PHILLIES left fielder Rhys Hoskins set to take part in Monday night's MLB Home Run Derby *** PHILLIES NOW 53-41 and lead the NL EAST by 1.5 games *** PHILLIES begin four-day break for MLB ALL-STAR GAME following Sunday's series finale *** BE BOLD ***

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Phillies may fall short in the Manny Machado Derby

Manny Machado (picture: Yahoo Sports)
While Rhys Hoskins was getting passed by Kyle Schwarber in the semi-finals of the Home Run Derby last night, it appears that the Los Angeles Dodgers may have also passed the Phillies in the Manny Machado Derby.
MLB insider Jon Heyman of Fancred Sports was first out with the story on Twitter this morning:
Breaking; The Dodgers appear to be the leading contender for superstar Manny Machado as talks head toward the finish line. The situation is fluid and brewers and phillies may still have an outside chance. Barring turnabout, deal should be done this week. Story comin on @Fancred
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 17, 2018
Just yesterday it was the Phillies who were considered the leader to land the services of the superstar Baltimore Orioles shortstop. They were willing to include the organizational number two prospect in pitcher Adonis Medina in a deal. That seemed to be a potential deal clincher.
However, Heyman believes that Los Angeles GM Farhan Zaidi may be willing to include their own fourth-rankedorganizational prospect, outfielder Yusniel Diaz, which may have tipped the scales in the Dodgers favor.
It’s difficult to believe that Diaz, a former Cuban defector as a teenager, would make that much of a difference. He is an intriguing prospect. However, scouting reports on his ultimate ceiling have always been mixed. However, perhaps the Orioles see something they really like in the 21-year old outfielder.
The Dodgers lost their own young superstar shortstop, Corey Seager, to injury for the season before it even got underway. He will be back next year, and Machado has stated that he wishes to play shortstop. Heyman addressed this in a full piece later in the morning:
“If he moves to Los Angeles, Machado will effectively be filling in for injured shortstop Corey Seager, the 24-year-old budding star who was lost for the season. That makes it highly likely that he would be a rental for the remainder of the season and then sign with a different organization in the offseason, though that would be re-evaluated after the season.”
Another respected MLB insider, Buster Olney, put out more information on Tuesday morning:
Sources: The Orioles have structure of a deal in place, and are going through the medicals/paperwork portion of the transaction. Dodgers have been very invested in their pursuit of Machado, as have the Phillies and other teams, but this in not finished yet.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 17, 2018
If it is the Dodgers, that might make it easier for the Phillies to lure him with a long-term contract in the coming off-season. That would allow them to keep their top prospects. But it would also mean that the Phillies don’t land the proven impact run producer for which the present lineup is desperate.
Until a deal is actually completed and announced with some team, the Phillies are still in it. But it may be difficult to see them actually being the winner in this Machado derby without including pitching phenom Sixto Sanchez. His inclusion would appear to be a deal-breaker, as it probably should be at this point.

Monday, July 16, 2018

MLB Power Ranking: All-Star break

The Yankees and Red Sox again battle atop the AL East
We have reached the Major League Baseball All-Star Game break, and the National League has developed the far more interesting playoff races.

In the American League, the Boston Red Sox in the East Division (4.5), Cleveland Indians in the Central (7.5), and Houston Astros in the West (5) all have comfortable leads at the moment.

In the AL Wildcard race, the New York Yankees hold a comfortable eight-game cushion for one of the two available playoff berths. The Seattle Mariners currently hold a three-game edge on the division-rival Oakland Athletics for the other slot.

Just two more teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels, are above the .500 mark at the break. They sit 8.5 and nine games out in that Wildcard race respectively, and are all but out of their respective divisional battles.

But over in the senior circuit it's an entirely different picture. The Philadelphia Phillies hold just a half-game edge on the Atlanta Braves in the East Division. In the Central, the Chicago Cubs are just 2.5 up on the Milwaukee Brewers.

The NL West Division is by far baseball's best divisional race this season. The Los Angeles Dodgers finally got their act together after struggling for much of the first half. The Dodgers are by a half-game on the Arizona Diamondbacks, with the Colorado Rockies two back, and the San Francisco Giants lurking at four games off the pace.

