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Phillies visit Braves for a June 2019 first-place showdown series

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Phillies visit SunTrust Park for big series with Braves

The Philadelphia Phillies (38-30) sat alone at the top of the National League East Division standings for seven straight weeks, covering every day from April 25 through last weekend.

Losses in eight of their last 13 games, including three of their four games so far this week, opened the door for the Atlanta Braves (40-29) to make a move.
The Braves took full advantage, winning 10 of their last 12 to surge past the Phillies and into first place in the division. Atlanta is now riding a seven-game winning streak.
The two rivals will meet for the second time this year over the weekend, and the NL East Division lead will be directly on the line. The site will be SunTrust Park in Atlanta this time, after the Phillies swept the Braves out of Citizens Bank Park in the season’s very first series back in late March.
The Braves have performed far better statistically in the 2019 season. Their 5.17 runs-per-game ranks fifth in the National League, while the Phillies 4.87 is the league’s seventh-ranked mark. At the plate, the Braves out-rank the Phillies in OPS (4-9), home runs (5-11), and stolen bases (8-15) in the NL.

On the mound among the 15 NL teams, the Braves out-rank the Phillies in batting average against (7-13) and OPS against (9-13), though Phillies hurlers have a slightly better ERA.
The Phillies just got reliever Edubray Ramos back from the Injured List, and hope to have reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Roman Quinn back for this series.
This is an early gut-check for the Phillies. Struggling for the last couple of weeks, they now look up in the standings at their weekend hosts. They will have to listen to Braves fans doing the obnoxious ‘Tomahawk Chop’ any time the home team does anything positive. How the Phillies respond to this challenge over the next three days will reveal much about their own collective character.

ATLANTA BRAVES

TOP LINEUP THREATS

Freddie Freeman: The 10-year veteran first baseman is well on his way to a fourth NL All-Star nod, slashing .311/.401/.592 and leading the Braves with 18 homers, 37 extra-base hits, 46 RBIs, and 49 runs scored.
Nick Markakis: 35-year-old, 14-year big-league veteran right fielder is slashing .276/.368/.431 with 35 RBIs. He is second on the club with 43 runs scored.
Ronald Acuna Jr. The 21-year-old center fielder was last year’s NL Rookie of the Year and is not suffering a sophomore slump. He is slashing .285/.365/.493 and is second on the team with 15 homers and 45 RBIs and leads them with nine steals.
Dansby Swanson: 25-year-old shortstop has broken out with 13 homers, 27 extra-base hits, 43 RBIs, 42 runs scored, and six stolen bases.
Ozzie Albies: 22-year-old second baseman has 10 homers, 26 extra-base hits, 41 runs scored, and five steals.
Austin Riley: The NL’s Rookie of the Month for May, the 22-year-old rookie left fielder is hitting .290 with a .617 slugging percentage and has 10 homers and 29 RBIs even though he wasn’t called up until May 15.
Brian McCann: 35-year-old, 15-year big-league veteran catcher is the lefty side of an almost straight platoon. He is hitting .272 with five homers and 24 RBIs in just 134 plate appearances.

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER

Josh Donaldson: A 33-year-old, nine-year big-league veteran third baseman, Donaldson signed a one-year, $23 million contract with the Braves as a free agent back in late November. The 2015 AL MVP while with the Toronto Blue Jays is a 3x American League All-Star and has a pair of Silver Slugger Awards on his mantlepiece.
Donaldson has been a bit of a disappointment with Atlanta, slashing just .236/.349/.419 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. After starring with the Blue Jays, Donaldson suffered through an injury-marred season a year ago and was dealt to the Cleveland Indians, helping the Tribe to the AL Central crown with a solid performance down the stretch.
There is every chance that Donaldson is simply a one-year rental for Atlanta, with Riley taking over at his own more natural position beginning next season. For now, having Donaldson bust out with anything resembling his former Toronto MVP form would be a major boost to the already dangerous Braves lineup.

