Mets 9, Phillies 4: Jake Arrieta outdueled by Zack Wheeler

Mets 9, Phillies 4: Jake Arrieta outdueled by Zack Wheeler

BOX SCORE

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets continue to make life miserable on the Phillies. The Mets beat the Phils for the 11th time in 17 meetings this season on Monday night. The final score from quiet Citizens Bank Park was 9-4.

The Phillies entered the game trailing first-place Atlanta by 6½ games in the NL East and were unable to make up any ground. The Phils have 13 games left, including seven with Atlanta. The two teams begin a four-game series Thursday night in Atlanta, but this race is all but over.

Not enough offense

It’s a familiar refrain, but the Phillies didn’t produce enough offense. Sure, they scored four runs against Mets starter Zack Wheeler, but they all came in one inning – the fifth – after they had been no-hit for the first four innings. The Phils had just five hits in the game and three of them came in the fifth inning. J.P. Crawford had the big blow, a three-run triple. The Phils then tied the game on a sacrifice fly and left a runner at second base when Rhys Hoskins was called out for interfering with a pickoff attempt by the catcher. Ouch.

Arrieta struggles

Jake Arrieta was not sharp. He allowed 10 baserunners and four runs in five innings. Tommy Hunter gave up the go-ahead run on a two-out double in the seventh and Michael Conforto completely snuffed out the Phils with a three-run homer in the ninth en route to a six-RBI night.

Just when the Phillies needed Arrieta most, he has failed to deliver. His ERA over his last seven starts is a plump 6.03.

Stat check

Carlos Santana drew his 100th and 101st walks of the season. He became the first Phillie since Pat Burrell in 2008 to reach 100 walks.

Going to need a bigger bus

The Phillies are expected to activate lefty reliever Aaron Loup from the disabled list on Tuesday. That means every player on the 40-man roster will be active. Can’t remember the last time that happened with a Phillies team – if ever. Loup will give the team 16 active relievers. Someone might have to build an addition onto the bullpen.

On Sunday, general manager Matt Klentak said he was not fond of the rule that allows rosters to expand beyond 25 in September. He doesn’t like the idea of playing under one set of rules for five months and then another for the final month of the season, when games can grow in importance. Of course, all teams add players in September and as long as that is permitted the Phillies will play along as they seek any competitive advantage.

For the record, Gabe Kapler likes having the extra players.

“It’s an invigorating challenge, a stimulating challenge, one that I really enjoy,” he said of juggling an expanded roster. “If you can convince your players to take a real team-first approach and that everyone is going to contribute every single night or has a chance to contribute every single night regardless of what inning it is and what part of the game they play, I actually think it could be a really exciting brand of baseball. The more chess pieces you have, the more interesting the game becomes. Maybe that’s not the case for the fan. I’m thinking about it from the perspective of the manager. And from my perspective, I like more chess pieces.”

Thirty-nine chess pieces couldn’t bring the Phils a win Monday night.

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The impossible dream: Phillies 5, Marlins 4

The impossible dream: Phillies 5, Marlins 4

The Phillies beat the Marlins 5-4 on Saturday, which means one thing: the Phillies have won a series.

The Phillies haven’t won a series for over a month.

The last time the Phillies won a series, they swept the Marlins in four games at the beginning of August. At that time, the Phillies had a 1.5 lead in the NL East. Now? They have a 6.5 game deficit.

It’s been a tough six weeks.

But we made it through, because the Phillies finally the majority of games in a series. Yes!

Tonight, it’s a miracle this game ended before 10pm. Both starters, Vince Velasquez and Jarlin Garcia, were out of the game by the third inning. In the second inning, the Marlins put up four runs on Velasquez, and the Phillies put a two-spot on Garcia. Both pitchers lasted no longer, and the bullpens came in.

But the Phillies bullpen didn’t fail. They succeeded, and tossed seven scoreless innings. Seven different relievers threw pitches after Velasquez exited, and they all held the line. It was surprising, because remember: seven different relievers. Seven.