The National League's two Wildcard berths are presently controlled by the Brewers and Braves. However, six teams are within 5.5 games of the second spot held by Atlanta. It all seems to be setting up for a tremendous second half.

When I released my July 1 MLB Power Ranking, only the team rankings on offense, defense, and pitching were considered. This time around, I've allowed for their winning percentage to also be considered.

I researched each of the 30 MLB clubs current rankings in four categories: winning percentage, runs scored, pitching OPS, and fielding percentage. I then simply assigned each of those rankings a 1-30 value, and added them up to determine the below MLB Power Ranking for the middle of July.

This is the formula that I am going to stick with moving forward. It encompasses a team's ability to actually win games, while also taking into account their performance on offense, defense, and on the mound. Yet it is also simply enough for the average baseball fan to comprehend.

Here is the current MLB Power Ranking, with each team's previous rank from July 1 in parentheses:

Reports surfacing that Manny Machado will be traded this week

Could this local artist rendering be a preview?
With the MLB non-waiver trade deadline looming just two weeks away, the Philadelphia Phillies remain one of the favorites to land superstar shortstop Manny Machado from the Baltimore Orioles.
Based on a number of developments leaking out into the media on Monday morning, things now appear to be finally coming to a head.
Former big league general manager Jim Bowden, now an analyst and talk show host who is also featured on Sirius XM and MLB Network, tweeted out the following update:
Manny Machado will represent the #Orioles in the All Star Game….but he is expected to be traded before the regular season resumes later in the week according to sources involved in the trade discussions.
— Jim Bowden (@JimBowdenGM) July 16, 2018

All of the usual MLB insiders have been following the Machado developments closely. In particular, Jon Heyman of Facred Sports and Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic have been all over the story.
Heyman recently reported that there have been “at least nine teams in on” Machado, with “seven that made offers” according to the Baltimore Sun.
On Sunday, Machado homered in the bottom of the first inning of the Orioles 6-5 victory over the Texas Rangers. However, following a 36-minute rain delay he was removed from the game. The homer may have been Machado’s final moment in front of the fans at Camden Yards.

Chris ‘Mad Dog’ Russo of Sirius XM and MLB Network’s “High Heat” (Mon-Fri, 1-2pm ET) was a guest this morning on local Philly Sports Radio 94.1 FM WIP. During his appearance, the station tweeted out the following quote:
“I think maybe [Machado] played his last game yesterday with the Orioles. I could see a trade by Wednesday, maybe Thursday. And I think it’s Brewers and Phillies, I really do.” — @MadDogUnleashed on Machado
— SPORTSRADIO 94WIP (@SportsRadioWIP) July 16, 2018
After the game, Orioles skipper Buck Showalter commented on Machado’s removal per Brittany Ghiroli of
“We’re all adults here, some more than others. We know what’s going on, the potential. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that [the rain] was all of it. My thought on that is, What are you telling the other eight people?’ Obviously there’s a different situation going on with Manny. You all know that. That had a lot to do with it.”
The Phillies may actually be the leading contender to acquire the 26-year old. They have an absolute need, and the resources both from a financial and prospect perspective to get a deal done. The Orioles have reportedly been scouting the Phillies farm system over the last few days with increased intensity.
Some of the names mentioned as possibly going to Baltimore in a Machado package are current or recent big leaguers Nick Pivetta, J.P. Crawford, Maikel Franco, Enyel De Los Santos, and Drew Anderson. Prospects such as Adonis Medina, Jo Jo Romero, and Adam Haseley are also frequently mentioned.
It may be difficult to get Machado to give up free agency and sign a long-term contract while the season is still going on. However, the Phillies have those financial resources to get it done. Owner John Middleton is also extremely motivated. So, don’t be surprised that, if the club does acquire him, the Phillies are able to get such a contract done. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Backup catcher Andrew Knapp heats up as summer arrives