SCHEDULED STARTING PITCHERS

FRIDAY – Max Fried (25/L): 7-3, 3.75 ERA, 1.292 WHIP, 74 hits over 72 IP across 15 games (13 starts) with a 66/19 K:BB
SATURDAY – Sean Newcomb (26/L): 1-0, 2.59 ERA, 1.340 WHIP, 32 hits over 31.1 IP across 19 games (3 starts) with a 26/10 K:BB
SUNDAY – Mike Foltynewicz (27/R): 1-5, 6.02 ERA, 1.318 WHIP, 52 hits over 49.1 IP across nine starts with a 42/13 K:BB

KEY BENCH & BULLPEN PIECES

Tyler Flowers: splits the catching duties with McCann as the right-handed hitting half. Flowers has five homers and 11 extra-base hits over just 138 plate appearances.
Johan Camargo: 25-year-old was the Braves starting third baseman a year ago, but has become a utility player this year with the addition of Donaldson. He has been used at five different defensive positions and has 10 extra-base hits over 128 plate appearances.
Matt Joyce: 34-year-old, 12-year big-league veteran is a nice lefty bat off the bench with nine extra-base hits over just 75 plate appearances. He was a 2011 AL All-Star while with Tampa Bay.
Charlie Culberson: Utility man is slashing .354/.396/.625 over just 53 plate appearances with a half-dozen extra-base hits.
Luke Jackson: The 27-year-old righty has taken the Braves closer job and produced 10 saves with a 3.18 ERA and 1.235 WHIP. He has allowed 33 hits over 34 innings with a 49/9 K:BB ratio.
Josh Tomlin: Former starter with the Cleveland Indians, the 34-year-old, 10-year big-league veteran righty has allowed 31 hits over 35 innings across 23 appearances with a 22/3 K:BB.
A.J. Minter: Hard-throwing 25-year-old lefty could one day be the club’s closer. He was just activated earlier this week after spending nearly a month on the IL, and has struck out 18 over 13 innings this season.
Jacob Webb: 25-year-old right-hander has allowed 17 hits over 19.1 innings with a 20/10 K:BB.

THE SKIPPER

Brian Snitker is a 63-year-old who has been in the Braves organization in one role or another for more than four decades, starting as a player and winding through the minor league coaching ranks. He served as the Braves bullpen coach in the late-1980’s, and was their third base coach from 2007-13.
In May 2016, Snitker was named as the interim manager to replace Fredi Gonzalez, who was fired with the club in last place. Five months later he was named the full-time skipper and is now in his third full season at the helm. He guided the club to the NL East crown a year ago, losing in four games to the Los Angeles Dodgers in an NLDS.

THE BALLPARK

This is now the Braves third season playing at the ballpark, which is located in Cumberland, Cobb County, just 10 miles from the downtown Atlanta area. The ballpark is named for the local SunTrust Bank in a 25-year naming rights deal. A merger of that bank with BB&T will result in an eventual name change following this season.
SunTrust is billed as having the highest percentage of seats closer to the field than any ballpark in Major League Baseball. There is also air conditioning piped to every level of the ballpark to help during the hot Atlanta summer days.
There is a Monument Garden area displaying highlights of the franchise history. It is located in the concourse behind home plate, and features a statue of Baseball Hall of Fame living legend Hank Aaron, who played with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves for 21 seasons.
Dimensions down the line are 335 feet to left, 325 feet to right. The power alleys are roughly 375 (RC) and 385 (LC) feet, out to a 400-foot dead-center field wall. In the 2019 season, SunTrust ranks behind only Coors Field in Denver, Colorado and Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, Ohio in ESPN’s ‘Park Factors‘ as an offensive-leaning ballpark.

