Things started the way most thought they would as the Astros came to town and blasted the Phils 18-4 in the first two games of the week. However, the Phils turned the table and closed out the series with a 9-0 win. Vince Velasquez was rocked for 6 hits and 4 runs in just three innings of work in the series opener as the Astros went on to win 13-4. He would atone for that later in the week. Nick Pivetta’s line of 5 runs in 6 innings looks a lot better if you take out the 6th inning when he conceded 4 of those 5 runs. Even without the 6th inning lapse, the offense was shutout once again negating anything the pitching staff could do. The Phils turned things around in the series finale. Aaron Nola shut down one of the best offenses in baseball and the Phils bats came alive for 9 extra base hits including 2 HR’s from Cameron Rupp in a 9-0 win to close out the series. Jake Thompson got a last minute start when the Phils scratched Jeremy Hellickson for the series opener with the Braves and pitched 5 scoreless innings. Aaron Altherr did his part with 2 HR’s and the Phils took the opener 10-3. The next 2 games were highlighted by pitching and late game heroics. Odubel Herrera and Ty Kelly did the honors on Saturday night with a 9th inning, game tieing HR by Herrera and a 2 out single by Kelly in the 11th. As mentioned earlier, Velasquez redeemed himself from his start against the Astros on Sunday with 7 scoreless innings. Luis Garcia couldn’t hold the one run lead (snapping his 21 1/3 inning scoreless streak) but Freddy Galvis picked him up with a 9th inning bases loaded single for the Phils 2nd straight walk-off win and a 4-2 week. The Phils will close out a wraparound series with the Braves this afternoon before heading out west.
The Phils managed to put together 26 extra base hits during the Astros and Braves series and nearly the entire team hit for average. Nick Williams and Maikel Franco struggled at the plate but still managed to pick up 6 RBI between them. Odubel Herrera was, according to Pete Mackanin, “not benched” again after more showboating (bat flip on a fly out) and lack of hustle (walking off after a strikeout in the dirt) but certainly got the message with 8 hits including a 2B and a HR. Cesar Hernandez added 10 hits and Galvis and Tommy Joseph had 7 each. Even Cameron Rupp had 6 hits with 3 of them leaving the yard. The balanced offense is a sign of what is hopefully to come in the future. With Altherr now leading the team in average (.290) and OBP (.364) and tied for the HR lead with Joseph (16), Herrera staying hot throughout July and Hernandez picking up where he left off after his DL stint, things are looking better offensively. More consistency like this past week will certainly bode well as we head toward September call-ups and another youth insurgence.
After conceding 18 runs in the first two games of the week, the pitching staff allowed just 7 in the next 4 games. Jessen Therrien made his debut with a scoreless inning after dominating in the minors this year and Pedro Beato made his first ML appearance in 3 years but after 2/3 scoreless innings, found his way onto the DL. Aaron Nola continued to roll. Overall, with the exception of rough starts by Velasquez and Pivetta against the Astros and two equally abysmal outings from Hoby Milner (4 runs in 5 2/3 innings) and Ricardo Pinto (5 runs in 1 1/3 innings), the staff was pretty much lights out. Hector Neris recorded 2 wins with 5 scoreless innings of work. Since the AS break, the team has a 3.91 ERA which is even better when you account for just a few arms who have significantly elevated that number (see: Hellickson, Pivetta, Mark Leiter Jr., Adam Morgan, etc.). Like the offense, if the pitching staff can keep this up, the 2nd half of the season should not be nearly as painful as the first.
Around the N.L. East
Nationals– The Nats didn’t do anything spectacular this week but they didn’t really have to. After taking 2 of 3 from the Brewers at home, the Rockies came in and won 2 out of 3 including splitting a double header on Sunday after a Friday rain out. Even with the 3-3 week, the Nats extended their division lead and seem to have put all 3 chasers in the rear view mirror at this point. They will head into Miami to start the week where the Marlins will hope to change that. Then comes the Central-leading Cubs for 3 more. The battle of division leaders is likely more important to the Cubs with the Brewers just 2.5 back.
Marlins– The Fish jumped from 4th to 2nd and gained a game and a half but still sit 13 games back of the Nats. They started the week taking 2 of 3 from the Rangers capped off by a 22-10 explosion. They returned home for a 4 game set with the Reds and proceeded to take the first 3 before dropping the series finale. This past week was a good start but the next 2 will be even more important as they will face off with the Nats 7 time starting with a 3 game set at home to start this week. If they can make up ground there, they’ll head to Atlanta and try to put some distance between themselves and the free-falling Braves.
Mets– The Mets had a chance against lower level competition this week but squandered it with a 3-4 record. After taking the first 2 against the Padres, the Mets conceded the next 2 and settled for a split. They opened their series in Seattle with a win as well but lost the next 2. This week will not get any easier. They will finish their west coast swing in Colorado with 3 against the Rockies before returning home for a 3 game set with the Dodgers.
Braves– The Braves kept themselves in the thick of things much longer than anyone anticipated but the wheels have fallen off lately. After a sweep of the D-backs to start the 2nd half, the Braves have now lost 10 of 13. This week, it was the D-backs and Phils that did the damage. In losing 5 of 6, the Braves conceded 10 runs 3 times and scored more than 3 runs just once (their only win). After finishing their series with the Phils, the Dodgers and Marlins will come into Atlanta for 3 games each and are not likely to help things get better.
After a Monday matinee with the Braves to finish off the wrap around series, the Phils will hop on a flight out west. They will start a 3 game set with the Angels on Tuesday then they’ll head to Colorado for the weekend. The series at Coors Field could prove to be a good test for the resurgent pitching staff and an opportunity for the offense. Both teams are theoretically better than the Phils but are beatable when the Phils put all of their pieces together. If they can have a week similar to last week, they may just not be the worst team in baseball someday (currently 2 wins behind the Giants and White Sox). Hey…it’s not a lot but it’s something, right?