Backup catcher Andrew Knapp has been hot of late
For more than two months, Andrew Knapp was doing very little to help the cause of the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies. He was in his second big league season but had made the opening day roster for the first time.
Knapp was expected to be a solid backup to starting catcher Jorge Alfaro. However, as the club tried to rise up after five years at the bottom of the Major League Baseball standings, Knapp was struggling mightily.
He was hitting for just a .162/.276/.189 slash line over his first 87 plate appearances through June 10, playing in 30 games and making 20 starts.
At that point in the season, the Phillies had a 33-30 record, and were 3.5 games back in third place in the National League East Division standings. Perhaps even more tellingly for Knapp, the team had just a 13-17 record for games in which he took part.
It was during a Thursday afternoon game at Citizens Bank Park against the Colorado Rockies that things began to turn. Knapp got the start catching Vince Velasquez that day. He contributed two hits and scored a pair of runs in the Phillies 9-3 victory, while Velasquez went 6.2 solid innings to gain the victory.
Starting with that June 14 afternoon, Knapp has a .346/.404/.712 slash line in 57 plate appearances over 18 games, 12 of them starts. He has blasted four home runs and five doubles and scored eight runs. The Phillies have gone 20-11 since June 10, rising to a 1.5 game lead in the NL East.
Knapp provided one of the more thrilling moments for the Phillies over these last few weeks. On July 1 he was called upon to pinch-hit in the bottom of the 13th inning and delivered a walk-off three-run homer to beat the division-rival Washington Nationals.

On July 8, Knapp made some Phillies franchise history. Manager Gabe Kapler inserted him into the lineup that day as his leadoff hitter. It marked the first time in the live ball era dating back at least to 1920 that a catcher has batted leadoff for the Phillies.
Though Knapp went 0-4 that Sunday afternoon, Kapler still felt he had made the right decision. Todd Zolecki at quoted Kapler on his reasoning for the move, and Knapp’s performance both in that game and in recent weeks:
“We wanted to put somebody at the top of the lineup that could control a count, give us a longer at-bat. He did exactly what we were hoping for…He saw five pitches. I thought he worked a good at-bat there…He’s been swinging the bat really well. He’s been hitting for power and working deep counts and getting on base and doing a really nice job.”
In Sunday’s series finale with the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park, Knapp will get his first start in four days. He has turned his season around, becoming a true asset as the team has risen to legitimate contending status. 
The Phillies would love to see him remain hot to close out the first half, and then to carry that over following the MLB All-Star Game break.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Phillies back in the lead in Manny Machado sweepstakes

Ken Rosenthal reports Phillies have upped Machado offer
The roller-coaster saga that is the Manny Machado sweepstakes appears to have taken another wild turn, this time back in the Philadelphia Phillies favor.
On Friday afternoon, MLB insider Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic tweeted out that the Phillies “have increased their offer” for Machado. The information came to him from “sources”, and few in the business have more, or more reliable, than Rosenthal.
#Phillies have increased their offer for #Orioles’ Machado, sources tell The Athletic. #Dodgers and #Yankees remain strongest. #Brewers fading, #DBacks on periphery.
Standard caveat applies: Trade talks are fluid, and one text or call can change dynamic of discussions.

— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 13, 2018
Immediately following Rosenthal’s message, Steve Adams at MLB Trade Rumors speculated as to the pieces that could be in play from a Phillies perspective.
“Suffice it to say, there are plenty of moving parts on the Machado front. Baltimore has been said to be keen on acquiring controllable starting pitching, and the Phillies have plenty of options in that regard, as do the Brewers, Yankees and Dodgers.
It’s not yet clear what, precisely, the Phillies (or any team) is willing to offer up, though the Phils have intriguing young rotation pieces in the form of Zach Eflin and Enyel De Los Santos, each of whom has already pitched in the Majors this season (extensively so, in Eflin’s case). Right-handers Sixto Sanchez and Adonis Medina are each considered to be among the game’s top 75 or so prospects, and the Phils have a number of MLB-ready back-of-the-rotation options on the 40-man roster who could be secondary pieces (e.g. Ben Lively, Jake Thompson, Drew Anderson, Mark Leiter Jr.)”