SERIES WEATHER REPORT

FRIDAY: sunny and upper-70’s at 7:20 pm first pitch with light winds and almost zero chance of rain
SATURDAY: partly cloudy and low-80’s at 7:20 pm first pitch with light winds and almost zero chance of rain
SUNDAY: mostly sunny and mid-80s at 1:20 pm first pitch with light winds and just a 5% chance of rain
(Forecast supplied via The Weather Channel)

2019 season opens for Phillies rookie-level Williamsport Crosscutters

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Historic Bowman Field again hosts the Crosscutters for 2019

The Philadelphia Phillies short-season affiliates in the New York-Penn League, the Williamsport Crosscutters, will begin play for the 2019 season tonight (Friday) at historic Bowman Field in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
The Phillies minor league affiliates at the Triple-A (Lehigh Valley), Double-A (Reading), High-A (Clearwater), and Low-A (Lakewood) levels have been competing for more than two months now.
The NY-Penn League season starts in mid-June, with many team rosters featuring players selected in the most recent MLB Draft who have signed a contract with the big-league organization. Those recent draftees have until July 12 to sign, but most are under contract well before that point.
New York–Penn League teams may have no more than three players on their active lists that have four or more years of prior combined MLB/MiLB service time, with the exception of position players changing roles to become pitchers and vice versa.

The NY-P is one of three such rookie-level leagues set to get underway. The Northwest League also opens play on Friday night, with eight teams located in the Northwestern United States and in Canada. On Tuesday the Pioneer League, with eight teams located in the Rocky Mountain region of the U.S., will get to begin play in their 2019 season.
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Rhys Hoskins began his pro career playing in 70 games with the Crosscutters back in the summer of 2014, right after the Phillies had made him their 5th round draft pick.
There will be 14 teams making up the 2019 New York-Penn League, with Williamsport taking part in their 13th year as a Phillies affiliate. Prior to that, the City of Williamport, located approximately 130 miles northwest of Philly, hosted a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate for eight seasons from 1999-2006, and a Chicago Cubs affiliate for five seasons from 1994-98.
The 14 NY-P teams are split among three divisions: McNamara (4), Stedler (4), and Pinckney (6), with Williamsport having finished in last place in the standings (32-44) a year ago.
Former big-league catcher Pat Borders will serve as the Williamsport manager for his fifth season at the helm of the Crosscutters. He has a 154-147 record as the skipper, holds the franchise record for managerial wins, and led the club to the 2015 Pinckney Division championship.
The 56-year-old Borders won a Gold medal with the U.S. baseball team at the 2000 Summer Olympics and played in MLB for 17 seasons, eight of those in Toronto. He was the Blue Jays starting catcher on their back-to-back World Series championship teams in 1992 and 1993.
Williamsport will open the season on Friday night by taking on the State College Spikes. Speedy outfielder Corbin Williams will lead the club’s offensive attack. A 21-year-old who was the Phillies 24th round draft pick a year ago out of college in California, Williams is stepping up a level after playing his first pro season in the Gulf Coast League after signing last summer. He has graded out as having 80 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale.
Gustavo Armas, a 23-year-old right-hander from Venezuela, will get the start on the mound in the opener for the Crosscutters. Armas has already pitched in eight games this season for the High-A Clearwater Threshers in his sixth minor league season.
I’m really excited, man, really excited,” said Armas during the Crosscutters’ media day on Wednesday per Brian Holtzapple at The Standard-Journal. “This is my first opening-day start in my career, so I feel really excited, and I feel really prepared and really good for (Friday).
BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field has an official seating capacity of 2,366 and opened in Williamport all the way back in 1926, making it the second-oldest ballpark in all of Minor League Baseball.
For the past two seasons the ballpark has played host to one official MLB game each year known as the ‘Little League Classic‘, with the Phillies and Mets participating in last year’s tilt, which comes in conjunction with the Little League World Series each August.
There are many familiar names to Phillies fans who have pulled on a Crosscutters jersey. Included among them are current Phillies players Rhys HoskinsCesar HernandezMaikel FrancoAdam MorganHector NerisRoman QuinnAndrew Knapp, and Seranthony Dominguez.
Other notable big-leaguers who have played with the team include Andrew McCutchenJose Bautista, and Rajai Davis. Last year’s top Phillies draft pick, Alec Bohm, played in 29 games here last summer.
While winning is nice, that really isn’t what the NY-P is all about. This is a chance for young players, and occasionally more established players who are making some major change to their game, to gain playing experience and develop their games in front of professional coaches and scouts.
For any Philly-area fans who may want to take a trip to check out the action, expect a drive of just under four hours starting out on either I-76 or I-476. There are also one-hour flights from Philly to the Williamsport Regional Airport.

