The Phillies Week in Review, everything you need to know about the week that was in the Philadelphia Phillies 2018 season.
Phillies 2018 – Week 4 (4/16-4/22)
Your Philadelphia Phillies, 9-6 and sitting in second place in the National League East, were riding the wave of consecutive series sweeps as they returned to SunTrust Park. Having opened their season there just a few weeks earlier, the memories of that set must have been fresh in their minds. Now that they had successfully rebounded from that early season frustration, it was time to see what they could do with a bit of momentum on their side. The end of the week promised a 4-gamer at home with the NL Central leading Pittsburgh Pirates.
This series began, as the season did, with Aaron Nola facing off against Atlanta’s Julio Teheran. Odubel Herrera took Teheran deep in the 1st for his first home run of the year. Nola allowed hits to the first two Braves hitters, surrendering the tying run on a double play grounder by Freddie Freeman. Both pitchers would settle in as Nola allowed only a Kurt Suzuki sacrifice fly in the 4th and Teheran effectively silenced a Phillies offense which had scored nine and ten runs in the prior two games. Unable to put together a rally, the bats saddled Nola with a tough luck L. Braves, 2 – Phillies, 1
Herrera has reached base safely in 13 straight games or every game in which he has appeared at the plate in 2018. While he will, on occasion, confound onlookers with his antics on the field and in the basepaths, there are only six players in all of major league baseball who can claim a higher batting average since June 1 of last year than his .321.
Nick Pivetta started in the Phils only win during their last trip to northwestern Georgia. His rematch with Mike Foltynewicz would be another pitcher’s duel. Again the teams traded early runs. This time, the 1-1 tie lasted into the 10th inning before a pair of 2-run doubles, one by Rhys Hoskins and one by Maikel Franco, blew the game open for the visitors. Hector Neris got the decision. Phillies, 5 – Braves, 1
This was the ninth time already this season that the Phils had scored four or more runs in an inning. Only the scorching hot Boston Red Sox can match that feat.
Vince Velasquez struck out six Braves in the first four innings. But, Brandon McCarthy was stifling the Phillies in kind, keeping the game scoreless. So, when he came to the plate in the top of the 5th with two outs and catcher Andrew Knapp on first, Vinny from Philly took matters into his own hands. After a wild pitch, he laced a single up the middle that scored Knapp. He even took second on the throw for good measure. All that running may have weakened Velasquez. The home half of the inning started with a walk, a single and a three-run bomb by the Ghost of Spring Training Late Innings Past third baseman Ryan Flaherty … more on him later. It was 4-2 Braves in the 8th when the home team roughed up Hoby Milner for three insurance runs that put things out of reach. Braves, 7 – Phillies, 3
Flaherty was in the running to be the 25th man on the Phils roster when they left Clearwater last month. He was cut just days before the opener in Atlanta. The Braves were headed north without an everyday third baseman thanks to some untimely injuries. They inked Flaherty to fill-in and he went off. After Wednesday’s madness, he is hitting a lusty .365.
The Phils were debuting their Throwback Thursday powder blue uniforms, recalling the franchise’s sartorial splendor of the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. The game time temperature was 46 degrees. Starter Jake Arrieta opted against long sleeves. This seemed strange until he started throwing, at which point it was clear that he was generating his own heat. The veteran righthander fanned 10 Pirates in his seven innings of work, allowing only two walks and a Francisco Cervelli single. The offense rewarded his masterful pitching with an explosion of support in the 2nd inning. Hoskins smoked a leadoff dinger to left. Then, Pirates starter Jameson Taillon walked Nick Williams and barely nipped the jersey of Scott Kingery. J.P. Crawford bunted to advance them and wound up beating out a single to load the bases. Taillon puffed up and retired Jorge Alfaro and Arrieta on strikes. With two outs and the bases still loaded, Cesar Hernandez worked a 3-2 count then smacked a line drive to center. Williams and Kingery scored easily. Crawford, however, never stopped running. The rookie shortstop raced around the diamond in less than nine seconds, beating the relay throw for the fourth run of the inning. Hernandez would later score on a Herrera single. The Pirates offered little resistance. Phillies, 7 – Pirates, 0
Thursday’s win should shock no one who follows these two teams. Since they have moved into their ‘new’ parks, the home field advantage has been strong with them. The Bucs were a perennial thorn in the side of the otherwise dominant 2007-11 Phils and hold a 35-18 record at PNC Park. Thursday’s romp at the Bank gave the Phillies a 28-20 mark against Pittsburgh at 11th and Pattison.
The Arrieta/Taillon match up promised a memorable pitcher’s duel. Only Arrieta held up his end. Friday’s face-off between Ivan Nova and Ben Lively, both of whom carried career ERA’s north of 4.00, made no such promises. If you know this column, you know what’s coming. Each pitcher went six strong allowing only single runs in their final frame of work. With the game in the hands of the bullpens, the bats stayed silent until the bottom of the 8th. Hernandez led off with a double and scored on Herrera’s one-out triple. After Hoskins walked, with runners at first and third, we were treated to a flashback to that double steal in New York during the season’s opening week. This time, Hoskins was caught off first by a pickoff throw, initiating a rundown that allowed El Torito to break for home. That is where any similarity to the successful play against the Mets goes away. Herrera hesitated and was a dead duck at the plate. He kept it alive long enough for Hoskins to think he could make it to third. He couldn’t. The Pirates coverage was flawless and, by the time the unorthodox double play was completed, all nine Buccos were on the infield and scorekeepers everywhere were struggling to fit 1-3-4-2-5-8-7 into their sheets. Neris allowed only a one-out double in locking down the win for Luis Garcia. Phillies, 2 – Pirates, 1
Phillies starters have allowed 3 or fewer earned runs in 10 consecutive starts and 17 of 19 this season. The team’s 12-7 record is a little less surprising when you factor in the way their pitching is keeping them in just about every game.
