After a 4-2 week, the Phils are obviously still cellar-dwelling but they are over .500 in the early going of the 2nd half. Considering 3 of their 4 losses in that time were conceded by the bullpen, they are showing that they have some potential to right the ship…in time. The Phils started things off in Miami with another come from ahead loss. Jerad Eickhoff had trouble keeping Giancarlo Stanton in the ballpark and despite and early lead, he could not capitalize. The bullpen held strong until extra innings when Mark Leiter Jr. nearly worked his way out of a 1 out triple before finally allowing a walkoff single to Dee Gordon. They turned the table the following night with some late inning power. Maikel Franco broke an 8th inning tie with a HR and Nick Wiilliams added 2 more on a blast of his own in the 9th to wrap up the win. The bats all came out on Wednesday night in a 20 hit, 10 run explosion where every starter except Odubel Herrera (1) had at least 2 hits. Nick Pivetta scatters 3 runs over 5.1 innings including yet another HR to Stanton, his 4th of the series. The Phils headed home for a weekend set with the Brewers and started strong. Aaron Nola shut down a normally potent, but struggling of late offense with 1 run over 7 innings with 9 K’s. The Brewers torched Jeremy Hellickson for 6 runs in 5 innings and eventually extended the lead to 8-1. However, in a rare sight, the Phils offense made a valiant surge with 7 runs in the 7th and 8th innings to tie things up. Hector Neris ruined pulled the carpet out from under them quickly in the 9th and the Brewers rallied for the 9-8 win. Eickhoff rallied from his previous start to shut the Brewers down on Sunday allowing just 3 hits and 2 runs in 6 innings of work. Nick Williams and Howie Kendrick did the rest as the Phils went on to win the game and their 2nd straight series. With both the offense and pitching (mostly) clicking together, the Phightins are showing signs of life heading towards the trade deadline.
The offense certainly had a strong week highlighted by their 20 hit outing against the Marlins. The interesting piece is that, for a change, it’s not just 1 or 2 guys carrying the load. Nearly everyone in the lineup was productive this week, highlighted by Williams (.309 since being called up) and Franco (average up to .229) who combined for 16 hits, 3 HR’s and 14 RBI. Williams also had 2 2B’s and 2 3B’s. Freddy Galvis and Herrera had 10 and 9 hits, respectively with 3 2B’s each. Howie Kendrick picked up where he left off before hitting the DL and added 4 more hits, bolstering his trade value. With 45 runs scored in 6 games, the offense showed what they can do. The biggest question is whether they can keep it up for any extended period.
The rotation put together 4 solid starts and 2 not-so-stellar ones. Eickhoff played Jekyll and Hyde getting beat up in his outing with the Marlins before shutting down the Brewers and finally earning his 2nd win (both this month). Aaron Nola is starting to round into ace form with 6 straight quality starts and lowering his ERA by nearly a point in the last month (4.32 to 3.38 since 6/22). Since allowing 5 runs to the D-backs on 6/16, he has allowed just 8 runs in his last 6 starts combined. One of the more surprising (?) showings this week was turned in by Vince Velasquez. In his return from the DL, Velasquez allowed just 4 hits and 2 runs (1 earned) to the Marlins in 6 innings of work. Most importantly, he threw just 79 pitches in those 6 innings. This was by far one of his most economical outings in a long time. The bullpen was relatively successful as well allowing just 5 runs in 17+ innings of work. The timing of some of those runs is the troubling part, with Neris and Leiter allowing go ahead runs after the offense had battled back. Oh, and Adam Morgan just stinks. Overall, things are looking up. Will the eventual removal of Pat Neshek cause a slip? We’ll more than likely find out soon enough.
Around the N.L. East
Nationals– The Nats have come out of the break on fire, winning 7 of 9, and have finally given themselves some additional breathing room. After finishing off the 4 game sweep of the Reds on Monday, the Nats flew out west and split a quick 2 game series with the Angels. A trip to Arizona started with their 2nd straight loss (after 5 straight wins to start the 2nd half). Things turned around as the weekend went on and the Nats took the next 2 to finish the week at 4-2 and extend their lead to 12 games. The Nats will head home for this first time since the All Star break. They will get a Brewers team who lost 7 of 10 since the break but are still tied for the Central lead with the Cubs. The Rockies come in next for 3 more. They Rockies have scored 9 or more runs 5 times since the All Star break but have also conceded 9 or more 3 times in that same span. Depending which team shows up, this could be an interesting series for the Nats.
Braves– Things have been on a bit of a see-saw since the break for the Braves. After stating the 2nd half with a 3 game sweep of the D-backs, the Cubs came to town this week and swept them. The Nats then headed out west and won the first 2 against the red-hot Dodgers before losing the next two over the weekend. The 2-5 week put a major dent into any momentum they had put together and combined with the Nats solid trip, they now have a much more sizable mountain to climb. They will finish off their west coast trip this week with 3 games against the D-backs and will be hoping for similar results as the last time they met. The D-backs are 3-6 since the break and falling fast in the West so they’ll be looking to right the ship.
Mets– After dropping the first 2 games of a 4 game set with the Cards, the Mets looked like they were fading fast. However, after winning the next 2 as well as 2 of 3 from the A’s, the Mets are now withing striking distance of the Braves. They are still pretty far out of it but showing signs of life despite the numerous injuries they’ve sustained this year. They picked a good time to heat up as well. The Mets head out west this week but they will face the Padres (4 games) and Mariners (3 games), 2 teams who have equally as little chance in their respective league and division. If they can get healthy, they may at least set their sights on a wild card run if they can first leap frog over the Braves.
Marlins– The 2nd half hasn’t been much friendlier than the 1st half was for the Fish. After being swept by the Dodgers, the Phils came to town and took 2 of 3. Going on the road seemed to help however as they were able to take the first 2 games in a series with the Reds before losing Sunday. Overall, the Marlins are just 3-6 since the break and are likely in heavy trade talks as they are most seasons around this time. They will start the week off with a 3 game set with the Rangers in Texas before heading back home for 4 with the Reds. While they are no more out of the WC race than the Braves or Mets, they have some extra work to do and this week, with 2 struggling teams is when they would need to start their push.
The Phils have been heating up lately but they will certainly get a test this week as the 2nd best team in baseball comes to Citizens Bank Park. While they haven’t been as hot since the break, they are still an extremely good team and will prove to be a major test for where the Phils truly are right now. The Braves will come to town for 4 games (wraparound series) after that and the results of the Astros series may play a part mentally in that series. If the Phils can split the week with a winning record, that will give this team a major boost. I’ve said it a million times in this spot but we’re finally seeing the fruits of what can happen when all parts of this team click at the same time. The question now is how long they can keep it up for.