Long Balls Aplenty

After a series win against Colorado, the Phils were poised for a rematch with the Brewers who blew them out of CBP last week. With Jake Arrieta and Aaron Nola set to bookend the series, things were tilted in their favor though, right? Well, they managed to take 2 of 3 from the Brew Crew but it certainly wasn’t what anyone expected.

Arrieta was lit up by the Brewers offense on Friday night and this time took the onus squarely on his own shoulders despite some extremely flimsy defense behind him (4 errors). Arrieta allowed 7 hits and 4 ER (8 total) in just 3.1 innings. Mark Leiter Jr. relieved him and did not fair much better conceding 2 runs on 4 hits in just 1.2 innings. Victor Arano and Edubray Ramos shut the door for an inning each before Gabe Kapler decided to AGAIN use Jesmuel Valentin to pitch the 8th inning despite having numerous rested arms available in the pen. Valentin walked 2 and gave up 2 hits, allowing 3 more runs to score. Oh, the Phils managed to score 2 runs on an RBI double by Cesar Hernandez and a solo HR by Odubel Herrera. If not for the other team scoring 13 runs, they were RIGHT THERE. Instead, Milwaukee took the win by a 13-2 final.

Much like last week, Zach Eflin came to the rescue following a blowout loss. Rhys Hoskins hit a monster homer (431 feet) to left in the 4th and Andrew Knapp hit a bomb of his own in the 5th giving the Phils a 2-1 lead. Eflin pitched just 5 innings allowing only 3 hits and 1 run. Kapler gave him the early hook  after just 73 pitches in favor of a PH with runners on base. This time, Kapler was taken off the hook thanks to an intentional walk to Maikel Franco, a bases loaded walk to J.P. Crawford and an infield single by Hernandez (all with 2 outs) extending the lead from 2-1 to 4-1. A combination of 4 pitchers proceeded to shut the Brewers down over the final 4 innings with Hector Neris recording a save that (in this writer’s worthless opinion) should have gone to anyone else, moral victories be damned. The 4-1 win set the Phils up for a potential series win with their ace on the hill on Sunday.

Remember that presumption about the Arrieta/Nola bookends? Yeah…that ended almost as badly as it started. With Aaron Nola on the mound, the Phils thought they were in good shape. Rhys Hoskins hit another bomb in the first to give the Phils an early 2-0 lead but Nola gave that HR back on the first hitter he faced. He walked the next 2 hitters  before working his way out of the inning. It was a 2-1 lead but it was obvious early that Nola was not his sharpest. Nola allowed a double in the 3rd to tie the game at 2. Franco gave him the lead again with a 2 run homer in the 4th. Nola gave that lead away in the 5th after a walk, a double and a single tied it up again. Tommy Hunter would relieve him at that point and retire the 2 batters he faced to close out the inning. Nick Williams gave the Phils the lead once again in the 6th with a 2R single. Hunter and Adam Morgan combined to give one of those runs back in the bottom of the 6th and things were just getting started. The Phils scored 2 more in the 7th behind a Franco RBI single giving him 4 RBI on the day. After the Phils scored again on a Scott Kingery double in the 8th extending the lead to 9-5, things were starting to look good, right? After working out of a jam in the bottom of the 8th and another bomb (453 feet) by Odubel, guess who came on to try and close out a 10-5 lead. Yup , bring on Neris again. HR, single, double, HR and all of a sudden, it’s 10-9. Kapler finally decided to lift him and Jake Thompson recorded the final out with one pitch. Did I mention it was a screaming liner to deep center that Odubel had to make a leaping catch on 5 feet from the wall? Well, it wasn’t pretty but it was a win, and a series win to top it off.

That’s 2 in a row for the Phightin’s in the middle of a tough stretch. Despite the 2 series wins, the Phils actually lost ground in the division though.

Offense- Rhys Hoskins has been on a tear since returning from the DL going 8-23 with 2 doubles and 3 HR in the last week. Herrera has also flipped his switch back to the “on” position hitting .318 for the week with a coupe HR’s. The team got some 2-out hits and hit with RISP for a change. While some of these things were welcome sights, some weren’t. Aaron Altherr was 0-11 while J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro chipped in just 2 hits each.