In the late afternoon of south Philadelphia, it was a sunny 61 degrees, the closest thing to baseball weather we had seen all year. Nola took the ball, ready to throw another gem. The question would be if his offense would provide the support required to secure a W. After Sean Rodriguez drove Nola’s first pitch deep and foul for a loud strike one, the second pitch was hit even harder. This time, it was decidedly fair and long gone. Unfazed, Nola retired 14 of the next 15 Pirate hitters as he patiently waited for the offense to figure out lefty Steven Brault. His 4.75 ERA notwithstanding, the lineup full of righthanded bats made precious little headway until their third time through. Trailing 2-0 in the bottom of the 6th, Carlos Santana appeared to be hit by a pitch and it was confirmed by video review. Herrera followed with a single to right and, after 93 pitches, Brault was lifted for reliever Michael Feliz. Hoskins fell behind 0-2, then fouled off three pitches before launching one into the seats in left for a 3-2 lead. In the 8th, a strike out wild pitch, RBI hits by Hoskins and Kingery, a throwing error by first baseman David Freese all combined to put the game out of reach. Phillies, 6 – Pirates, 2
A little paperwork after the game, struggling lefty reliever Hoby Milner was returned to AAA Lehigh Valley to make room for Tommy Hunter, the veteran righty who had been on the DL since the beginning of the season.
Once again, the Phillies were in position to sweep a series. The Pirates put their fate in the hands of Trevor Williams, a righthander who appears to have figured something out. After finishing last year with a 4.07 ERA, he had cut that in half in his first few starts of 2018. Speaking of figuring something out, the Phillies gave the ball to Pivetta, who had shown confidence and seen some positive results, thus far. Both starters cruised through the first four innings. After Pivetta allowed a two-run homer to Elias Diaz in the top of the 5th, he sent a chalk-seeker down the rightfield line in the bottom half for a double that scored Knapp, who had walked. He would move to third on a wild pitch and later hustle home to tie the game on a sacrifice fly by Hernandez. By the 7th, the 2-2 game was left up to the bullpens. Scoring opportunities came and went as Sunday afternoon was threatening to become Sunday evening. In the bottom of the 11th, Knapp launched a ball into leftfield that clanked off the metal at the top of the fence and caromed away from Corey Dickerson. The resulting triple gave Aaron Altherr the chance for his first ever walk-off he hit. He delivered with a single to left to complete the four game sweep. Phillies, 3 – Pirates, 2
The win gave the Phillies a 9-1 record at home. It’s the best start in the history of Citizens Bank Park and ties the 1964 team for the best home start in the team’s history.
The Phightins started this litmus test two week stretch with a 5-2 run. Again, they weren’t perfect. But, again, they showed a resiliency and confidence that made it clear that they consider themselves to be in every game until the last out is recorded. Further proof? They are 9-3 in games when their opponent scores first.
Don’t look now, but the Phils are dead even in the win column with the New York Mets. If they could just figure out a way to beat them head-to-head …
Looking Ahead –
The Arizona Diamondbacks have not lost a series in 2018. Even with Jake Lamb’s bat out of the lineup, as he deals with a left shoulder injury, they are 15-6 and are four games clear of the rest of the NL West. This team will either be forged and galvanized by tests like these or exposed. Once they have dealt with the Snakes, they will finally get the Braves on their own turf. They are 2-4 in their two trips to Atlanta this year and would surely like to show them some of the same hospitality in return. Call it a quirk in the schedule, but the expected starters project to be identical to the first two sets. This means 9 of their first 26 games will have been with the Braves. They say familiarity breeds contempt. Frankly, we didn’t like these guys much to begin with.
New Guys of the Week –
Since Walt Weiss led the Colorado Rockies to six consecutive wins in the dying days of the 2013 season, no first year major league manager has compiled a comparable streak. Until this year … Gabe Kapler and the Phillies (6), Mickey Callaway and the New York Mets (9), Alex Cora and the Boston Red Sox (9 & 8) have all had streaks of at least six wins. Hard to pin it on beginners luck, light scheduling or loaded rosters … like anything else, it’s a combination of myriad factors. Not the least of which is that it’s a strange game this baseball.
$60 Million Man of the Week –
Many eyebrows were raised when the Phils plunked down a cool sixty mil for a player with a career batting average of .249 who had never hit more than 35 homers or knocked in as many as 90 runs in any single season. The main selling point was his veteran approach at the plate, his history of drawing walks (90+/year) and his on-base-percentage (.365). He may only be 21 games into a three-year contract, but the patience of the fans is already waning. His average has been consistently well below the dreaded ‘Mendoza Line’. While he has been walking at his established pace and seeing 4+ pitches per at-bat, he is striking out more often than usual and, at his current pace, would only drive in about 70 runs. When you look at the numbers Hernandez, Herrera and Hoskins are amassing around him, he is creating a chasm in the 2-hole that cannot be ignored.