In a piece just yesterday, another major baseball insider, Jon Heyman of Fancfred Sports, said that the Phillies were suffering from “too much timidity” in handling Machado negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles.
After lauding the club for bursting into contender status this year, he also expounded on their need to bring in a player with Machado’s impact. In doing so, he compared the Phillies situation to that of the recent Sixers pursuit of LeBron James:
“They may just be playing the game, but based on the snippets heard so far, they sound a little too much like another Philly team, a particular NBA franchise that resides across the street. Perhaps they are too married to a process, a little too mechanical.”
UPDATE: Rosenthal and Heyman each followed up with tweets in the late afternoon on Friday:
#Orioles have ramped up background work on #Phillies prospects, responding to Phils’ increased interest in Machado, sources tell The Athletic. Phils won’t move RHP Sixto Sanchez but are willing to trade from SP depth from Low A to AAA. RHP Adonis Medina of interest to O’s.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 13, 2018

Phillies are said to be making some progress in Manny talks with O’s. Machado is a great fit, and Phils people know MM best (after the Orioles). Plus, word is Phils owner Middleton is thought to want to “make a splash.”
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 13, 2018

If the latest report from Rosenthal is on target, then it appears Matt Klentak and his management team with the Phillies may be loosening up. The fact remains that based on their own needs and desires, and both their financial and prospect situations, the Phillies will remain major contenders for Machado unless or until he is dealt elsewhere.

Chase Utley to retire at end of 2018 season

Chase Utley retiring from Major League Baseball

The story has been breaking across the internet in furious fashion all afternoon. Chase Utley, the former Philadelphia Phillies all-star and current member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, will hold a press conference later today to announce his retirement from Major League Baseball.

The Pasadena-born Utley had first been drafted by his hometown Dodgers in the 2nd round of the 1997 MLB Amateur Draft out of Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, California.

However, he chose to attend UCLA on a baseball scholarship instead. In the 2000 Draft, the Phillies made him their first round pick at 15th overall. The rest, as they say, is history.

Utley's big league debut on April 4, 2003 at Veteran's Stadium was entirely forgettable. With two outs in the bottom of the second inning and the Phillies already trailing the Pittsburgh Pirates by 6-1 at Citizens Bank Park, manager Larry Bowa called on Utley to pinch-hit for starting pitcher Joe Roa. 

Utley worked a full count, but ultimately struck out swinging against Bucs right-hander Jeff Suppan.
He wouldn't appear in a game for nearly three more weeks, getting his first start at second base on April 24, 2003 at The Vet against the Colorado Rockies. 

This one would prove far more memorable. Utley hit eighth in Bowa's lineup that day. He would go 2-4, scoring twice and driving in four runs. It was the manner in which he registered those first four career RBI that was most memorable of all. 

With two outs in the bottom of the third inning and the Phillies already in front 2-0, Utley stepped in with the bases loaded against Rockies right-hander Aaron Cook. He wasted no time, blasting the first Cook offering over the right field fence for a grand slam.

It was just the first of so many thrilling moments in a career with the Phillies that would span parts of 13 seasons. Utley now ranks ninth on the all-time franchise list for games played, at-bats, and hits. He is sixth in home runs and doubles, seventh in RBI, and 10th in Walks.

He was an NL all-star for five straight seasons from 2006-10, and then once more in 2014. Utley also received National League MVP votes each year from 2005-09. He was the NL Silver Slugger Award winner at second base each year from 2006-09.

And, of course, Utley was one of the most important pieces in the Phillies drive to a championship in 2008. His heads-up defensive play in the top of the seventh inning of Game Five of the World Series at Citizens Bank Park is one of the two greatest defensive plays in franchise history.

With two outs and the game with the American League champion Tampa Bay Rays knotted at 3-3, Utley threw Jason Bartlett out at the plate after deking him with a fake throw to first base.

Utley punctuated that championship with a particularly colorful expletive during the club's public post-parade celebration at the South Philly ball park. It only served to endear him even more to the title-starved multitude in attendance and watching on television.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Rhys Hoskins crashes the Home Run Derby

Rhys Hoskins will participate in the 2018 Home Run Derby

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game will take place on Tuesday night July 17 at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C.

That night, most of the very best players from the National and American Leagues will square off in an exhibition to celebrate our National Pastime.

As has been the case for more than three decades now, the night prior to the All-Star Game will feature a Home Run Derby, pitting some of today's top hitters in what is always a fun and spirited contest.

Earlier this week, MLB announced the eight participants in this year's event. For the first time in this decade, that contest will include a member of the Philadelphia Phillies.

