The Phillies Week in Review, everything you need to know about the week that was in the Philadelphia Phillies 2018 season.
Phillies 2018 – Week 3 (4/9-4/15)
The Philadelphia Phillies survived 10 days of misfortune, mistakes and missed opportunities, not to mention miserable weather and may have come out of it with some momentum. After taking two out of three from the Miami Marlins, they welcomed the Cincinnati Reds to Citizens Bank Park. In the 14 year history of The Bank, the Phillies are 32-17 against the Reds. So far in the 2018 campaign, Cincinnati has had to deal with the Washington Nationals, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates. The result is a 2-6 start. After the RedLegs, it’s a trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast and an Interleague set with the Tampa Bay Rays. Would the league’s most patient hitters do enough to support their pitchers? Would manager Gabe Kapler ‘get out of the way’? Let’s find out.
The enigma that is Ben Lively allowed three consecutive singles to load the bases in the first inning of game one. He walked cleanup hitter Adam Duvall to force in a run before retiring the next three hitters without allowing further damage. With two outs and a man on base in the bottom of the first, Rhys Hoskins connected with a 1-0 pitch and launched it into the seats beyond the leftcenterfield wall to put the home team ahead 2-1. Scott Kingery’s first major league home run led off the 2nd and extended the lead. Lively would give it back in the 3rd on a two-run shot by catcher Tucker Barnhart. Undaunted, the bats responded with run scoring hits by Carlos Santana and Maikel Franco that restored the two-run lead. Cinci tied it up with single runs in the 4th and 6th, sending Lively to the showers. Both bullpens tiptoed around trouble and kept it tied until Nick Williams distilled his frustration with his lack of playing time into one tremendous swing that sent Kevin Quackenbush’s 3-1 pitch soaring into the night for a pinch-hit homer to put his team ahead again. Hector Neris allowed a single with two outs before striking out Barnhart for his first save of the season. Phillies, 6 – Reds, 5
Aaron Nola was making his first home start of the season. In his last 11 starts at CBP in 2017, Nola was 8-3 with a 2.14 ERA, striking out 93 while walking only 18 hitters in 75-2/3 innings. If he could hold form, he would certainly benefit from the fast starting offense his team had been displaying, scoring multiple runs in the first inning of four consecutive games. Naturally, Reds starter Homer Bailey retired them in order in the 1st … and the 2nd … in fact, he retired everyone except catcher Jorge Alfaro. El Oso was hit by a pitch to lead off the 3rd and reached on a throwing error by Alex Blandino, a third baseman making his major league debut, in the 5th inning. Nola had allowed only a single run in the top of the 5th by that point. In the bottom of the sixth, Cesar Hernandez broke up the no-no with a single and later scored on a game-tying double by Odubel Herrera. Rookie shortstop J.P. Crawford began to break loose from his early season struggles with an RBI single in the 7th to reward Nola’s efforts with a 2-1 lead. The pitcher’s duel was blown open in the home half of the 8th when Kingery hammered an 0-1 pitch to left for his second career homer and his first grand slam. Hoby Milner closed it down. Phillies, 5 – Reds, 1
Don’t look now … but, over the last seven games, Phillies starting pitchers are 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA, striking out 42 in 40.0 innings while holding opponents to a .223 average.
For the second straight series, the Phillies had a chance for the sweep. Nick Pivetta, coming off what was probably his best start as a big leaguer, seemed intent on continuing the momentum he had established. The young Canadian was effective in the strike zone, working only five three-ball counts in his 7 innings of work. His only blemish was the 4th inning, when the Reds scored twice. He entrusted a 3-2 lead to his bullpen thanks to a power display from an unlikely source. Crawford, whose offensive output to this point had basically been a series of weak ground balls to the right side of the infield, made his first big league dinger a memorable one with a second decker in the second inning. Not to be outdone, Hernandez found the launch angle and exit velocity to put one of his own into the upper tank in the 5th. Pivetta was in line for the win. But, Neris surrendered the tying run in the 9th and a cold night in South Philly would become a long night. It wasn’t until the bottom of the 12th that Kingery lifted a sacrifice fly to right for his first ever walk-off RBI and the Phillies got their sweep, putting them above .500 for the first time in 2018. Phillies, 4 – Reds, 3
A travel day offers us a chance to clear up a little something.
Neris’ blown save on Wednesday night resulted in a wave of venom that was loosed on social media and talk radio. But, was it warranted?
After being nearly unhittable as the 8th inning set-up man in 2016, Neris replaced an ineffective Jeanmar Gomez in the closer role early in 2017. At first, the promotion seemed too big for the Dominican righthander as he blew three of his first nine save opportunities and walked a few high wires on the nights when he was successful. This resulted in a perception that he didn’t have what it took to be the closer and that might explain why nobody seemed to notice when he finished the season converting 20 consecutive save opportunities. His streak, 21 when it ended Wednesday night, was the longest by a Phillie since Brad Lidge’s unforgettable run in 2008-09.
So, while he hasn’t been perfect, Neris is probably the best option for Kapler while Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek are on the Disabled List.
