The Phillies Week in Review, everything you need to know about the week that was for the Philadelphia Phillies 2017 season.
Phillies 2017 – Week 2 (4/10-16/17)
Every now and again the universe is kind enough to provide a test that defines your place in the order of things. Any delusions you may have been clinging to or flashes in the pan that hinted at potential are exposed, as the chasm between you and those you would aspire to be counted among is shown to be as wide as you had feared. This particular test would be administered by the New York Metropolitans and the Washington Nationals.
The Philadelphia Phillies were coming off of a record-setting blowout win and a heart-stopping walk-off while the Mets had managed only eight runs in losing two of three to the Florida Marlins in Flushing, Queens. So, if there was a ‘good time’ to face them, this may have been it.
We’ll stop talking about the lack of offensive support Jerad Eickhoff receives when it stops being true. Once again, Monday night the Phils had a chance to support the impressive righthander. In the first inning, things were looking up. With one out, they loaded the bases for Michael Saunders. The long, lean lefty stroked a single to right that moved everyone one station before Cameron Rupp drew a walk to force in the second run of the inning. With his team poised to blow things open, the feel good story of the spring, Brock Stassi, stepped to the plate still in search of his first big league hit (0-7, 3BB). He dribbled a 2-2 pitch right back to pitcher Jacob deGrom for a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning.
Eickhoff took those two runs and went to work, striking out five Mets in the first three innings. In the fourth, former Cincinnati Red and national spokeperson for Left Sleeve Claustrophobia, Jay Bruce crushed an 0-1 pitch to cut the lead in half. Meanwhile, deGrom had settled in and started mowing down Phillie after Phillie, retiring the last eight hitters he faced. By the seventh, a Neil Walker sacrifice fly had tied the game at 2-2 and the game was in the hands of the bullpens.
Bruce struck again in the eighth. This time, a two-run bomb off of Joely Rodriguez that broke the tie. Stassi led off the ninth with his first his first big league hit, run scored and RBI all rolled into one big ball that landed in the Phils’ bullpen. With the lead cut to one run, Mets closer Addison Reed buckled down and closed things out. Mets, 4 – Phillies, 3
In a footnote moment, reliever Edubray Ramos seemed to bring some personal business to the mound when he whistled a fastball behind the head of Mets second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera. Apparently, this was a response to Cabrera’s bat flip when he took Ramos deep last September. Manager Pete Mackanin was unimpressed and reportedly called a team meeting Tuesday afternoon to address it.
Fireworks are usually reserved for weekends in early July. But, the Mets brought some with them for a midweeker in April. Veteran righty Clay Buchholz had yet to show any signs of the pitcher he once was, in Florida this spring or in his Phillies debut in Cincinnati last week. Against a Mets lineup known for feasting on mistake pitches, the Phillies boat had been steered into a perfect storm.
Before the crowd at Citizens Bank Park had taken their seats, Buchholz had allowed a walk, a double and a three run homer (on an 0-2 pitch, no less) to masher Yoenis Cespedes. Bruce would single in two more in the second and, after a Jose Reyes double in the third, Buchholz evening was over. A medical exam and MRI would reveal a partially torn flexor-pronator mass. Apparently, that is the part of the arm that allows you to get hitters out and not toss gopher balls.
Meanwhile, Matt Harvey had allowed only a solo home run by Maikel Franco. Adam Morgan replaced Buchholz and allowed back-to-back bombs to Cabrera and Cespedes in the fourth, another solo homer to Cespedes (his third of the game) in the fifth and, finally, a shot off the bat of Lucas Duda in the sixth that cleared the batter’s eye in dead center and may have appeared on the radar at Philadelphia International Airport and grounded a few flights.
When all was said and done, the Mets had amassed 20 hits, 14 of which were for extra bases and, for the third time in the history of CBP, seven round-trippers. You read that right … three different times since this park opened the Mets have hit seven home runs in a game there. Mets, 14 – Phillies, 4
Vince Velasquez was asked to stem the tide in the series finale and, through four innings, he allowed only a Cespedes RBI double and a solo dinger by Michael Conforto while striking out seven Mets hitters.
In the fifth, facing the bottom of the lineup, Vealasquez hit the hand of Travis D’Arnaud, then walked pitcher Zach Wheeler and leadoff hitter Conforto to load the bases for the heart of the lineup. All three would score and Vinny was done after five innings of work, trailing 5-0.
The Phillies mounted a rally in the bottom of the sixth when they loaded the bases with two out and chased Wheeler. Reliever Hansel Robles’ first pitch to Franco was launched into the centerfield camera well for the second grand slam of his career. From there, the Phils offense could only manage two more baserunners against the Mets pen as the comeback fell short and the Mets busted out the brooms. Mets, 5 – Phillies, 4
OK … let’s all catch our collective breath, shall we? Losing stinks. Losing to the Mets, even moreso. This was a rough couple of days. Buchholz is shut down for the foreseeable future. Morgan has taken the turnpike north to Allentown and will be replaced by Luis Garcia. Expect Zach Eflin to take the open spot in the starting rotation.
