 25 runs against the Mets in game one of their series. They would score 24 more runs over the next 5 games against the Mets and Reds, winning 4 of 5. The 5 wins this week kept the Nats on pace with the Phils and Braves but they couldn’t actually make up any ground. With a tough home series against the Braves (a split would be nice from the Phils perspective) and then a trip to Wrigley for 3 with the Central-leading Cubs, it’s another tough but important week for the Nats.
Mets– Well, on the bright side, they jumped back on top of the Marlins in the standings. On the other hand, they actually fell 4 games further back behind the Phils in the process. After getting pounded by the Nats, their pitching did their part but they walked away with just 1 win against the Braves. It’s really hard to fathom having a pitcher with a 1.85 ERA (deGrom) who has a 5-7 record. This week, for the Mets, starts with 3 at home vs. the Reds and then 3 in Miami. I don’t think any of these games will get much national exposure…just a hunch.
Marlins– 2 games in Atlanta. 4 games in Philly. 6 losses. This week it’s 3 against the Cardinals and 3 more against the Mets. Both are beatable teams but…so are the Marlins. Let’s just say I’m not putting any money on these games.
The Phils head out west this week. The week starts in Arizona where they face the D-backs who have moved back into a tie with the Dodgers for first in the West and are just a game behind the Phils in the win column but 3 back in the loss column. This is another important series to show that they can beat the good teams as well as the bad ones. More importantly, they need to show they can win on the road. Arrieta, Pivetta and Velasquez will take the mound at Chase Field. The 2nd test comes in San Diego where they can’t let the results in Arizona (good or bad) distract them against a bad team. The Padres are in the bottom 5 in the Majors in wins and the Phils have to play them as such unlike their split in Philly last month. Eflin and Nola will start the series off before Arrieta closes it out.
This team isn’t scoring at will like the 2008 team could but they hit the ball out of the park like they did. They are heading into 2 pitcher-friendly parks and will need to add a level of small ball to their game plan in order to take pressure off the pitchers. This is probably a week where they need to walk away with 5 wins or they could be looking up at the Braves for the first time in over a month. With things getting interesting, it’s just a shame the games will be late this week. Here’s hoping my work doesn’t suffer…or my boss doesn’t notice. What? You thought I wouldn’t watch?