The Phils started he week with another series win in St. Louis before making a trip to the Nations capital to take on the Nationals.
Game 1 went exactly the way you’d hope a division series would start. After scoring a run in the first on a Carlos Santana RBI single, Zach Eflin promptly gave 2 runs back to the Nats. After that, it was all Phils. Odubel Herrera, Santana (4 RBI) and Andrew Knapp all homered. Nick Williams knocked in 3 runs as the Phils cruised to a 12-2 win. Eflin only managed to go 5 innings but, for a change, the bullpen was able to shut the Nats down for 4 innings, allowing just 2 hits and a walk.
The Maikel Franco quandary continued in game 2. With Franco seeing more consistent playing time due to J.P. Crawford’s injury, we’ve seen/heard more from the “what he CAN be” contingent. Franco went 4-4 with 2 runs and an RBI. After Aaron Nola allowed 2 runs in the first, there had to be some fans wondering if he was tiring based on his last start. Nola quickly shut down those thoughts as well as the Nats for the remainder of his 6 innings of work. After allowing the early runs, the Phils jumped right back into game. Jorge Alfaro singled home a run in the 2nd and Nola helped himself by knocking in a run of his own and tying the game at 2. Both teams offenses were held in check for the next 4 innings until Jesmuel Valentin knocked in Franco in the 7th to give the Phils the lead. The Phils would knock in some insurance in the 8th on a Santana HR and Franco’s RBI single. Adam Morgan allowed yet another HR in 8th but Seranthony Dominguez was able to close it out in the 9th for the 5-3 win.
With brooms in hand, the Phils showed up looking for a sweep on a nationally televised Sunday Night Baseball game. Unfortunately, what those watching at home saw was the worst of what they had to offer…their bullpen. Much like his last outing, Nick Pivetta threw a gem (including coming back out after a 40 minute rain delay) only to have a win taken away by his bullpen. Pivetta allowed 8 hits and 2 runs over 5 innings. The rain played a factor in the 2 runs he allowed and in his having to leave eh game after just 87 pitches. Rhys Hoskins homered in the 3rd for an early 2-0 lead. In the 4th, the rain started falling hard and you could tell Pivetta was uncomfortable with the wet conditions. After a leadoff HR, Pivetta allowed 3 straight singles, knotting the game at 2 before the umpiring crew called for the tarp. After the rain delay, Pivetta returned and struck out the next 3 batters he faced to finish off the inning. The Phils scored 4 runs the following inning on a 2 run triple by Herrera and a 2 run HR by Williams. Pivetta would get in a bit of trouble in the 5th but worked his way out of it. Now, the Phils needed 12 outs from their bullpen with a 4 run lead. Easy, right? Edubray Ramos started things off as if it would be retiring the first 2 batters he faced. That was followed up with PH single, RBI triple, pitching change to worthless rookie (Austin Davis), and back to back RBI doubles. Now a 6-5 game, the Phils needed 9 outs with just a 1 run lead. Tommy Hunter got into and out of trouble in the 7th. 6 outs left… Victor Arano walked the leadoff batter in the 8th then recorded the first out before Kapler went to the pen again bringing in Dominguez. Bryce Harper doubled again. With 2nd and 3rd, Dominguez got the 2nd out and Kapler intentionally walked the bases loaded. Single, single, 3 runs and a blown lead. In my eyes, Kapler overused the pen AGAIN with his matchup approach. There is no way to know if Arano could have worked out of the 8th but no need to put Dominguez in that situation after pitching the night before. Let him start the 8th or 9th with clear bases. OK, off the pedestal again. Final result…an 8-6 loss and a blown opportunity for a sweep. Maybe they’ll get another chance this week.
It’s always a nice (if not extremely rare) to look at the stats and notice that none of the starters batted under .200 for the week. Even those who didn’t hit much (.238 for Santana and Scott Kingery) had higher OBP (.393 and .273, respectively). The offense pounded out 60 hits, 21 of the extra bases variety. Herrera had 12 hits including a double, a triple and a HR in 5 straight games between Sunday and Friday. Carlos Santana hit 3 bombs of his own. The team had a .283 average for the week which is virtually unheard of this season. There were even 2 out hits with runners on base. Was the week an anomaly? Phils fans are hoping not.