Rays starter Jake Faria was making his third start of the season. In the first two, he had allowed nine runs in 5-2/3 innings. He and his eye-popping 14.29 ERA would be matched with Vince Velasquez. Faria walked Hernandez to start the game. He then retired 12 consecutive Phillies. When Williams led off the 5th with a single to bust the no-hit bid, he was immediately picked off by catcher Wilson Ramos and Faria rolled on. Velasquez, who had been impressive while pitching with a lead in his last start, allowed only one run while striking out seven in his 6-2/3 innings of work. Crawford doubled into the leftfield corner with one out in the 6th, Hernandez then walked on four pitches and Faria’s night was over. Santana, in a rare righthanded at bat, greeted reliever Jose Alvarado with a broken bat blooper to right that bounded like a super ball of the rubbery outfield turf. Rightfieder Carlos Gomez watched helplessly as it spun away from him and Crawford raced home to tie the game. With two-out and Kingery on second base in the 9th, Alfaro hit a chopper into the hole between third base and shortstop. Rays third baseman Matt Duffy dove, but his efforts only deflected the ball past shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria as he raced into the deep hole. The ball trickled into shallow leftfield, Kingery scored easily and the visitors had the 2-1 lead. Neris got himself back on track with a solid 9th to lock down the win. Phillies, 2 – Rays, 1
With a chance to win their third series in a row, the Phillies sent Jake Arrieta to the hill for his second start of the season. The veteran righty pitched to contact and most of that contact was with the bottom of the Rays’ bats. He induced 14 ground ball outs, two of which were double plays. So, 16 of the 20 outs he recorded in his 6-2/3 were worm burners. He left the game with a comfortable 9-3 lead thanks in large part to a six-run 3rd inning. Crawford hit his second dinger to lead off the 4th as the Phillies cruised. Phillies, 9 – Rays, 4
Much like his start on Monday night, Lively pitched well but made enough mistakes to find himself trailing early on. The Rays started lefty reliever Ryan Yarborough as part of their planned ‘bull pen day’. The Phillies, who had yet to allow a lefthanded starter to survive the 3rd inning, seemed to struggle with the rookie’s unorthodox delivery. But, trailing 2-0 in the 3rd, they got rolling and took a 4-2 lead when Kingery cleared the loaded bases with a rocket of a double to deep centerfield. Lively was done after only four innings and 66 pitches (41 for strikes). In the bottom of the 6th, with two-out and two men on base, Aaron Atherr made a terrific catch coming in for a sinking line drive off the bat of Denard Span. Altherr, whose struggles at the plate have been a source of growing concern as May draws closer, smoked a 3-run tater to cap a five-run 8th inning that put the game out of reach and locked up the Phillies second series sweep in a row. Phillies, 10 – Rays, 4
This was the first time the Phillies were able to sweep an Interleague series of three or more games against an AL East opponent since June of 2003. For some perspective, that was right around the time Clay Aiken was trying to be the American Idol.
Six consecutive wins and 8 out of 9 have the Phils flying high. Of course, detractors will be quick to note that the Marlins, Reds and Rays are a combined 9-33. This is true. But, imagine how we’d be feeling about this team if they had gone 4-5 over the last three series. You have to beat the teams below you or the wins against the teams above you mean nothing.
Hoskins recently passed the 250 plate appearance threshold, the widely accepted point used to delineate flashes in the pan from players to be reckoned with. His 20 homers and 45 walks might be the most eye-catching numbers. We would love to compare those stats with other notable major leaguers. But, not a single player since 1900 has amassed those stats in his first 250 trips to the plate. Not one. So far in 2018, his .326 batting average and .446 on base percentage have confirmed the widely held belief that he is no flash in the pan.
Kingery is currently having quite possibly the best April any Phillies rookie has ever had with a bat in his hand. Kapler’s need to keep him in the lineup has resulted in starts at five different positions in the field. While this has led to a few misadventures due to his inexperience at some of those positions, there can be no denying that the kid is looking like the real deal. He is currently riding a six game hitting streak. Nine of his 13 hits are for extra bases. His 12 RBI in the month of April are the most ever by a Phillies rookie in the season’s opening month and only Don Money (15) has knocked in more in his first 13 games as a Phils rookie. Since we did the whole ‘no player since 1900’ thing with Hoskins, we’ll note that Kingery is the first to notch his first homer, grand slam and walk-off RBI in consecutive games. Esoteric? Yes. Pretty cool, though.
Looking Ahead –
Back to Atlanta for a three game set which fittingly begins with an Opening Day rematch of Nola and Julio Teheran. The Phils (9-5) are currently just ahead of the Braves (8-6) in the NL East. They will be fighting for an unobstructed view upward at the scorching hot New York Mets. The end of the week brings the boys home for a four gamer at the Bank with the Pittsburgh Pirates. They parted ways this off-season with mainstays Andrew McCutcheon and Gerrit Cole. But, it hasn’t slowed them down. They are currently 11-4 and perched atop the NL Central. All those who pointed to the lesser competition of the last 9 games will get the litmus test they wanted this week and beyond with the NL West leading Arizona Diamondbacks coming to town after the Pirates.
Pen Pal of the Week –
Righthander Victor Arano has retired 48 of the 54 batters he has faced in his young career (.111 OBA). So far this season, he has retired all 16 of the hitters he has faced, eight of them on strikes. Kapler and pitching coach Rick Kranitz seem to be picking their spots with him. But, it’s hard to imagine keeping an effective arm in the pen when late inning outs are needed. He may be earning himself a heavier workload.
Tim McCarver Impression of the Week –
Deven Marrero of the D’backs thumped a three run homer in Dodger Stadium on Saturday night. Thinking the wall-scraping dinger may have been caught, the runner on first, Alex Avila, paused and momentarily retreated toward first. Marrero appeared to pass Avila and replay confirmed it, turning the 3-run homer into a two-run single with Marrero being called out on the basepath. Phillies fans everywhere were immediately reminded of July 4th in 1976, when catcher Tim McCarver lost a grand slam when he raced past Garry Maddox, who had stopped to admire the blast. McCarver famously pleaded with first base umpire Dutch Rennert that the much faster Maddox had ‘lapped him’. As did the Phillies in ’76, Arizona won the game easily, allowing them to laugh off the gaffe.