After a quick sweep of the Orioles the Phils went into Pittsburgh and left with 2 more wins. Now, they find themselves in first place with one week until the All-Star break. The Phils dispatched the Orioles and then brought out the bats on Friday night against the Pirates.
Nick Pivetta was not at his best in game 1 but ultimately he didn’t need to be. After Pivetta allowed a run in the first, the Phils quickly jumped on top and didn’t look back. Maikel Franco hit a 2 run double in the 2nd to take the lead and Odubel Herrera hit a 3 run bomb that nearly left the park in the 3rd to jump out to a 5-1 lead. Pivetta would allow 2 runs in the 3rd before being lifted early thanks to instability and a rising pitch count. Austin Davis would enter in the 4th and allow a run, cutting the lead to 5-4. It was all Phils from that point on. The Phils added 2 runs in the 6th, 7 in the 7th (including a 3 run blast by Andrew Knapp) and 3 in the 9th. When all was said and done the Phils ended up using 6 arms from the bullpen but thanks to 6 players amassing at least 2 RBI, they walked out with a 17-5 win.
Now that the bats were hot, it was gonna be an easy weekend, right? Not so fast. The bats all but disappeared on Saturday but luckily, the old Jake Arrieta showed up rather than that latest version we saw in June. Arrieta allowed an early run in the first on a single hit through the shift. He then allowed a solo HR in the 3rd to give the Pirates a 2-0 lead. Meanwhile, the offense was being shut down. Herrera did not pick up the Phils first hit until the 4th inning. Not until the 7th inning did the offense make a real appearance. In the 7th, the Phils put together an important 2 out rally. With Carlos Santana on first after a fielders choice, Nick Williams ripped a triple down the right field line. Scott Kingery followed with a first pitch single to center to tie the game up. Surprisingly, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle went to the pen to face Jorge Alfaro who had been stumped by Pirates starter, Jameson Taillon in his first 2 at bats. Alfaro went after the first pitch as well and ripped a double to the gap in right center, knocking in the go ahead run and ultimately being thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple. Suddenly, the Phils were on top 3-2 and it was up to the pen to get 6 more outs following an important shutdown inning by Arrieta in the 7th. Seranthony Dominguez locked down the 8th inning before being lifter for a pinch hitter in the 9th as the Phils loaded the bases and tried to add some insurance. Ultimately, they came up empty and it was up to Victor Arano to close things out. After a leadoff double, Arano struck out the next 2 hitters before wrapping things up with a line out to center. It wasn’t as easy as Friday but it was a 3-2 win.
Sunday was another chance for a young Pirates pitcher to shine and this time, there were no late heroics for the Phils. Nick Kingham threw 6 innings allowing just 4 hits and 1 run (another Nick Williams blast). He also accounted for the eventual game winning runs with a 2 out, 2 run double in the 4th. The double, off of last minute starter Drew Anderson, was hit over Rhys Hoskins’ head with the outfield drawn in. The Buccos would add one more in the 4th. The Phils had a chance with 2 on and no outs in the 6th but Santana fouled out and Williams and Kingery each struck out to end the rally. This time around, there would be no late heroics. Final score, 4-1 Pirates, ending the Phils 6 game win streak.
While things have looked good as far as the schedule lately, Friday was more of the anomaly than the norm offensively. In 5 of their 6 consecutive wins (Friday night excluded), they scored just 3 or 4 runs. Maikel Franco, who continues to be a hot topic due to lack of play (prior to J.P. Crawford’s DL stint) and trade talks has been one of their hottest hitters of late. Franco went 7-15 against the O’s and Pirates. With the trade deadline looming and Crawford (and his .194 average) likely back in a few weeks, it will be interesting to see how Kapler plays out the 3rd base situation. Kingery and Hoskins each added 6 hits as well. Carlos Santana had just 2 hits but, yep…5 more walks. Herrera added 5 hits during the weekend series and hopefully has turned things back around yet again. The most significant stat of late has been the uptick in some of the batting averages that were hovering so low for most of the first half. Most prominently, Kingery has raised his average to .232. That may not sound like much but with as long as he was under .200, that’s big. Santana on the other hand is still at just .219 but does have 51 RBI showing that he’s getting the hits in important spots. It’s hot out now and the bats need to start following suit. This team is getting an unexpected taste of an (early) pennant race and the offense will need to keep up to keep it going.
