This week could mark a last stand for Phillies 2018 postseason chances

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Kapler’s Phillies host the Nationals and Cubs in pivotal homestand

This has easily been the most interesting summer of baseball in Philadelphia in the last five years. 

Not since a too-little, too-late charge at the second NL Wildcard slot in September of 2012 have the Phillies provided fans with this level of sustained excitement.
On Friday, July 6 the Phillies crushed the host Pittsburgh Pirates by a 17-6 score at PNC Park to move into first place in the National League East Division. The club would remain perched atop the division standings for nearly six weeks.
Even after Sunday’s 8-3 win in Toronto, the Phillies have lost 11 of their last 17 games. The Braves have won nine of their last 16 in the same time frame. The result has been that Atlanta has slipped past them and built up a three-game lead in the division.
The Phillies are clearly reeling. All season long the club failed to score runs on a consistent basis and played unacceptable defense. But the starting pitching was mostly excellent, the bullpen got hot in July, and new manager Gabe Kapler kept the mostly young ball club believing in itself, enough to overcome their frequent mistakes.
That is no longer the case. Since sweeping a four-game set at home against the Miami Marlins at the start of August the Phillies have not managed to win any of their last half-dozen series.
The club now returns home to Citizens Bank Park for a pair of three-game match-ups. First will be the always tough Washington Nationals beginning with tonight’s 7:05PM series opener.
Zach Eflin, generally struggling since early July, will take the mound. The Phillies really need him to step up, but also need the offense to support him in order to get the week off on the right footing.
It would also be important to get the week started strong since Aaron Nola will take the mound for the Phillies in the second game on Tuesday night. Nola is having a Cy Young-caliber season, and will give the club an excellent chance at picking up a victory.
Following Wednesday’s series finale with Jake Arrieta on the mound the Phillies are scheduled to enjoy an off-day on Thursday. Next weekend it will be the team currently holding the best record in the National League invading South Philly as the Chicago Cubs come to town.

Hamels is scheduled to take the mound for the Cubs next Sunday
If the rotation and weather hold up the Phillies would be scheduled to send Nick PivettaVince Velasquez, and Eflin out against the Cubbies. Should the Chicago rotation hold up, their start on Sunday, September 2 would go to old friend Cole Hamels.
Since a deal just prior to the non-waiver trade deadline sent the now 34-year-old lefty from the Texas Rangers to Chicago, Hamels has been phenomenal. Over five starts he has a 4-0 record, allowing just 24 hits over 34 innings with a 30/8 K:BB ratio.
It would not be at all surprising to see Kapler make the decision to bump Eflin back a day, starting Nola on his normal four days of rest against Hamels and the Cubs.
The further schedule reveals that the Phillies have a long nine-game home stand beginning on September 10. If they can fight to remain in the race, those would make for some seriously fun days and nights down at the ball park. And then you have seven of the final 11 games of the season with the Braves.

Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia quoted Phillies star Rhys Hoskins following yesterday’s important victory:

“I don’t think our feeling has changed. September baseball is what we’re looking at right now. We know we play the division a lot and if we play — I think Jake Arrieta said it a couple nights ago — if we play better baseball, if we play good baseball, we’re going to be right where we want to be come the last 10 days of the season.”

If the Phillies are to turn their season back around, now is the time to start playing that good baseball. Atlanta is already trying to separate themselves in the divisional race. The Phillies are battling three or four others for one of two Wildcard spots
If they can’t win this week, by the time Labor Day rolls around a week from now their 2018 season could be on life support, and that potential September excitement virtually gone.

Time for Roman Quinn to replace Odubel Herrera in center field and bat leadoff for Phillies

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The dynamic Quinn is simply a better player than Herrera

The Phillies made the move to promote outfielder Roman Quinn from the Triple-A Lehigh Valley IronPigs in late July. It was the culmination of a long road back for the former organizational top five prospect.