Still searching for a consistent return of the impressive form he displayed last May, Aaron Nola took the ball against Stephen Strasburg in the series opener. Nola was solid through five innings, allowing only one run while fanning six Nationals. But, it took 90 pitches to get through those five innings. So, thanks to a Tommy Joseph tater and an RBI knock by Cesar Hernandez, he entrusted a 2-1 lead to the pen. After Pat Neshek pitched a scoreless sixth, Ramos was touched for a game-tying double in the seventh. The game progressed into extra innings still locked at 2-2. Mackanin, who had removed Jeanmar Gomez from the closer role earlier in the week, was happy enough with Gomez’ 19-pitch ninth inning that he sent him back out for the 10th. Bryce Harper led off with a single and raced home from first when Daniel Murphy lined a double into the leftfield corner for the win. Nationals, 3 – Phillies, 2
The Phils had now dropped four straight and, after two trips through the starting rotation, their starters were 2-4 having had only two starts (both by Eickhoff) that lasted into the seventh inning. Jeremy Hellickson was 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA. But, both of his starts had been cut short.
He picked up where he had left off and managed to avoid any fluky pitfalls en route to a solid, seven inning performance. He shut down the first five hitters in the Nats lineup (1-15), but allowed a solo homer to the heretofore hitless Chris Heisey in the seventh that tied the game at 2-2. Hellickson was still the pitcher of record in the top of the eighth when Hernandez popped a two-run shot off our old buddy Joe Blanton. Hector Neris and new closer Joaquin Benoit slammed the door to snap the losing streak. Phillies, 4 – Nationals, 2
For the second consecutive Sunday, the Phillies took the field with the chance to win a series against the NL East’s defending champion. Eickhoff would be facing off against former Phillies farm-hand Gio Gonzalez. For the second time this season, Hernandez led off with a solo homer and, as with Eickhoff’s previous start, the first inning would provide him with all the support he would see.
Eickhoff’s tendency to allow big flies that taint otherwise solid performances reared its ugly head in the bottom of the third when Harper smoked a first-pitch fastball into the right-centerfield seats to break a 1-1 tie. He lasted six innings and left trailing 3-1. The offense finally got to Gonzalez again in the eighth, when a Daniel Nava RBI single ended the veteran lefthander’s day. Tommy Joseph then tied the game with a seeing-eye knock between third and short off reliever Koda Glover. The Phils took the lead in the top of the ninth as Aaron Altherr scored from third on a Galvis grounder to second when Nats catcher Matt Wieters failed to execute a catch-and-tag at the plate. They would then load the bases, giving Franco a chance to provide some insurance. But, he could only manage a sharp ground ball to third base and a fielder’s choice to end the inning. Alas, Benoit would have his second save opportunity of the weekend. If he could take care of the bottom of the Washington lineup he wouldn’t have to face the troublesome heart of their offense.
Things started well, with a lazy fly ball by Wilmer Difo and a first-pitch strike to pinch-hitter Heisey. The next four pitches were all off the plate and the game tying run was on base. Leadoff hitter Adam Eaton followed with a single to set up Anthony Rendon who already had an RBI double in the game. Rendon hit the ball hard, but right at Saunders in right for out number two. With the ever-dangerous Harper due up, there was a discussion on the mound. Undoubtedly, the fact that Benoit had not allowed a hit to the Nats superstar in five prior at-bats was mentioned. The big Dominican seemed intent on a power-on-power showdown. He deftly fired the first two pitches over the outside corner to go 0-2. Harper worked the count full, patiently spitting on the next three offerings. With room on the base paths and Daniel Murphy, one for his last eight, on deck, there was no imperative for Benoit to throw a strike. But, instead of a slider, he opted for the ol’ number one and Harper sent it screaming onto the grassy lawn beyond the centerfield wall, pumping his fist and waving to the fans as he celebrated the walk-off win all the way around the bases. Nationals, 6 – Phillies, 4
We knew coming in that things would have to break just right for this team to be consistently competitive. They certainly can’t afford to make too many mistake pitches or waste key at bats. This 1-5 week could have been another 3-3 week or better with a key hit here or a different pitch selection or execution there.
The hitters on this team appear to be buying into Matt Stairs‘ approach (see below) except for Franco who seems to be pulling off again and making himself an easier out by not using the entire field.
Mackanin is making some curious lineup choices, like resting Howie Kendrick and starting Stassi against the tough lefty Gonzalez, rather than on Saturday against righty Tanner Roark. As well as some curious bullpen calls, notably the decision to send Gomez back out for the 10th inning on Friday with Garcia, Rodriguez and Benoit all still available.
Looking Ahead –
It’s three in Queens, featuring the return of Zach Eflin and a chance at instant revenge against a Mets team that just limped out of Miami having dropped three straight. Of course, we have all seen how quickly these Mets can get healthy against the Phils.
Then, the Phillies return home for a weekender with an Atlanta Braves team that rolled past them in the standings this week. Regardless of their place in the standings, it never seems to come easy against the Bravos.
More Phillies: Jeremy Guthrie And The Phillies Historic 12-Run First Inning
Jinx UPDATE of the Week –
Ok, ok … we heard you loud and clear. Sure, they made it to the seventh inning on Monday before committing their first error of the season. But, they committed another one on the next play, resulting in a Mets run. In fairness, we’ll accept 8.3% of the blame and we’ll try not to mention that they have not committed another error since. Oops …
‘Just looking, thanks’ of the Week –
One of the major elements of new Hitting Coach Matt Stairs’ approach is plate discipline and the willingness to see as many pitches as possible. To date, only the Cleveland Indians (4.12) are averaging more than the Phillies National League leading 4.10 pitches per at-bat. The result is roughly one walk for every ten plate appearances and an average of a little over 4-1/2 runs per game.