25-year old left fielder Rhys Hoskins was selected, becoming the first Phillies player to take part since Ryan Howard back in 2009. He also becomes just the fifth Phillies player to participate in this 34th year that the showcase has taken place.

Hoskins has been matched up in the first round with slugging first baseman Jesus Aguilar of the Milwaukee Brewers. Currently tied for the National League lead with 23 home runs, the 28-year old Aguilar was installed as the top seed in the event.

The winner of the Hoskins-Aguilar duel will take on the winner of a battle between Alex Bregman of the world champion Houston Astros and Kyle Schwarber of the Chicago Cubs. That winner would then advance to the Finals, where they would take on the survivor from a second bracket.

That bracket will have Washington Nationals pending free agent Bryce Harper, who will certainly by a sentimental hometown choice, taking on Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves in one match-up.

The other will find another Cubs player, the exciting Javier Baez, taking on Max Muncy of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who seemed to emerge from nowhere to become a big power threat this season.

Hoskins' 14 homers place him just 25th in the National League to this point in the season. However, he also missed about 10 days back in early June after breaking his jaw on a fluke swing back on May 29.

He came off the DL hot, blasting eight home runs from June 9 to the end of the month. But Hoskins is right now in the midst of a dry spell. After being held in the yard last night at Citi Field, he has not homered now over his last 11 games.

So, what are the odds that Hoskins can get past the slugging Aguilar, the Bregman-Schwarber winner, and then defeat the winner of the other bracket to become this year's Home Run Derby champion?

While MLB has him slotted in as the eighth seed, the folks who set the odds for Bovada in Las Vegas are a bit more bullish on his chances. Hoskins is currently rated as the fourth-best choice, tied with Baez, right in the middle of the field.

Harper is the favorite at +300 , which is not at all a surprise. Unfortunately, Hoskins opens with the current second-choice of the oddsmakers, with Aguilar at +375. Schwarber is at +500, followed closely by Hoskins and Baez each at +550. Muncy is at +600, Freeman +650, and Bregman pulls up the rear at +950.

The Home Run Derby dates to the 1985 MLB All-Star festivities. However, the Phillies all-time home run leader and one of the greatest sluggers in baseball history, Mike Schmidt, never participated.

That was despite the fact that Schmidt was an NL All-Star in both 1986 and 1987. He led the NL in long balls in '86 and was both the NL MVP and Silver Slugger winner at third base that year.

The first Phillies player to participate was Jim Thome in 2004. The Hall of Famer-to-be was knocked out in the first round after slamming just four over the fence at Minute Maid Park in Houston.

The following year, Bobby Abreu fared much better. The Phillies outfielder set a record with 24 first round bombs enroute to 41 total homers. He defeated Miguel Tejada by 11-5 in the 2005 finals at Comerica Park in Detroit.

It was just one year later that the Phillies got their second Home Run Derby winner. Howard barely survived the first round that year. But 'The Big Piece' then exploded for 28 homers over the next two rounds. In the finals, the Phillies rookie edged out David Wright by 5-4 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.

Howard and Chase Utley took turns getting knocked out in the first round at the 2007 and 2008 events in succession. In the 2009 appearance at Busch Stadium in his hometown of Saint Louis, Howard fell just one homer short of reaching the finals.

Bullpen becoming a strength for the Phillies

Seranthony Dominguez (R) has strengthened the 'pen
The Philadelphia Phillies dropped a 3-0 heartbreaker on Wednesday night at Citi Field. The host New York Mets won it on a two-out, pinch-hit, three-run home run from Brandon Nimmo off Phillies reliever Mark Leiter Jr to gain a split of the four-game series between the division rivals.
For some Phillies fans, this might seem like just another in a string of games blown by the bullpen. The relief corps has been much maligned this season. Some of the individual pitchers have certainly deserved the criticism at times.
What those same fans may not have noticed is that the Phillies bullpen has been extremely effective since the calendar turned to July. 
Frankly, games like last night’s are going to happen to almost every team over the course of a long 162-game season. However, a look at the statistics shows that the Phillies bullpen may be turning into a strength.
Here are the numbers put up by the various Phillies relief pitchers, beginning with games of July 1:

As you can tell from Leiter’s figures, this was the bullpen performance up until the time he stepped on to the mound last night. Prior to that appearance, Phillies relief pitchers had a cumulative 1.06 ERA during the month of July.
In fact, it looked as if Leiter was going to continue that excellence when the inning began. He retired the first two Mets batters to start the frame.
After a two-out double by Amed Rosario, the Phillies right-hander got to 3-2 on Jose Reyes. But the veteran Mets hitter layed off a low-and-away changeup, drawing a free pass to set-up Nimmo’s walkoff heroics.
Yes, if you want to get technical, as well as to generalize, “the bullpen blew it” last night. But the Phillies relief pitchers have actually been helping this team as the dog days of summer have begun.
Even though the offense has managed just four or fewer runs in eight of the 10 games this month, the club has gone 7-3. That improved work from the bullpen has been an important factor.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Vince Velasquez still trying to prove he is a long-term starting pitcher

Many still feel Velasquez would be better as a reliever
After spending the last 10 days on the disabled list, Vince Velasquez returns to the mound for the Philadelphia Phillies. 
He will be activated in time for tonight’s scheduled 7:10pm EDT series finale with the division-rival New York Mets at Citi Field.
The right-hander will be trying to show that he is fully recovered, physically and otherwise, from a nasty comebacker that drilled off his arm during his last start.
On June 30 at Citizens Bank Park, Velasquez left a breaking ball rover the middle of the plate to Adam Eaton of the Washington Nationals. Eaton crushed a line drive at 97 miles per hour back at him, smashing Velasquez on his right pitching forearm just below the elbow.
Velasquez, who is ambidextrous, recovered instinctively and pounced on the ball, firing a strike to first base to retire Eaton by a half step. It was a sensational play, demonstrating the athleticism possessed by the 26-year old pitcher.

Proving that he is physically healthy will not be the only challenge tonight for Velasquez. He will also continue trying to prove that he can be an effective long-term member of the Phillies starting pitching rotation as the club plans for the future in its return to contending status.
Velasquez is now in his third full season with the Phillies. He was the lead piece in the package acquired from the Houston Astros in exchange for closer Ken Giles back in December 2015.
Thus far, Velasquez has fashioned a 15-21 record with the Phillies over 56 appearances, all of them starts. He has given up 283 hits over 291.1 innings, surrendering 49 home runs, and has a 327/113 K:BB ratio with the club. Velasquez has a 4.31 FIP and 1.359 WHIP mark with the Phillies. He has been worth a -0.02 WAR figure to the team over that time.
Most concerning to many observers has been the pitcher’s inability to consistently deliver quality performances. Only 21 of those 56 appearances (37.5%) have resulted in a Quality Start of six or more innings pitched allowing three or fewer earned runs.
Velasquez has only seen the seventh inning on 11 occasions. He has been on the mound in the eighth just once, way back on April 14, 2016 in his second career start. That complete game outing in which he struck out 16 while allowing just three hits in a shutout of the San Diego Padres got Phillies fans excited that the club had found a future ace.
He has never really demonstrated that same dominance since that day. However, Velasquez may finally be maturing a bit here in the 2018 season. Eight of his 17 starts this season have been of that Quality Start variety. Twice more, he barely missed.
Velasquez has an outstanding 107/34 K:BB ratio this season. His 4.69 ERA is largely bloated by a trio of real bombs.
In his very first start on March 31 at Sun Trust Park, the host Atlanta Braves rocked him for seven runs, four of them earned. The Braves rapped out nine hits and worked a pair of walks off Velasquez that night, driving him from the mound in the third inning of a 15-2 rout.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Pair of Royals are among the bats linked to Phillies

Whit Merrifield (L), Mike Moustakas (R) linked to Phillies
Following a split of Monday's twi-night doubleheader with the host New York Mets at Citi Field, the Philadelphia Phillies (50-39) find themselves still tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division.

Yesterday's split highlighted weaknesses that remain with this team as it battles to stay in contention with the calendar pushing towards the middle of July.

In the opener, a 4-3 loss in 10 innings, the Phillies rapped out 10 hits and the lineup worked the Mets pitching staff for seven walks. However, they also grounded into a pair of double plays, and twice they failed on attempted sacrifice bunts.