Phillies now face a key month with nothing but the NL East on the schedule

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It will be the Phillies vs the NL East for the next month

The Philadelphia Phillies (38-30) dropped the finale of a six-game homestand to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday night. That loss was their third in the last four games. They are just 5-8 since reaching a season-best 11 games over the .500 mark following a victory back on May 29.

Meanwhile, the defending National League East Division champion Atlanta Braves have gotten white hot. The Braves defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates by a 6-5 score on Thursday afternoon in Atlanta for their seventh consecutive victory, their ninth win over their last 11 games.
As a result of this recent turn of events for the two teams, the Phillies have fallen out of first place for the first time since April 25. They are now 1.5 games behind the Braves, a game back in the loss column.

The Phillies still control a National League Wildcard playoff slot, but are just 2.5 games up on both the Dbacks and the Colorado Rockies for that postseason berth, just two in the loss column on Colorado.
NFL head coach Jim Mora, then with the Indianapolis Colts, famously responded back in November 2001 to a reporter asking him about his team contending for a playoff berth: “Playoffs? Don’t talk about – playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs?
It is waaaaay too early to be worrying about playoffs for the Phillies. Before fans, and more importantly the team’s management, can think about the postseason, they have to worry about winning ball games on a more consistent basis.
Over the next month, the 2019 Major League Baseball schedule has delivered a pretty incredible quirk to the Phillies, one that will provide them with an excellent barometer as to where they actually stand. Their next 26 games will come within the division. It breaks down as follows:
Braves (6): at Atlanta this weekend, July 2-4 in Philly
Nationals (7): June 17-20 at Washington, July 12-14 in Philly
Mets (7): June 24-27 in Philly, July 5-7 in New York
Marlins (6): June 21-23 in Philly, June 28-30 in Miami
There is just one regular off-day in that stretch, coming on Monday, July 1 in the midst of a nine-game road trip through Miami, Atlanta, and New York.
The MLB All-Star break comes from July 8-11, just prior to a pivotal seven-game homestand that will see the Nationals in for three games to end that month-long divisional stretch. The Nats will be followed at Citizens Bank Park by a four-game long weekend with the NL’s top team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This month of games within the NL East will get the Phillies up to and through the mid-point in the 2019 MLB schedule, which is scheduled to come on during a four-game home series with the Mets at the end of this month. When the month of divisional games ends, there will be a just a little more than two weeks left until the MLB trade deadline.

Middleton (left) and Klentak (C) brought in Harper (R) and others to bolster the lineup, but now more needs to be done to reach the 2019 postseason.
It would really be a stretch to blame management. Matt Klentak and John Middleton came through, upgrading the lineup in a major way with the off-season additions of Bryce HarperJ.T. RealmutoJean Segura, and Andrew McCutchen.
Klentak then traded for Jay Bruce in an attempt to bolster the bench and versatility options for manager Gabe Kapler. That plan went awry when McCutchen was almost immediately lost to a season-ending injury, forcing Bruce to start everyday, again leaving the bench short-handed.
Management could not possibly have foreseen the incredible run of major injuries which have struck the bullpen. And letting the starting rotation play out for the first couple of months was the right move as well. It was expected that Aaron Nola would be an emerging ‘Ace’, a healthy Jake Arrieta a reliable #2 starter, and that the mix of Zach EflinNick Pivetta, and Vince Velasquez would find at least two of the three stepping up to become legitimate big-league options.
Though you cannot blame management to this point for the team’s struggles, they will be to blame if they simply throw in the towel and do not move aggressively to plug the leaks in what appears at this moment to be a seriously leaking ship.
In order to seriously contend, these Phillies need a few things. One more proven, veteran starting pitcher, preferably a left-hander. At least one more strong, veteran bullpen arm with late-innings experience. And they need a couple of veterans who can come off the bench as legitimate pinch-hitting threats.
Of course, the urgency to fill those holes could be mitigated by more production from a few of the players from whom more has been expected than delivered. I am speaking here specifically about Harper, Nola, Arrieta, and Rhys Hoskins. While each of those players has had their moments, and a good stretch or two, none has produced to their potential.
It will be interesting to see how this year’s version of the Phillies will respond to a poor stretch of play that saw them lose a grip on the top of the division. Last year’s squad didn’t just respond poorly to just such a situation in mid-August, they totally collapsed.
This team appears to be more mature and even appears to be deeper in talent than the 2018 version. How these Phillies respond over this next month against their NL East Division rivals will tell a great deal about not only their talent, but also their determination and their collective character.

