After the Phils ruined a series-opening gem by losing the next 2 to the Braves, they went into New York and closed the first half with a series win.
The offense opened up on the Mets in the series opener (7-2 W) and the series finale (8-3 W…thanks Jay Bruce!) but in between Jake Arrieta crapped the bed with no help from Gabe Kapler. After building an early 3-1 lead thanks to homers from Jay Bruce and Maikel Franco in the 2nd, Kapler watched as Arrieta not-so-gracefully handed the win to the Mets. Arrieta gave a run back in the bottom of the 2nd before Rhys Hoskins extended the lead back to 2 with a double in the 3rd. The Mets got another one back in the bottom of the inning thanks to an error by Scott Kingery. After holding on through the 4th, Arrieta imploded in the 5th. Arrieta sandwiched 2 hit batters (nearly igniting a brawl) around a double before allowing a bases-clearing double all while Kapler stood on the top step of the dugout. The bullpen held things down from that point on and J.T. Realmuto added a run on an RBI single in the 7th but that was it for the scoring despite a threat in the 8th. After the first 2 men reached base, only one of the next 3 batters was able to put the ball in play. The 6-5 loss was compounded by the fact that the Marlins found a way to beat the Braves as well.
After the All-Star break, the Phils (47-43, 3rd place in the East…2nd in the Wild Card) open the 2nd half against the Nationals at home. The starting rotation has yet to be announced.
Let’s take a look at where they stand heading into the 2nd half.
They’ve blown a division lead for the 2nd straight year, though earlier this time. They went from 1st to 3rd (6.5 out) during the month of June. Players (read: Jean Segura) get coddled when they loaf on the bases. Their pitchers have all regressed under new wonder-kid, Chris Young as the pitching coach while the Braves young arms are thriving under Rick Kranitz who was unceremoniously dumped for Young. They still don’t bunt runners over or steal bases despite having the personnel to do so. Giving the benefit of the doubt as it pertains to the makeshift bullpen they have thrown out this year, it has still been severely misused in many instances. Overall grade: D
Their leading hitter (Cesar Hernandez) is hitting just .285, though Kingery is at .297 without the needed at bats to qualify. Their leading HR hitter (Hoskins) has 20 despite playing in a bandbox of a ballpark in a season where the ball is blatantly juiced. Their primary offseason acquisition, $330 million man, Bryce Harper, is hitting just .253 though he leads the team in RBI with 62. For all the crap he took about lack of hustle last year (my assumption all along was that he was saving his body for free agency) Harper has played a decent LF and has stretched multiple singles into doubles. That aggressiveness has backfired on more occasions than most would like as he’s been thrown out on the base paths 8 times in the first half (not including caught stealing). Hopefully, he’s ready to turn it on in the 2nd half like he did last year. Jean Segura and J.T. Realmuto have been up and down but are both hovering around their career numbers despite Segura’s increased K count. Al in all, the revamped offense has not produced as expected especially after the loss of Andrew McCutchen who was on all-star pace before his injury. Overall grade: C
Well, we have Aaron Nola (8-2, 3.74 ERA)- at least recently- and Hector Neris (1-3, 17 saves, 3.16 ERA). Everything else in between is a crap-shoot from day to day. Arrieta (8-7, 4.67) is proving that his 1st year in a Phils uniform was not a fluke. The remainder of the rotation has been disaster, for the most part. Nick Pivetta (4-3, 5.84) and Zach Eflin (7-8, 3.78) have both had good stretches but have been unable to stay on track consistently. The bullpen (outside of Neris) has been an injury-ravaged disaster. Can they turn it around in the 2nd half as they get healthier? One can only hope. Overall grade: C-
2nd Half Outlook
In the first 2 1/2 weeks of the 2nd half, the Phils will face both the Nationals and Braves, not to mention a 4-game set with the Dodgers (all 3 series at home). They won’t see anyone from the East again until late August at which point they’ll spend the majority of the remainder of the season facing the division. The biggest questions right now are 1) Will Matt Klentak make any moves to help the team as the trade deadline nears and 2) Will he get those moves right (without selling the farm)? So far, his track record hasn’t been great the last 2 years. His 2 best moves to date (non-Harper version) were “sun on a dog’s ass” kinds of moves. McCutchen was brought in as a veteran presence and proceeded to play above anyone’s expectations before his injury. Getting Jay Bruce as a bench bat who was forced into an everyday role by Cutch’s injury seems to have worked out as he leads the team in RBI since getting here. Can he maintain that in the 2nd half?
Every phase of this team needs to be better in the 2nd half if they want to compete for the remaining 72 games (and hopefully beyond). If the bullpen can get healthy (and of course, be productive) that will be the biggest jolt. That said, this team was built to score runs but after 90 games, they’ve only scored 2 more runs than their opponents. They don’t have the arms to consistently win them games.
It’s been fun to have competitive baseball to watch again and the ballpark has been pretty well filled to date. If they don’t come out swinging (literally and figuratively) in the 2nd half, that’s likely going to change.
Good luck to night J.T.!