Quinn has a long history of injuries which have slowed his progression to the big leagues. In 2013 it was a fractured wrist after being hit by a pitch. Following that season, Quinn tore his Achilles tendon while working out and missed the start of the 2014 campaign.
A strained muscle in his side early in the summer of 2016 slowed his conversion from his original shortstop position to center field. After he returned, it was a strained oblique suffered on a check swing that set him back once again.
Quinn was able to get back and was finally given a shot in the majors with a mid-September promotion later in that 2016 season. He hit .263 with a .373 on-base percentage, stole five bases, and scored 10 runs in 69 plate appearances. His outfield defense was exceptional. It seemed as if he was ready for a regular role with the big club.
Last year, Quinn began back in the minors, but appeared healthy and on track for a return to the Phillies whenever they first needed someone. But in May came perhaps his most cruel setback when he suffered a UCL injury to his left elbow.
Back on track earlier this year, it happened again. In May, Quinn dove into a base and injured his finger. What was originally diagnosed as a sprain ended up requiring surgery. He would miss the next eight weeks recovering from that procedure.
Eventually he would again recover and begin playing. By late July, Quinn had built his overall average across three minor league levels this year up to the .302 mark. Perhaps just as importantly he had swiped 14 bags and scored 18 times in just 117 plate appearances.
Healthy again, the Phillies really had no one at the big-league level who possessed the kind of dynamic, game-altering speed that he could bring to their lineup options. So, Quinn finally got that call in late July.
He arrived to a team battling for the NL East Division lead with a virtually set outfield of Rhys Hoskins in left, Odubel Herrera in center, and Nick Williams in right. But Herrera was struggling mightily on offense and defense, which cracked open a door for some playing time.
Since that promotion, Quinn has appeared in 23 games, but has been given just nine starting opportunities. Over 54 plate appearances he is slashing .346/.370/.500 with five extra-base hits and five stolen bases.
More recently, over his last eight games and 24 plate appearances, Quinn is slashing .478/.500/.696 with four runs scored and three steals. It is pretty clear that the 25-year old with over 1,900 minor league plate appearances is ready for a chance to play every day in Major League Baseball.
Herrera continues to struggle. Over his last 13 games and 45 plate appearances the 26-year-old is slashing an anemic .159/.178/.227 mark. His home run two nights ago resulted in his lone extra-base hit and run scored during that stretch. His defense has alternated between atrocious and laughable.
Placing Quinn at the top of the everyday Phillies lineup in center field in place of Herrera will not solve all of the Phillies run production problems. But what it would do is prove that Phillies manager Gabe Kapler recognizes the obvious – that Quinn is a more talented and dynamic player than Herrera and deserves to start.

Early last week, Kapler was openly considering such a move. He was quoted by Corey Seidman with NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“…have to be responsive to…how people are feeling about how much energy a guy like Roman Quinn brings to the field…I feel like we get a big boost when he’s in the lineup. Or even when we send him out to pinch-run, everybody kind of moves a little bit closer to the rail to watch what unfolds. I want to be responsive to that and that’s why I say he’s earned the right to go out there and start in center field tonight for us.”

Carlos Santana since July 8 is slashing .212/.320/.336 with 20 RBI over 41 games and 169 plate appearances. If you want to give Odubel more chances, let them come in left field. Put the 25-year-old Hoskins, who is clearly a huge part of your long-term future, back where he belongs and is most comfortable, at first base.
Admit you made a mistake by giving Santana $60 million for his ages 32-34 seasons. And that five-year, $30 million deal you cut with Odubel is chump change in today’s market. It certainly doesn’t guarantee the man a starting job for the next half-decade. Cut bait and switch. Be as bold as your marketing campaign.
Starting Quinn every day in place of Herrera and moving Hoskins back to first base every day in place of Santana won’t solve all the problems. But the moves would represent something important. They would represent management’s ability to recognize and fix mistakes. And it would show that they recognize the best players and their best usage for both the present and future of this team.

Matt Klentak might be wise to look into lefty reliever Francisco Liriano

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Francisco Liriano could help the Phillies as a lefty reliever

There is a great deal of warranted interest and excitement every year around the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline in Major League Baseball.

Teams can deal away players up until 4:00PM EDT on that date without first subjecting them to the waiver wire.