The Phillies saw the leadoff man reach safely in each of the first three innings but left two men on base in each of the first two. Following a solo home run from Maikel Franco in the fourth, they wouldn't score again.

Bases loaded with one out in the top of the eighth? Nothing. First two men on in the top of the 10th. Nada. Phillies hitters went 2-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 13 times.

In the nightcap, a 3-1 victory, the offensive production can be summed up in two words: Aaron Nola. The young ace starting pitcher surrendered just one hit and walked just one batter while striking out 10 to gain his 12th victory.

Oh, and that offensive production? Nola also provided his own offense, slashing a two-out, bases-clearing double in the top of the 5th inning. It was one of only two hits that the Phillies would produce in the entire game.

It is no secret that the first place Philadelphia Phillies have struggled to score runs for much of this season. Sure, they have scored in double-digits seven times. Those include a 20-run explosion way back on April 7, and a 17-run outburst just last week.

But those are enigmas. The Phillies have scored three runs or fewer in nearly 44% (39 of 89) of their games. That figure includes a streak that has now reached the team's last four straight dating back to the 17 runs scored last Friday in Pittsburgh.

Despite being tied for the National League's third-best record, the Phillies are just 10th in runs scored. A big part of the problem is that they lack consistent pop. As a group, Phillies hitters have worked the league's sixth-best on-base percentage, but their overall OPS is just 11th among the NL's 15 clubs.

Clearly this team can use one or two upgrades to the everyday lineup. These need to be hitters who can come in and make a legitimate impact on the Phillies ability to score runs on a more consistent basis.

The crown jewel of the 2018 MLB non-waiver trade deadline remains shortstop Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles. As each day passes with no deal, a new "favorite" pops up in the news. Last week, the Phillies were co-favorites. Then it became the LA Dodgers. Then the Milwaukee Brewers. Now it's the New York Yankees turn.

The problem with each of those stories has been that when you delve into the details behind the headlines, there is always a "but", such as teams not wanting to give up a big package, or Machado not wanting to switch to third base.

Jon Heyman tweeted out the following on Tuesday morning:
manny's interest in staying at SS doesn't seem like it's deterring yanks' interest, though the match isn't necessarily seen as very likely in any case. (indians are the other team that would want Machado for 3B, the interested NL want him for SS)— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 10, 2018 
Fact is that even with the most inside of MLB insiders, it is all going to be speculation until the last hours, perhaps the last minutes, before an actual deal is in place. Machado clearly is a perfect fit for what the Phillies need: a proven middle-of-the-order run producer.

The Phillies remain as much a contender to acquire his services as any other team. Just yesterday, Roch Kubatko of MASN wrote this:
"Machado draws the biggest crowds to his locker as visiting media peck away at him. Would he like to play in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles? Would he prefer cheese steaks or pizza? But he has no choice until the offseason. He can’t pick his city or his position. He goes and plays where he’s told."
In his own piece on the Phillies offensive struggles and the need to add a hitter or two, Matt Gelb at The Athletic mentioned five more names that team management may be looking to acquire.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Phillies to send rookie Enyel De Los Santos to mound on Tuesday night