The offense showed up, too. Down 4-2 in the fifth, Asdrubal Cabrera hit a lead-off double. After Odubel Herrera was hit by a pitch, Cesar Hernandez jacked a three-run home run that gave the Phillies the lead.

Gabe Kapler was aggressive with the substitutions tonight. For example: Scott Kingery started the game, but was replaced in the bottom of the second without having taken a single at-bat. It’s… weird. But it worked. The Phillies won. It’s not clear if it’s because of that, or in spite of that, but a win is a win. And at this point, that’s all I can ask for.

Gabe Kapler has considered using unconventional pitching strategies

Gabe Kapler has considered using unconventional pitching strategies

As a manager, Gabe Kapler is all about exploring any method he can to win, whether that means pinch-hitting for a member of his starting lineup in the fourth inning or having his fielders use index cards to determine their defensive positioning.

So it came as no surprise before the Phillies‘ game against the Marlins Saturday when Kapler said he’s considered using an “opener,” or having a reliever start the game. Kapler also said the team has discussed “piggybacking,” a strategy several MLB teams have used which involves pairing a starter on a pitch count with a middle/long reliever.

“Openly, we’ve been discussing ‘opener’ strategies … and we’ve been thinking about ‘piggybacking’ for probably the last two months. Nothing has changed recently and in fact, the guiding data points we’re going to use are how our pitchers are performing and how they’re feeling. We’re probably going to say, ‘does Vince [Velasquez]’ stuff look crisp, does it look sharp, is he executing, is he getting results?’ If all those things are intact, we’re not going to put artificial limitations on him, and I think that’s true for (Nick) Pivetta, it’s true for (Zack Eflin), it’s true for (Aaron Nola), and obviously it’s true for Jake (Arrieta).”

Velasquez, Eflin, Pivetta and Nola have already reached career highs in innings pitched this season, which is one reason an “opener” or “piggybacking” strategy might appeal to Kapler in the final weeks of the season. With an expanded roster and stocked bullpen at his disposal, he has the resources available should he wish to experiment.

If their recent performances are any indication, Pivetta and Velasquez might be slowing down. Velasquez has a 6.66 ERA in his last six starts heading into Saturday’s outing against Miami, while Pivetta has a 6.08 ERA in his last five starts. 

With a depleted rotation this season, the Tampa Bay Rays have used the opener strategy frequently. It’s an unconventional approach, but one that may eventually catch on across baseball. Kapler thinks it’s a sensible strategy, especially when you have a good idea of the opposing hitters you’re going to face. 

“Given a lineup that looks pretty much the same every day and one that features the same four or five hitters in the top five spots, I think there’s some really good tactical advantages that you can get from bringing a guy in specifically to match up with those guys,” Kapler said.

“However, there’s a balance between what is tactically optimal and what is optimal for the entirety of the clubhouse. And it’s a constant balance between what will help this clubhouse stay confident and strong, and what will be the most optimal tactical decision on the field.”

Kapler said it’s a topic he’s thought a lot about, and that was evident as he explored various versions of the strategy. He even discussed the idea of using an “‘opener’ for an ‘opener,'” or having a right-handed pitcher face a right-handed leadoff man, then going to a second, lefty “opener” if “you’re pretty confident that you’re going to get three lefties in the next five hitters.”

For Kapler, if he were to use the “opener” strategy, it would be because he was confident he could gain a competitive edge. In his opinion, following the unwritten rule that you should let the opposition know your starter several hours before the game doesn’t make much sense, because it would remove that advantage. 

“In theory, you could walk up to the lineup for the meeting with the umpires with three separate lineup cards,” he said. “If you’re going to use an opener, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to allow them to alter their lineup to beat your ‘opener.'”

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Phillies' Velasquez tries to bounce back against Marlins

Phillies' Velasquez tries to bounce back against Marlins

Much like the Philadelphia Phillies, Vince Velasquez has struggled since early August.