Tangent: Is it just me or does Santana hit more weak grounders/choppers that don’t leave the infield (often resulting in hits based on defense, mind you) than anyone else his size…possibly in the history of the sport?
It was a pretty good week for the starters as long as you ignore the wins and losses. The starters allowed 15 runs in their 6 starts (2.5 per start) and came away with just 2 wins. Possibly more surprising is that the 2 looses were both charged to Dominguez. It was certainly not his best week since coming up. He allowed 3 runs on 4 hits (including his first HR) and a walk in just 2.1 innings. That was just a fraction of the 13 runs that the bullpen allowed as a whole in 18.1 innings. The starters left both losses with a lead the bullpen did the rest. With the offense seemingly getting things together, the bullpen is crushing this team right now and the coaching staff needs to figure it out. That could mean defined roles for the pitchers. It could mean the coaching staff figuring out fixes. It could mean they just aren’t that talented. Whatever it is, it could end up being the reason the Phils stay in the playoff race or start falling. Aaron Nola is currently 5th in the N.L. in ERA (2.58) and Jake Arrieta is 12th (3.42) despite a few rough outings of late. The Phils starters also occupy the 6th through 8th (Pivetta, Aaron Nola, Vince Velasquez) spots in strikeouts. Where the trouble comes in is innings. Nola is tied for 2nd at 101.1 but the next Phils starter on the list is Pivetta at 23. The starters simply need to go longer to give them selves a chance.
Around the N.L. East
Braves– The Braves finally struggled and it happened against a couple of unlikely opponents. They began the week splitting a 2 game series in Toronto before returning home and losing 2 of 3 to the Orioles. The result was the Phils gaining a game and a half in the standings. The Nats even gained ground but fell to 3rd in the standings. They’ll get another chance this week at a couple of struggling teams. First up is the Reds at home before making a trip for 3 more in St. Louis. The Brave will look to take better advantage of the schedule this week than last especially with the Phils upcoming schedule.
Nationals– The Nats did one better than the Braves in taking 2 of 3 from the Orioles before the Phils came to town and swept…I mean won 2 of 3. This week they start off with a 2 game set in Tampa who have won 3 straight. Then, it’s 4 more with the Phils, this time at CBP.
Mets– After winning the lat 2 games of their series in Arizona last weekend, the Mets rolled into Denver and blew out the Rockies 12-2 to open a 4 game set. They then proceeded to lose 6 straight. The Rockies won the final 3 games of the series then the Dodgers came into New York and swept the Mets in a 3 game set over the weekend. Sitting 12.5 back, there are rumors already flying of the Mets discussing trades for their starters which would ultimately signal a rebuild. Whether it happens or it’s just New York paper fodder, we won’t know for at least a few more weeks but the talk could get louder if the losing continues. First up this week though is a 3 game home set with the Pirates who have lost 5 straight of their own. Then it’s a trip to Miami for 3 in what could be a battle for last place in the East.
Marlins– The Marlins started a trip out west and there were mixed results. They dropped 2 games in San Fran before winning 2 in Colorado. The 3-3 week allowed them to gain 2.5 games on the Mets at the bottom of the standings and they now just a game and a half behind with a series upcoming in Miami. First up though is 4 games at home with the D-Backs at home. If they can keep pace, the New York series may be interesting…for those who care about races for last place.
We knew June was going to be tough and it started out that way. However, the Phils have now turned things around and won 4 straight series to climb back to 2nd in the East. Things aren’t getting any easier any time soon. The Yankees come into CBP for a 3 game series starting Monday night. Arguably the best team in baseball (though they are coming in after a surprising sweep by the Rays), they could provide a true indicator of where this Phillies team is really at. If the starters can’t eat some innings, that offense will FEAST on the struggling bullpen. They’ll also need the offense to keep up their current pace, if not exceed it. Velasquez will start the opener followed by Arrieta and Eflin. The homestand continues with the Nats coming to town for 4 games. Depending how the early part of the week goes for both teams (and even the Braves), this could be a battle for 2nd or maybe even first. Nola and Pivetta will open the series with Velasquez and Arrieta looking to close it out.
The schedule lightens up significantly as July rolls around. If the Phils can manage to make some noise this week (or at least stay close), things could get interesting leading up to the All Star game and the trade deadline. If that’s the case, maybe there will be more mentions of Matt Klentak in this space than Gabe Kapler…at least temporarily.