Rookie Enyel De Los Santos take mound Tuesday night
Thanks to a congested schedule leading up to the MLB All-Star break, the Phillies had some tough organizational decisions to make and questions to answer regarding their starting pitching rotation.
The club chose to answer those questions by giving yesterday’s start to Drew Anderson and tomorrow’s start to Enyel De Los Santos, both promoted from the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
The two youngsters were sandwiched in between Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin, each of whom will go this evening at the start of a four-game series with the host New York Mets. Those two will get the nod for an increasingly rare throwback, a good old-fashioned twi-night doubleheader.
Anderson was immediately sent back to AAA after the 24-year old’s first big league start resulted in a 4-1 loss to the host Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park. He allowed four earned runs on eight hitters over five innings during which the right-hander threw 94 pitches, 64 of those for strikes. Anderson struck out four and walked one, getting no help from a Phillies offense that generated just four hits.
Drew came up and did a great job for us,” manager Gabe Kapler said per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports. “He gave us five strong innings. He gave us a chance to win it. We didn’t score a lot of runs, so that matters. Obviously, the spotlight will be on the start, but it’s not the only thing that happened today.
Now on Tuesday night at Citi Field against the struggling Mets, it will be a chance for De Los Santos to show what he’s got in what will be the 22-year old pitcher’s big league debut. So exactly who is De Los Santos, you might ask?
Born and raised in the baseball hotbed of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic, De Los Santos was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners as a 19-year old international free agent. He made his pro debut in 2015 with the Mariners organization. Following that season he was traded to the San Diego Padres as part of a deal for Joaquin Benoit.
Over the 2016 and 2017 seasons, the right-hander rose through three levels of the San Diego minor league system. Last off-season, the Phillies acquired him in a straight-up trade for shortstop Freddy Galvis.
Assigned by the Phillies to the AAA IronPigs, De Los Santos has been nothing short of fantastic. He went 9-3 over 16 starts, allowing just 72 hits over 95.1 innings with a 1.98 ERA and 1.080 WHIP.
Phillies farm director Joe Jordan described him as follows in a piece last week by Jim Salisbury for Baseball America:
“He’s big, physical and mean on the mound. It’s a pretty good package . . . He really seems to know who he is on the mound and he gets after it.”

For this strong first half performance, De Los Santos was selected to a pair of all-star teams. This coming Wednesday he was due to start in the Triple A All-Star Game. He was also named as a pitcher with Team World for the upcoming MLB All-Star Futures Game.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Nick Pivetta continues to struggle at back of Phillies rotation

Nick Pivetta's struggles continued on Friday night
The Phillies crushed the host Pirates by a 17-5 score on Friday night at PNC Park in Pittsburgh. The win moved the team into first place by percentage points in the National League East Division standings.
It also marked the 15th victory over the club’s last 22 games. Even more recently, the Phils have taken five in a row and seven of their last eight.
There was plenty of good news to go around from an offensive attack that has struggled mightily during most of that winning stretch. For the most part it has been strong pitching, particularly from the starting rotation, that has pushed the Phillies back to contending status.
The news was not all good last night. Starting pitcher Nick Pivetta lasted just 2.2 innings, struggling through 74 pitches in the short outing. He surrendered three runs on five hits while walking two batters. Further, the poor outing directly led to manager Gabe Kapler needing to use six relief pitchers in the opening game of a long road trip.
This was not a one-time aberration performance from Pivetta. The 25-year old right-hander has been struggling mightily for a month and a half now. In fact, only five of his 17 starts all season have resulted in a Quality Start effort: at least six innings pitched, no more than three earned runs allowed.
Pivetta is 0-5 over his last eight starts, and hasn’t won as a starting pitcher since May 21. He has allowed 47 hits, including 13 home runs, and walked 16 opposing batters over 35.2 innings in that span. The Phillies problems at the back of their rotation are not limited to Pivetta.
Vince Velasquez remains on the Disabled List after being drilled on the right arm by a nasty comebacker nearly two weeks ago. No official timetable for his return has been made public.

On Friday, Jim Salisbury with NBC Sports Philadelphia noted that Velasquez “is feeling good and will throw a bullpen session Saturday. If all goes well, he could pitch Wednesday in New York.
In that same piece, Salisbury also reported an update on Jerad Eickhoff, who has been out all season to this point:
“Eickhoff has experienced on-again, off-again tingling in the fingers on his right hand when he throws. He experienced the sensation again while throwing to hitters in Clearwater and will return to Philadelphia to be checked by doctors…The tingling, which first presented itself late last season, has been limited to two fingers. The difference now is Eickhoff felt it while throwing his fastball. He had previously felt it throwing his curveball only.”

Ben Lively received five April starts, but was largely ineffective. He went 0-2 with a 6.85 ERA, allowing 34 hits over 23.2 innings pitched.
Fortunately for the Phillies, they have three reliable starting pitchers at the front of their rotation. Aaron Nola and Zach Eflin have been outstanding. Jake Arrieta has been up and down, but is a proven veteran with a Cy Young Award on his resume.
A look across the current 40-man roster does not reveal many attractive options should the club wish to make a change at the back of the rotation.