Phillies wrap homestand looking to win series from Diamondbacks

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The ball girls are always on their games down at Citizens Bank Park

For skipper Gabe Kapler and the Philadelphia Phillies (38-29) tonight’s game with the visiting Arizona Diamondbacks (35-33) is important for a number of reasons.

First, it would keep the Phillies at least even with the Braves at the top of the NL East Division standings. The Braves host the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night and Thursday afternoon, leading into a key three-game series with the Phillies in Atlanta this coming weekend.
Second, it would give the Phillies yet another series victory. Doing whatever it takes to somehow win most of their series has been the club’s direction to the top of those standings thus far this season.
The Phillies have gone 13-5-3 in all series during this 2019 season coming into this Dbacks three-gamer. They are 8-2-1 in home series to this point, and haven’t lost one in South Philly since Milwaukee took three of four nearly a month ago.
After their weekend in Hotlanta the club will head to Washington for a series with the red-hot division rival Nationals for a four-game series to open play next week. These two series begin a huge stretch of 26 consecutive games against only NL East rivals, one that will last until beyond the mid-July MLB All-Star Game break.
This will mark the last time for Phillies fans to see their club in person at Citizens Bank Park for more than a week. A final chance for awhile to enjoy the great food choices out on Ashburn Alley, be entertained by the antics of the Phillie Phanatic, and enjoy the ringing of the giant Liberty Bell. One more chance to catch BP fly balls in the stands, and to dump the bodies of their beloved family members on the home team dugout roof.

WAIT, WHAT?

WEDNESDAY STARTING LINEUPS

PHILLIES
  1. Cesar Hernandez 2B
  2. Jean Segura SS
  3. Jay Bruce LF
  4. Rhys Hoskins 1B
  5. J.T. Realmuto C
  6. Scott Kingery CF
  7. Nick Williams RF
  8. Maikel Franco 3B
  9. Zach Eflin P
(First day off for Bryce Harper)
DIAMONDBACKS
  1. Ketel Marte CF
  2. Ildemaro Vargas 2B
  3. David Peralta LF
  4. Adam Jones RF
  5. Eduardo Escobar 3B
  6. Christian Walker 1B
  7. Nick Ahmed SS
  8. Carson Kelly C
  9. Merrill Kelly P

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING MATCHUP

PHILLIES: Zach Eflin, 6-5, 2.88 ERA, 1.194 WHIP, 68 hits over 72 IP across 12 starts with a 57/18 K:BB
DBACKS: Merrill Kelly, 6-6, 4.12 ERA, 1.359 WHIP, 76 hits over 74.1 IP across 13 starts with a 58/25 K:BB. Kelly is a 30-year old rookie right-hander who took an unusual path to the big-leagues. He was the Rays eighth round pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, was released by Tampa Bay in December 2014, and went to Korea. There he pitched four seasons with SK Wyverns of the KBO. Kelly signed as a free agent with the Dbacks in December, and made their starting rotation out of spring training.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PREGAME NOTES