Once that deadline passes it doesn’t mean that trades cannot be made. After that point players can still be dealt. However, they must first pass through waivers.
Non-contending teams frequently will put a player they are interested in dealing on waivers during the month of August. Each of the other 29 clubs in MLB have an opportunity to make a claim in reverse order of the current standings.
If no one claims the player, he enters into a status of having “cleared waivers” and he can then be traded. If the player is claimed, the team who waived him can let him go to the claiming team, can pull him back, or can work out a trade with the claiming team.
It happens every year that some players are dealt in this manner. Phillies fans may remember that a couple of the 2008 World Series heroes, Chase Utley in 2015 and Carlos Ruiz in 2016, were each dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers during the month of August.
Phillies already made one August move
this year, adding Bour’s veteran lefty bat.
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak has already moved once this month to help strengthen his club. The Phillies GM obtained Justin Bour on August 10 from the Miami Marlins in exchange for prospect pitcher McKenzie Mills.
Steve Adams of MLB Trade Rumors has reported that veteran left-handed pitcher Francisco Liriano of the Detroit Tigers as cleared waivers. 
Adams describes the value that Liriano could bring to a team such as the Phillies:There is another player out there who has apparently cleared waivers who could also help the Phillies, and who might come at a similarly reasonable cost.

“…he’s held left-handed pitching to a terrible .141/.247/.239 slash through 81 plate appearances. With $984K still owed to him through the end of the year, he’d be a reasonably affordable lefty specialist for a contending team’s bullpen.”

Liriano is a 34-year-old now in his 13th big league season. He was originally signed as a teenager by the Minnesota Twins, and broke in with the Twins in the 2005 season.
In his first full season with Minnesota in 2006, Liriano went 12-3 with a 144/23 K:BB ratio over 121 innings in 28 games, 16 of those as a starter. He made the American League all-star team and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
He would go on to have big years with the Twins in 2010 when he finished 11th in the AL Cy Young Award voting, and then in 2013 when he finished 9th in the NL Cy Young voting as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
At the July 31, 2017 non-waiver deadline, Liriano was dealt from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Houston Astros. A member of the Jays rotation, Liriano became a lefty specialist with the Astros, making 20 appearances out of the bullpen for manager A.J. Hinch and helping the team nail down the AL West Division crown.
During the postseason he tossed 2.1 innings over five total appearances across the ALDS, ALCS, and the World Series, helping Houston win its first ever championship. He allowed one run, a homer to Rafael Devers of the Boston Red Sox in Game Three of that American League Division Series at Fenway Park.
Liriano signed with the Tigers as a free agent just prior to spring training opening back at the end of February. Pitching mostly as a member of the Detroit starting rotation he has compiled a 3-8 record, allowing just 89 hits across 97.1 innings. He flirted with no-hitters twice this season.
However, Liriano has experienced problems with his command and control. Those struggles have resulted in 58 walks, an unsightly 5.4 per nine innings. With his FIP mark at 5.63 compared to a 4.72 ERA, it could be argued that Liriano has pitched even worse than his overall poor numbers would suggest.
What we are talking about here is the ability to add a veteran left-hander with a history of prior success. One who has pitched deep into the postseason as recently as a year ago for a world championship team.
It’s all about price. He’s not owed very much in salary for the balance of this season. There is no commitment beyond this year. If you can get him for a song, which you may be able to, it certainly seems worth looking into by the Phillies.
Klentak has worked over the last three weeks to bring in veterans to help this surprising contender. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and catcher Wilson Ramos at the non-waiver deadline, Bour after it passed. Liriano would be that same type of short-term, inexpensive move.
Both Aaron Loup and Austin Davis are on the disabled list. Right now, Adam Morgan is the lone left-hander in the Phillies bullpen. Unless there is some personal, medical, or other issue with Liriano that doesn’t appear on the surface, then if I’m Klentak, I’m on the phone with Tigers GM Al Avila today.