Three starters went 7 innings this past week. It’s been a while since that happened. The other 2 only combined for 7.2 so that meant bullpen usage and they came up huge. In 15.1 innings, the pen allowed just 2 runs, both in the blowout win on Friday. Arano picked up 2 saves and Dominguez got one as well. With a long week ahead (8 games in 7 days), it’s likely they will be called on some more. The biggest key this week will be solid, efforts from all the starters, including Tuesday’s call-up, Enyel De Los Santos. Their top 2 starters, Aaron Nola (selected as an All-Star on Sunday) and Zach Eflin, will each get 2 starts this week. If they pitch the way they have of late, that bodes well as far as saving the pen.
Around the N.L. East
Braves– It was expected to be one of their toughest stretches yet and it proved to be just that. After a series opening win in the Bronx, the Braves lost the next two games to the Yankees. They moved on to Milwaukee and things didn’t get any better. The Brewers took 3 of 4, including a 10-3 route on Sunday. The 2-5 week dropped the Braves into a 1st place tie with the Phils. Unlike the Phils, this week will be a short one for the Braves. They will head home to finish out the first half. Toronto is sitting near the bottom of the A.L. East and have lost 5 of 7. Then Arizona comes to town. While they have not been as hot as they were early, they are still a 50 win team and sitting atop the N.L. West.
Nationals– The Nats had a tough week as well. The Red Sox came to town and swept the 3 game series. The remedy to that was a fish fry. The Marlins came to town and the Nats won the first 3 games by a combined score of 35-18 before losing the finale on Sunday, 10-2. A lot of offense but not a lot of help from the mound (3 games allowing 10+ runs) which won’t win too many series. The Nats now sit 5 games back of the Phils and Braves. However, they may get some more of that needed medicine this week with 3 in Pittsburgh and 4 in New York with the Mets. Both teams are struggling and may be just what the Nats need to wake up heading into the break.
Mets– The Mets, near the bottom of the N.L. East had 5 games against the bottom of the A.L. East. It didn’t go so well. After splitting a 2 game set with the Jays, they lost 2 of 3 to the Rays. This week, won’t be as “easy”. Like the Phils, the Mets have 8 games in 7 days. First up is a 4 game set at home with the Phils, starting with a doubleheader on Monday. Then the Nats come in for 4 over the weekend. Sitting 13.5 games out, another rough week could just send them into sell mode at the break/trade deadline.
Marlins– After winning 2 against their A.L. East cellar-dwelling counterpart, the Rays, the Nats took 2 of 3 and the Fish sit 14.5 games out. With 3 against Milwaukee and 3 against the Phils this week, I’m not expecting to see much of a rise in the standings.
The Phils restructured their rotation to send their top 2 starters to the mound on Monday. If Eflin and Nola can get some offensive help and come away with a DH sweep, that would be a huge start to a huge week. Enyel De Los Santos and a returning Vince Velasquez will close out the series in New York. Nick Pivetta will start the makeup game in Baltimore on Thursday. Pivetta hasn’t made it out of the 3rd inning in any of his last 2 starts and has only gone past 5 once in his last 8 starts. Another poor/short start and we may see a change in the rotation in the 2nd half (especially if De Los Santos does well). Arrieta, Eflin and Nola will go to the mound against the Marlins to close out the first half of the season. Will they still be atop the division? That will depend on multiple factors but as has been the case all year, it will start with the rotation. It’s going to be a long week and they’ll need to eat innings. Another offensive output (or 2) like Friday night can’t hurt either to help take the load off the rotation.
It’s been an interesting ride so far, here’s hoping the Phils can cruise to the midway point and find the pieces they need to keep things rolling to a pennant in the 2nd half.