The right-hander will be on the mound Saturday night as the Phillies face the Miami Marlins in the second game of a three-game series in Philadelphia. Velasquez will try to help the Phillies win their first series since Aug. 5 — which also came against the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park.

Velasquez (9-11, 4.30 ERA) has a 6.66 ERA and a 1.644 WHIP over his last six starts, and opponents have a .900 OPS against him in that stretch. The Phillies are 2-4 in those outings, and they’ve fallen out of the playoff race with a 12-23 record over the last six weeks.

Philadelphia beat Miami 14-2 on Friday. With 16 games remaining, the Phillies are 7 1/2 games behind the first-place Atlanta Braves in the National League East and five games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the race for the second NL wild-card spot.

Velasquez gave up five runs on seven hits in four-plus innings against the New York Mets last Sunday on a rainy afternoon at Citi Field. It marked the fifth time in six starts that Velasquez has gone four innings or fewer.

“I was missing spots kind of the whole game and the conditions got the best of me,” Velasquez told the Delaware County Daily Times after the outing. “I can’t let that happen.”

Velasquez has a 2-1 record and a 2.08 ERA in three starts against the Marlins this season. The 26-year-old is 4-2 with a 2.57 ERA and 1.000 WHIP in nine starts against Miami in his career.

The Marlins were not sure who would start on Saturday as of Friday night. Manager Don Mattingly said it would likely be a bullpen game with the team playing its sixth contest in five days.

The Phillies are hoping their offense from Friday night carries over to Saturday against whichever pitcher the Marlins use.

The 14 runs they plated were the most since a 17-5 win over the Pirates on July 6. The Phillies hit five homers on Friday night, including a pair by Aaron Altherr and the 31st of the season by Rhys Hoskins.

“Big night for Rhys, and really up and down the lineup, we got contributions,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said after Friday’s win. “I thought we had a good offensive approach all night.”

Hoskins, who was starting at first base for just the third time this season on Friday, has four homers and seven RBIs in his last six games. He is now hitting .253 with an .868 OPS this season, and Hoskins’ 31 homers tied him for the eighth-most in the National League.

Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto hit his team-leading 21st homer of the season Friday night. It improves on a career-high for Realmuto, who has 71 RBIs.

Miami (57-90) has lost six of its last seven games, and the team has hit the 90-loss mark for the first time since finishing 71-91 in 2015. Philadelphia, meanwhile, is 10-7 this year against the Marlins, and the franchise has hit 75 wins for the first time since finishing 81-81 in 2012.

If Rhys Hoskins is back in left field next season, “I don’t blink an eye”

If Rhys Hoskins is back in left field next season, “I don’t blink an eye”

Rhys Hoskins made his third start of the season at first base for the Phillies on Friday night and helped the club post a rousing 14-2 win (see first take) with his team-leading 31st homer.

All but dead in the NL East race, the Phillies can afford to use the final 2 ½ weeks of the season to get a read on a handful of players heading into next season (see story).

It was interesting to see Hoskins at first base because it is his natural position and there has been some recent rumble that the Phillies could consider trading Carlos Santana in the offseason and moving Hoskins back to first base.

How would Hoskins feel about moving back to first base full time?

“Of course, I would like to go back there,” he said after the game. “I’ve played that position forever.

“But do I want to go back there? I don’t care. I honestly don’t. I told Gabe (Kapler) this from the get-go. As long as I get to hit, I don’t care where I play. I really don’t.”

So if Hoskins is back in left field next year?

“I don’t blink an eye,” he said.

An emerging leader

Yes, Hoskins is this team’s leader, but at age 25 and with only a year of big-league service time, he is still growing into the role. The best is yet to come. The team-first attitude displayed in the above comments is why he could someday be a special leader.