Phillies find their third baseman of the future in the present of Maikel Franco

Franco finally solidifying his Phillies future
Entering the 2018 season the future was beginning to get a bit hazy for Maikel Franco. That future as far as the Philadelphia Phillies were concerned was beginning to get even hazier as the first two months unfolded, and the summer arrived.
On June 20, Franco suffered through an 0-4 performance during a game against the Saint Louis Cardinals. That o-fer was just the latest in a season that was getting away from the 25-year-old third baseman.
At that point, Franco was sporting a .240/.284/.409 slash line with just 16 extra-base hits over his first 225 plate appearances. He was playing uninspired defense. In fact, he had already lost playing time with J.P. Crawford making eight June starts at the hot corner.
But then on June 19, Crawford was hit by a pitch from Cardinals pitcher Luke Weaver. That pitch broke a bone in Crawford’s right hand, leading to a nearly two-month stint on the disabled list. It also led to a second chance for Franco.
Though he took that 0-4 collar in his first game back as the everyday starter, Franco would make the most of his second chance. The next night in Washington, Franco produced a four-hit night, and was on his way to securing his position as the Phillies starter at the hot corner.
Over his last 47 games, 44 of those starts, Franco has slashed .327/.369/.577 and has banged 11 home runs and nine doubles. On July 23 against the Los Angeles Dodgers he blasted two homers. Three days later on July 26 in Cincinnati, he repeated that feat against the host Reds.
In an August 2 game at Citizens Bank Park against the Miami Marlins, the Phillies rallied to tie the game at 2-2 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. 
Then with two runners on base, Franco stepped to the plate and delivered an emotional walk off three-run home run, punctuating his blast with one of the most emotional bat flips in baseball history.
In yesterday’s doubleheader split with the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park, Franco continued his solid hitting. He went 3-8 with a home run in the opener, then contributed a double in the second game victory.
A month into his rebirth, Franco was quoted by Rob Parent of the Delaware County Daily Times:

“I know my game plan isn’t different now, when I go out and play defense and my offense, too, when I go to the box. I just want to keep working hard…and do everything I can do for my team..I know the last couple of years here I did not do what everybody expect or what I expect. I’m just trying to forget that…I’m just trying to get better and better every single day.”

In addition to his offensive breakout, which has also included 25 RBI, Franco has stepped up his defensive game with numerous fielding gems. Following a recent strong performance, manager Gabe Kapler was quoted by Jon Marks for Metro Philadelphia:

“Just a reminder things can turn around fast. In the span of a month, you can go from a guy who’s having a hard time staying in the lineup every day, to a guy you legitimately cannot take out of the lineup for any reason.”

Crawford was activated from the disabled list earlier this week and sent down to AAA Lehigh Valley. There he will get the playing time and at-bats needed to regain his timing and form in the hopes of helping the Phillies secure a postseason berth during September.
With the IronPigs, Crawford will be playing at his natural shortstop position. With Franco now firmly entrenched at third base, that is where the future lies for Crawford.
The Phillies recently traded for veteran shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. So barring injuries, when Crawford does return he will be mostly coming off the bench as a defensive replacement, as well as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner.
When the off-season rolls around, things get murkier on the left side of the infield. Cabrera will turn 33-years-old in November and will become a free agent as well. It is unlikely that the Phillies will be bringing him back for 2019.
Will the club go hard for Manny Machado, who has made it clear that he wants to play shortstop? If the Phillies are able to lure the perennial all-star, that would likely turn Crawford into trade bait.
Franco is arbitration eligible in 2019. He cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season. The Phillies have a large amount of control over him for the next three years. Those three years will take Franco, who turns 26 at the end of this month, through his age 29 season.
What Franco has demonstrated over these last two months is that he is not only the present for the Phillies at third base, but also their future at the position. With third base now locked down, the club can turn to other positions of need in the knowledge that the hot corner is in good hands.

Young Phillies benefiting from experience of bench coach Rob Thomson

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Thomson (L) lends tremendous experience to rookie skipper Kapler (R)

In late October of last year the Philadelphia Phillies announced that they would hire Gabe Kapler as their new manager. 

Kapler had spent a lifetime in baseball. But that lifetime was just 42 years long, and he had never held the role of big league skipper.
In fact, Kapler had just one season of managerial experience at all. A decade earlier he guided the Greenville Drive, the Low A minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, to a 58-81 record.
According to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, Kapler had impressed Phillies brass, which included controlling partner John Middleton and general manager Matt Klentak, with is “energy and intellect” during the interview process.
Salisbury quoted Klentak at the time of the hiring: “Gabe has a track record of leadership, winning, progressive thinking and working with young players, and we fully believe that he is the right person to guide this organization into the future.”
As Phillies fans have learned, Kapler is extraordinary at planning and research. He also knows his own shortcomings and is always looking to learn and improve.
Kapler knew well that he needed a bench coach with experience. Someone who could help him organize the team during his first-ever spring training, and then be available for sound advice in the dugout as the season unfolded.
According to Salisbury, Kapler did his research and what he kept hearing was that Thomson, then with the New York Yankees organization, was “the best in the business at planning and running a spring training camp.
The 54-year-old Thomson had spent the last 28 years, more than half his life, in Yankees pinstripes. He was their third base coach when the Bronx Bombers defeated the Phillies in the 2009 World Series. He then became Joe Girardi‘s bench coach, and became one of the leading candidates to take over as manager of the storied franchise. That job ultimately went to Aaron Boone.
Before Boone could get settled in and begin considering his own coaching staff options, Kapler swooped in and swiped Thomson away. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who chose Boone over Thomson for his club’s managerial position, was quoted by Salisbury:

“He’s tough. He will be brutally honest. He’ll say what a player needs to hear, not necessarily what a player wants to hear. And he’ll always relate well to players because he always has their best interest at heart. The Phillies got one of the best.”

Thomson was everything that Kapler hoped, taking charge of spring training with input from the entire coaching staff. Meghan Montemurro with The Athletic caught up with him as his first spring down in Clearwater was coming to an end, quoting him on the most valuable attribute of a bench coach:

“…the manager, he’s got so many things to deal with. He’s got the pitching staff. He’s got double switches. He’s got his offense. He’s got his defense. He’s got a lot of things on his mind. So my job primarily is to be prepared and just keep reminding him of certain things and ask questions just to remind him of certain things and to make sure we don’t forget anything.”

As most fans of the team and those around the game already are well aware, Kapler had a rough opening week. The club lost four of their first five games and stood at just 3-5 after the bullpen blew a game late on April 8. Worse than the on-field struggles, it appeared that there could be early trouble brewing in the clubhouse as well.
Inside Baseball: Gabe Kapler heard some boos today from the home crowd, but he has more important folks to win over. he has time but here’s a quote from the clubhouse on phils’ slow start: “We’ll be OK … We just need the manager to get out of the way.” 

Heyman is a good, knowledgeable Major League Baseball information source with generally reliable sources. However, he is also prone to feeding into melodramatic story lines and rumors at times.
As the Phillies ship began to right itself over the coming weeks, Heyman quoted an anonymous scout who suggested that it was the influence of Thomson that was most responsible for that turnaround.
Per Phillies Nation’s Tim Kelly, then for Sports Talk Philly, Heyman quoted the scout: “Thomson literally has taken over game decisions. He just tells Kapler what to do and he does it – like a puppet.”
Anyone who knows Kapler would know that is nothing more than pure hogwash. Kapler is about as confident an individual as you are going to find in the game. While he absolutely seeks advice and input from Thomson and all of his coaches, he is never going to be anyone’s puppet.
Instead, the more likely scenario is that Thomson has provided Kapler with exactly what the manager wanted when he made the bench coach choice. An experienced voice. A baseball mind that has been in the dugout and the clubhouse, seen and heard it all, and who has invaluable advice to provide.
Kapler takes in that advice, processes it with the other information that he possesses from his own experience base and the analytical tools the organization provides him with, and makes his decisions.
By the time his former Yankees friends arrived in Philadelphia for a late June series at Citizens Bank Park, the Phillies had fought their way to a winning record and looked like a young club on the rise.
Meredith Marakovitz of the YES Network scored an interview with Thomson, and specifically asked his opinion on Kapler:

“Unbelievable. This guy’s got it. He’s gonna be a really, really great manager. He’s got great communication skills. He understands the analytics part of the game. And he understands the heartbeat of a player, being a former player himself. We went through some rough times early, but he’s stuck with it. He’s very positive. He learns from mistakes. He adjusts well. I think he’s just tremendous to work for.”

The Phillies have had their ups and downs in this 2018 season as they battle to shed the losing of the last half-decade and return to contending status. But since that rough opening stretch the club has fashioned a 63-48 record. 
They currently control an NL Wildcard playoff berth. The Phillies also recently spent more than a month at the top of the NL East standings.
With baseball’s youngest lineup for most of the season and with a rookie manager, Thomson’s veteran input has been a big part of the ability of this team to weather its growing pains.
Thomson is celebrating his 55th birthday today. He will be in the dugout this evening as the Phillies host the New York Mets in a big doubleheader at Citizens Bank Park. 
So he will be spending his birthday doing the thing he does best and enjoys most. He will be doing everything he can to help a big-league baseball team win games. Kapler and the Phillies are lucky that it’s their team that Thomson is now helping.