After the debacle of a Brewers series, the Phils did a complete 180 as the Rockies came to town. It’s been a little more than a month since we’ve seen the $330M version of Bryce Harper that most envisioned. Unfortunately for the Rockies, he showed up in a big way in the 3 game series.
Friday night, Andrew McCutchen was the star but Harper did his part as (hopefully) the beginning of his turnaround. McCutchen hit a 2-run homer, walked twice and threw out a runner at home as the Phils took the series opener 5-4. After Cole Irvin allowed the first 2 runs of the game (1 earned) in the 2nd and 3rd innings, McCutchen blasted his 6th homer of the year to tie the game in the bottom of the 3rd. Cesar Hernandez scored J.T. Realmuto on a double to left to break the tie in the 4th before Harper ripped a double to the gap in right center to plate 2 more in the 5th. After Irvin allowed a solo homer in the 6th, the bullpens took over. The teams combined to score runs in 5 straight innings before the bullpens shut things down for the final 3 innings capped by Hector Neris’ 6th save of the year.
On Saturday afternoon, the pitching…for the most part…took over. In the bottom of the first, some poor soul taking a leisurely stroll through Ashburn Alley was (not really) reportedly killed by a Bryce Harper (who also double later in the game) blast that flew 466 feet over both brick walls in centerfield and landed in the open concourse area. Jean Segura scored on a wild pitch in the 3rd to extend the Phils lead to 2-0. Aaron Nola (6 IP, 8 H, 12K, 1 BB) kept the potent Rockies lineup quiet through 6 innings. Gabe Kapler made the call to send Nola out for the 7th despite a pitch could nearing 100 and nearly cost the Phils a win…twice. Nola threw 7 pitches in the inning allowing a triple and an RBI double. Adam Morgan came in and retired the only batter he faced before Kapler decided to go back to the pen and called on a struggling Seranthony Dominguez. Dominguez managed to get a grounder to 3rd where Maikel Franco made the throw home to get the runner and keeping the game-tieing run off the board. Dominguez then allowed a single and walked a batter to load the bases before a groundout ended the threat. Hector Neris pitched 2 strong innings to get his 7th save of the year and the Phils held on for the 2-1 win.
The Rockies brought out the bats on Sunday afternoon, homering 4 times but the Phils hung around until Harper came through for the 3rd straight game. Jerad Eickhoff pitched well through 5 innings allowing just 4 hits. The problem is that 3 of them went over the outfield wall and accounted for the 4 runs he allowed. After allowing a leadoff homer to Charlie Blackmon to start the game, the Phils took the lead in the 3rd. After the first 3 batters reached base, Eickhoff mercifully struck out avoiding any potential for multiple outs. McCutchen came up and hit the ball deep to left center which found the gap and plated 2 runs. After a Segura walk loaded the bases again, Harper came up and, instead of hitting it 400+ feet again, decided to go the short route and hit it about 85 feet towards first plating the 3rd run of the inning. Eickhoff allowed a solo shot in the 4th and a 2 run homer in the 5th to concede the lead. Jose Alvarez took over in the 6th and recorded 2 quick outs before allowing the Rockies 4th homer of the game and the Rockies were up 5-3. In the bottom of the 6th, after a leadoff walk to Andrew Knapp, Kapler went to his best weapon off the bench and it paid off. Realmuto blasted a 2-run homer to left to tie the game at 5. After a groundout and a Segura single (extending his hitting streak to 10 games), Harper came up once again and bombed a 3-1 slider into the Phils bullpen. Three more bullpen arms held the lead over the final 3 innings culminating in Pat Neshek’s 3rd save and the Phils swept the Rockies away with the 7-5 in.
Things can flip in a heartbeat but it sure seems that Harper has found his swing again. Jean Segura also continues to rake hitting .393 during the last week while extending his hitting streak and is now hitting .322 on the year. Cesar Hernandez added 8 hits during the week upping his average to .301. While the overall .235 average Harper is up to may not be on par with Segura and Hernandez, it’s a significant increase from where he’s been of late. On the other end of the spectrum however, after combining for just 8 hits during the week, Hoskins, Franco and Odubel Herrera are all struggling mightily and watching their averages drop. Franco, after his hot start to the season is now hitting just .228. Scott Kingery returned to the lineup on Sunday after a stint on the DL. He got the start in center in place of Herrera. After picking up a hit in his first AB, picking up where he left off, he finished the day 1-3 and may eat into some more of Herrera and Franco’s playing time with the middle infield pretty well set at this point. The weather is heating up and hopefully the bats are following suit though they’ll have to do it on the road for a while where they are currently hitting slightly better (.245 vs. .243 at home) but haven’t produced the same results in the standings. As they head out on the road, they are currently just 9-9 away from CBP compared to 18-10 at home.
Once again, the bullpen was called upon to carry a heavy workload and for the most part, they did the job. Neris and Neshek each recorded 2 saves without allowing any runs. However, as the Phils continue to shuffle relief arms up and down from Lehigh, the results are as inconsistent as the names on the daily roster and the results often show (see Edgar Garcia, Austin Davis, etc.). We can’t blame the bullpen though without first putting the onus on the starters who are forcing the extended use of the pen. The Brewers forced the Phils to extend their bullpen twice and that set the tone for the week. The starters were better in the Rockies series but the starters not named Zach Eflin need to more consistently extend themselves to 6 or 7 innings. Case in point: Since opening his mouth a month ago about his offensive counterparts not producing, Jake Arrieta is 1-3 and has raised his ERA by nearly a point and a half. More pitching, less bitching, please.
Around the N.L. East
Braves– The Braves took 2 of 3 from both the Cardinals and Brewers and currently sit 2.5 back of the Phils. The Braves will have an interesting travel week as they have to fly to San Fran for a 4 game set with the Giants before heading back through the Midwest and 3 games in St. Louis.
Mets– Things didn’t go as well for the Mets. After winning their series opener in D.C., the Mets proceeded to lose 5 straight including a sweep at the hands of the lowly Marlins in Miami and now sit 6.5 back of the Phils. After 15 of 18 games on the road, the Mets will spend the week in New York. First up, the Nats come in for 4 games before the Tigers come in for a 3 game set. Both series are winnable but…they just got swept by the Marlins!
Nationals– After taking 2 of 3 from the Mets, the Cubs came into D.C. and took 2 of 3. The 3-3 week has the Nats sitting 8 back of the Phils and closer to the bottom than the top (just 5 games ahead of the Marlins). They’ll start an “8 day week” with 4 games in New York against the Mets before the the Marlins come into town for a 4 game wraparound series.
Marlins– 13 games back. You don’t care about anything else.
The Phils have a tough road ahead of them as they head to the Midwest to take on 2 of the top teams in the N.L. First up is 4 games in Chicago with the 27-17 Cubs. The series will contain 2 reunions. Arrieta will take on his old team in the series opener as he faces Yu Darvish. Zach Eflin faces Jose Quintana in game 2. It’s Cole (Irvin) vs. Cole (Hamels) in game 3 as the Phils face their former ace. Aaron Nola will close out the series against Jon Lester. After leaving Chicago, the Phils are off to Milwaukee for (hopefully) some retribution in a 3 game series against the Brewers. Jerad Eickhoff opens the series before Arrieta and Eflin close out the series. This will be a tough week and could very well help figure out exactly who this team is…a good team in a bad division or just a good team. Without asking for too much, a winning record on a tough road trip would be acceptable but they’ll certainly hope for more.
If the Phils want to hang onto the division, they need to take care of business outside of it.