If they can continue to string together some hits they can easily stay in contention but their inconsistency seems like it will eventually bite them. Of the 5 starters with over 200 AB’s, just 2 are hitting above .250 (Hernandez- .261 and Herrera- .291). The biggest issue right now is the left side of the infield. Kingery (.222) and J.P. Crawford (.189) have supplanted Franco despite neither hitting for average and sub-par defense (tied for the team lead with 7 errors). Franco is frustrating for sure with his swing at everything approach, but he puts the ball in play and reaches base more often and includes steady defense. With the team in contention in mid-June, this is not the time for the young guys to learn on the fly at the major league level.

Pitching– Arrieta has been awful in his last 3 outings allowing 19 hits, 5 BB’s and 18 ER’s. Zach Eflin and Vince Velasquez both pitched well in their starts this week. Nola started the week on a good note but had a clunker on the weekend. Overall, it was not the best week for the rotation however which led to extra work for the bullpen. In just 3.2 innings of work, Neris allowed almost as many HR’s (3) as the rest of the staff combined (5). If I see him in any more game-defining situations, I may scream. The bullpen seemed to allow a lot of baserunners but ultimately pitched well with a few exceptions. The starters need to get on track this week to keep the innings count lower for the pen.

Around the N.L. East

Braves– With 6 games against the Mets and Padres, the Braves knew they had a shot at expanding their lead if they played well. They did just that winning 5 of 6. After a 2 game sweep of the Mets, the Braves took 3 of 4 from the Padres and did most of it with pitching scoring just 19 runs (8 in one game) in the 5 wins. With a short 2 day trip to Toronto (33-38) and then 3 at home with Baltimore (20-50), things aren’t getting any tougher this week. This is the 2nd week in a row that the Braves will have a great chance to pad their lead.

Nationals– Things did not go as well for the Nats. After splitting a tough 2 game series against the Yankees, it was the Blue Jays that ended up giving them trouble. While all 3 games were decided by 1 or 2 runs, the Nats ended up on the losing side of all 3 games and fell 3.5 back of the Braves. This week starts with a make-up game against the Yankees (46-21) at home before the Orioles come to town for 3. Then, it’s the Phillies (37-32) turn to head down 95 for a trip to D.C. and 3 games over the weekend.

Mets– The Mets started the week losing 4 straight. After their sweep at the hands of the Braves, a trip to Arizona didn’t start any better after losing the first 2 games by a combined 13-6 score. The Mets were able to salvage 2 wins over the weekend but still fell to 10.5 back. The western trip continues this week with 4 games in Colorado against the Rockies (34-37).  Then, the Dodgers (37-33) meet the Mets back in New York for 3 over the weekend.

Marlins– This team doesn’t know who they are from week to week. After losing 2 of 3 to the Padres last weekend, the Giants came to Miami and went home with 3 losses and just 1 win. Then a trip to Baltimore resulted in 2 more wins and ultimately, 6 wins in 10 days. They’ll get another crack at the Giants (35-37) this week but in San Fran. After 3 games there, it’s off to Colorado for 3 with the Rockies (34-37). They are too far out too early in the season for it to mean anything but at this pace, they could potentially leapfrog the Mets in the coming weeks if they continue to string together series wins.

The Phils return home for a 3 game series with the Cardinals (36-32).They split their series in St. Louis in mid-May. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez will open the series and Jake Arrieta will try to get back on track in the series finale. After a day off on Thursday, the Phils head into D.C. for 3 games culminating in an ESPN Sunday Night tilt where, barring any rotation changes with the off day, Nick Pivetta will toe the mound after Eflin and Nola open the series. While the Cards series will be big for holding their current momentum, the Nats series is critical to keeping pace with the Braves in the midst of a favorable schedule. If the offense can continue to produce runs, the Phils will always have a shot. That said, if I see Neris in the 9th inning again this year without a 15  run lead, I’ll start the “fire Gabe” chants myself in my next trip to South Philly.

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