Things didn’t start much better in the 2nd half as they went in the 1st half. Sporting the 1980’s powder blue uniforms, things got off to a very shaky start on Friday (L, 9-6). Nick Pivetta came out and gave up 8 runs in the 2nd inning (after the offense spotted him 2 runs in the first), including a grand slam by Phillie Killer, Ryan Braun. Pivetta did actually settle down and pitched through the 5th inning conceding just one more run but the damage was done. Topping it off, Aaron Altherr left the game early and is likely headed to the DL. Aaron Nola picked up where he left off on Saturday (L, 3-2) when he allowed 2 runs in 6 innings of work. The offense was missing yet again but had done enough to have the game tied when Nola left. Enter Joaquin Benoit. Benoit hung a pitch to the first batter he faced in the inning and watched it sail over the center field wall. Jeremy Hellickson was pitching well on Sunday (W, 5-2) but was again getting no support until Nick Williams came to the plate in the 6th inning with the bags full. Williams hacked at the first pitch he saw and deposited it over the center field wall for the first grand slam of his career. Despite Hector Neris making things interesting in the 9th, the Phils hung on for their first victory of the 2nd half. 3 games, 1 win…that’s probably not going to get them back in this thing. Then again, I think that would take a catastrophic even including the other 4 teams in the division.
Maikel Franco and Odubel Herrera had a hot series against the Brewers picking up 5 hits each, including 5 doubles and 2 HR’s). Nick Williams (who should get a longer look now with Altherr going to the DL) and Andrew Knapp added 3 hits each. The same could not be said for Freddy Galvis or Tommy Joseph who had just 1 hit each. It was not a great way to start the 2nd half and those being discussed as possible trade chips (see: Joseph and Galvis) did nothing to up their asking price. With Altherr going out, Cesar Hernandez is expected to return this week and will hopefully pick up where he left off. The biggest problem this team has is consistency. When one player seems to pick it up (i.e. Herrera), the last hot guy (Galvis) seems to go into the tank. With the pitching the way it’s been, just a couple weeks of consistent hitting could help fans get a glimmer of what may be coming down the line.
Nola and Hellickson had positive outings once again and Pivetta’s pitched 4 out of 5 good innings. The bullpen took care of business with the exception of Benoit’s hanger (to be fair, he did have a scoreless inning the night before). The HR allowed by Benoit was the only run the bullpen allowed in 9 innings of work. The Phils have had pretty a pretty nice stretch from their staff over the last month or so. Maybe with a little help from the offense, they’ll be able to string a few more wins together.
Around the N.L. East
Nationals– The Nats had an offensive explosion in Cincinnati scoring 29 runs in the 3 game series and (near) sweeping the Reds. The wins helped expand their lead throughout the division except for the Braves. The Nats should continue to front run the rest of the way but it doesn’t look like they will be running away with anything. The Nats will finish off a wrap around series with the Reds on Monday looking for the sweep before heading out west. They’ll have a quick 2 game set with the Angels in Anaheim before a 3 game set with the D-backs. The Angels are struggling but have Mike Trout back while the D-backs are still chasing in the west and will likely pose more of a threat.
Braves– The D-backs have been one of the hotter teams in baseball of late but the Braves put that to bed by sweeping the weekend series in Atlanta. The resurgent Cubs will come to town for 3 games to start the week before the Braves follow the Nats out west, starting with 4 games against the still red-hot Dodgers. This will be a tough string that the Braves will need to overcome if they have any chance of staying in the race.
Mets– The Mets started the 2nd half with a home series against the Rockies that looked like it should have been played in Denver. The teams combined to score 45 runs in the 3 games. The Mets managed to take 2 of them to leapfrog back over the Marlins into 3rd place but still out of the Nats vision. This week could provide an opportunity for them to change that. With the Cardinals (4 games) and A’s (3 games) coming into New York, the Mets have an opportunity to string together a few wins against lesser competition than the Nats and Braves will be facing.
Marlins– As well as things ended in the first half for the Marlins, they started equally as bad to start the 2nd. The Dodgers came into Miami and swept the Marlins right out of 3rd place. The Marlins and Mets continue to flip back and forth in the standings but have been unable to get hot. The Phils will come into Miami for 3 games to start the week before the Fish head to Cincinnati for 3. Both series should provide an opportunity for the Marlins to make up a little bit of ground but will likely continue to be an afterthought in the division.
The Phils finish their road trip with a 3 game set in Miami before heading home for a rematch series with the Brewers. The Phils put up a better fight in Milwaukee than anticipated. Without Friday’s 2nd inning or Joaquin Benoit’s 8th on Saturday, the series may have looked a lot different (or maybe it wouldn’t have). Jerad Eickhoff will get his first start of the 2nd half on Monday before Vince Velasquez makes his return to the rotation (for how long?) on Tuesday. Pivetta will get back on the mound Wednesday for the finale. Nola, Hellickson and Eickhoff will face the Brewers. Broken record warning: The offense will need to pick things up to go along with the pitching. The Marlins are certainly beatable and the Phils showed that they can play with the Brewers this weekend. Will the returning players be able to overcome the loss of Altherr? We’ll find out soon enough.