Lineup clicks

The Phillies snapped a five-game losing streak with an 18-hit attack that included five home runs. Kapler loaded the lineup with righty bats against lefty Wei-Yin Chen. That was a big reason for using Hoskins at first and Santana at third. It allowed for another righty bat, Aaron Altherr, in left field. He had his best night of the season with two homers, two singles, five RBIs and a great second-to-home dash to score a run in the fourth.

“Gabe wanted to get as many right-handed bats as possible in the lineup,” Hoskins said. “A lot of (using Hoskins at first) was to get Altherr in there. Kap played the right card.”

Return of the heat

Zach Eflin lasted just three innings and gave up six runs in his previous start against the Mets. He gave up a hit to Jay Bruce on a fastball in the second inning of that game then stayed away from his fastball and relied on his slider. That pitch was hit hard.

Eflin went back to featuring his hard, four-seam fastball in this game and pitched 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball for the win. He got the fastball up to 96.8 mph.

“He looks best when he’s stepping on that four-seam fastball and utilizing it frequently,” Kapler said. “That’s the pitch that will make him great.”

Speed kills 

Center fielder Roman Quinn was back in the lineup, stealing playing time from inconsistent Odubel Herrera. Quinn’s broken toe is clearly feeling better. He used his outstanding speed to beat out a potential double-play ball that resulted in two runs. He also had an infield hit. And a home run. With 16 games left, he should get a lot of playing time as he auditions for a big role in 2019.

A sight of relief 

Rookie Mitch Walding was hitless with 10 strikeouts in 14 at-bats with the big club this season. He won’t go hitless for the season, thanks to a solo homer in the eighth inning. 

So what that it came against Bryan Holaday, the Marlins’ backup catcher, on a 61-mph breaking ball? Walding is off the schneid.

“Probably one of the happiest moments I’ve ever had in my life,” he said.

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Phillies 14, Marlins 2: First impressions after a big night by Aaron Altherr

Phillies 14, Marlins 2: First impressions after a big night by Aaron Altherr

BOX SCORE

The struggling Phillies enjoyed a cathartic 14-2 win over the Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park on Friday night.

The Phillies had 18 hits, including five home runs.

Aaron Altherr had his best game of the season with a two-run homer, a three-run homer and two singles. He scored three runs and made a terrific base running play.

Where they stand

The win snapped a five-game losing streak and was just the Phillies’ third in the last 11 games.

They entered the game on life support in the NL East race, 7½ games behind first-place Atlanta.

The Phillies are four games over .500 with 16 to play.

Lineup clicks

Manager Gabe Kapler went heavy on right-handed bats against Marlins lefty Wei-Yin Chen. That’s why Altherr was in the lineup playing left field.

Yes, Rhys Hoskins was in the lineup. He started at first base – his natural position – for just the third time this season. Carlos Santana started at third.

Could Hoskins’ assignment at first have been a harbinger of things to come? Could he be back at first base next season? Phillies officials have discussed it (see story).

Power display

Hoskins, Roman Quinn and Mitch Walding also homered for the Phillies. Walding’s homer was his first big-league hit.

Nice rebound

Zach Eflin, who lasted only three innings in his previous outing, delivered 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball.

Energy and confidence

Altherr played with energy and confidence. You could see both when he made a terrific base-running play, scoring from second base as Quinn was beating out a potential double-play ball that would have ended the fourth inning. You don’t make that play without energy, confidence, a lead on the scoreboard – and plenty of speed and athleticism. Not only did Altherr exhibit his speed, he made an athletic slide to get by catcher J.T. Realmuto’s tag. 

Roman returns

Quinn returned to the lineup – in center field – nine days after suffering a broken toe on his right foot in Miami. He had a big game. In addition to beating out the potential double play that resulted in two RBIs in the fourth, he hit a laser-beam homer to left in the second inning.

Quinn has three doubles, three triples and two homers in his last 13 starts. He has stolen playing time from inconsistent Odubel Herrera. It’s not difficult to envision Quinn being this team’s starting centerfielder at the start of next season.

If he can stay healthy. 

That has always been a challenge. 

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