Top of the Order Powering Phils

Don’t look now fans but your Phils are looking semi-respectable. After a 5-2 week, the Phils are back to .500 (9-9) and in 3rd place in the East.

The Phils had some timely hitting and excellent pitching over the weekend holding the Braves (who finally realized they are the Braves) to just 8 runs. Hellickson, Eickhoff and Eflin all pitched well enough to get wins however Hellickson (3-0) is the only one who earned it. Lack of run support and/or bullpen help resulted in no-decisions for the other 2. Hellickson scattered 2 runs over 7 innings on Friday while Cesar Hernandez (.338 avg. & 4 HR) put together 3 hits and 2 runs scored while holding on for a 4-3 win.

Saturday saw another blown lead by the bullpen before Maikel Franco came up big in the 10th. After Edubray Ramos gave up the typing run in the 9th (Neris and Benoit both resting) and Jeanmar Gomez conceded the go-ahead run in the 10th, Franco got his shot with the bases loaded and ripped a liner to right to plate 2 and get the walk-off. Eickhoff allowed just one run and two hits over 5 innings but was denied a decision thanks to the ‘pen.

The Phils went for and got the sweep on Sunday behind some very timely hitting from the top of the order. The Phils and Braves were tied at one after Zach Eflin through 7 strong innings. However, instead of just getting themselves on base as would be expected from the “table setters”, Hernandez, Aaron Altherr and Odubel Herrera performed a feat not seem since a couple guys named Utley, Howard and Burrell were in their primes. The 1,2 and 3 hitters went back to back to back around the outfield wall. Hernandez took a pitch to right for a 2 run shot to take the lead. Altherr came up and followed that with a blast to center followed by Herrera going opposite field to left. The 4 run 8th held up even after Neris conceded a run in the 9th.

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Offense

Surprisingly, the offense put more runs up against the Mets than they did the Braves but it all added up to 5 wins. It was mentioned last week that the power in the lineup is coming from the wrong places in the lineup. While Hernandez is certainly not a prototype middle of the order guy, his average and increased power may force Pete Mackanin to start making some tweaks to the lineup to produce more runs. The current 3-4-5 hitters are hitting a combined .210 with just 4 HR’s (the same # as Hernandez).  Altherr and Daniel Nava have filled in well for Howie Kendrick and will more than likely earn some more playing time in right (in place of Saunders) when Kendrick returns.

Pitching

Hellickson has been stellar (3-0, 1.88 ERA) and 3 of the 5 current starters have a 2.55 ERA or below. Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez, the other 2, both put together solid outings but need to show it more consistently. Pat Neshek and Luis Garcia still have unblemished ERA’s while Hector Neris gave up a few runs this week but still sits at 1.55. If the remainder of the bullpen can start to be even adequate, the Phils might stand a better chance of hanging closer to the top of the division rather than the bottom but they will need run support.

Around the N.L. East

Nationals– The Nats walked off last Sunday against the Phils and haven’t looked back since. After Bryce Harper’s bomb sent the Washington crowd home happy, the Nats went into Atlanta and New York and swept both series extending their win streak to 7. They’ve gone from a division tie to a 3 game lead over the Marlins and 4 over the Phils. The pitching has been dominating for them and if the offense gets into a consistent groove, it will be a long summer for the rest of the East. The Nats will head out west for a 4 game set with the Rockies before coming back home to face the Mets again for 3 more.

Marlins– The Fish were in a tie with the Nats this time last week but failed to take advantage of 2 weak teams on the west coast. After winning 3 straight against the Mets last week, the Marlins headed out west and the jet-lag resulted in losing 2 of 3 to the Mariners and the first of 3 in San Diego. The West Coast malaise finally wore off as the Marlins won the weekend in San Diego by a combined 13-6 margin. The Fish are now 3 games back as they come back east for a Pennsylvania tilt. They will start the week with 3 in Philly before heading out to Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates for 3 more.

Mets– The Mets had a rough week against the Phils and Nats. If not for a couple of lasers from Jay Bruce off the Phils pitching, it could have easily been an 0-6 week. The Mets have been surviving on the HR since the season began and it may be catching up with them. Without some additional run support, the pitching staff won’t be able to carry this team all season. A 3 game home set with the Braves may be just what the Mets doctor ordered to get back into the swing of things. The downside is that the week will end with a trip to D.C. for 3. After losing 3 straight at home to the Nats, things may not be any easier away from the confines of New York.

Braves– Well, that’s more like it! The Braves lost 6 straight to the Nats and Phils and are sitting firmly in last place. With trips to New York and Milwaukee on the horizon, a couple of struggling teams might just help the Braves out…or maybe to quote Dennis Green, “They are what we thought they were”.

The Phils will look to add on to their mini-streak with a 3 game set at home with the Marlins. Vince Velasquez will look to build on his last outing against Wei-Yin Chen on Tuesday. Wednesday’s starter against Edinson Volquez is still a TBD  and Hellickson will finish the series off against Adam Conley. A solid showing could have them looking up at just the Nats in a few days.

Once they finish up with the Fish, they’ll head out west to see Chase Utley and the Dodgers. The Dodgers have been up and down and are currently sitting at 9-10. The Phils will see a 3-0 Brandon McCarthy, an 0-3 Hyun-Jin Ryu and some guy named Kershaw. Runs will not be easy to come by off McCarthey and Kershaw so the Phils pitching staff needs to be at it’s best.

Things are looking up but consistency will be the key over the next couple months before Klentak needs to decide which way to go.

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