  • The Phillies are 25-6 when they score first this season, 34-5 when scoring four or more runs, 34-2 when leading after six innings, and 24-3 when they outhit their opposition. They are also 33-13 when bashing at least one home run.
  • Six different players have received starting assignments in center field this season for the Phillies. Only one of those players, Scott Kingery, is currently active and healthy on the roster.
  • Eflin has been the Phillies most consistent starting pitcher this season. He missed a start with back spasms, but returned last Friday to hold the Cincinnati Reds to one earned run and four hits over 6.1 innings. That marked Eflin’s seventh Quality Start on the season, second only to the nine accumulated by Jake Arrieta.
  • Kelly has been a real find for Arizona. He has six Quality Starts, including his last two, and has pitched into or beyond the 7th inning in each of his last three outings.
  • The annual Phillies Phestival will take place beginning at 3:30 pm on Thursday afternoon at Citizens Bank Park, after which the team will depart for their weekend in Atlanta.  Since the Phillies adopted ALS in 1984 as their primary charity, over $18 million has been raised for patient care and services in the Greater Philadelphia area. Over the last 35 years, players and their wives and girlfriends, coaches, broadcasters, front office staff and day of game staff have come together to host this special event. Last year, more than $725,000 was raised at the annual autograph and auction party.

INJURY REPORT

PHILLIES: Both outfielder Roman Quinn and relief pitcher Edubray Ramos are on rehab assignments and could return to the Phillies soon. Relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek were due to throw bullpen sessions over the last day or so, and will then be re-evaluated for a possible return. The other four relief pitchers and two positions players on the IL are not near a return.
DBACKS: Infielder Jake Lamb is on the 10-day IL with a left quad strain, is on a Triple-A rehab assignment, and hopes to return soon. There are a half-dozen other Arizona players on the IL, but none are close to a return.

TICKET IQ PROGRAMMING INFORMATION


Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins is finally breaking out of a long slump

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Rhys Hoskins beginning to break out of a slump

Despite statistics in offensive, pitching, and defensive categories that seem to point to their being a middle-of-the-road ball club, the Philadelphia Phillies have fought their way to consistent series wins in the 2019 season to this point. That resilience and persistence have allowed them to maintain at least a share of the division lead since late April.

However, if the Phillies are going to find a way to remain in contention for their first NL East crown and National League playoff berth in eight years, there are a number of things that are going to have to improve. The injury-devastated bullpen needs reinforcements. The bench needs upgrades. And the starting pitching rotation could use a proven veteran winner.
But one place that the Phillies could find improvement would be from increased production by the lineup regulars who are already here and healthy. One of the biggest possibilities may finally be emerging from a lengthy funk.
First baseman Rhys Hoskins suffered through a 28-game stretch from May 8 through June 7 in which he slashed at just the .214/.342/.327 mark. During that month-long period, the Phillies cleanup hitter produced just two home runs, six extra-base hits, and 10 RBIs.
His improvements at the plate have become readily apparent over the last four games. Hoskins has slashed .467/.529/.733 with a double, a homer, and five RBIs in that time. He has gone 5-7 over the first two games of the current series with the Arizona Diamondbacks, and looks much more confident at the plate.
After finishing fourth in the 2017 NL Rookie of the Year voting, expectations for the powerful first baseman soared. He largely met those expectations a year ago during his first full season in the big-leagues, bashing 34 homers and 38 doubles while driving in 96 runs. Hoskins also put on a solid performance in the mid-season MLB Home Run Derby.
The 26-year-old is especially valuable to the Phillies in a financial aspect. They are hoping to get premium production out of him at a relatively inexpensive price. Hoskins is making just $575,000 this season. He is not arbitration eligible for another two years, and cannot become a free agent until after the 2023 season at age 30.
Hoskins seems to love playing in Philadelphia, donates his time to local community and charitable activities, and has immersed himself in the culture of the town.
I love this city…Hopefully, I get to build something long-term here,” said Hoskins in an interview last month with CBS3 Philly’s Don Bell.
If he can continue to produce as he did a year ago, even improve on those numbers, it will become much more likely that the Phillies management will look to wrap him up with a longer-term deal similar to the one signed by Aaron Nola. The 26-year-old pitcher now has a contract guaranteeing more than $40 million through 2022, with a team option for another $16 million in 2023.
Hoskins appears to be emerging from that month-long funk. That big bat can do a lot of damage in the middle of the Phillies batting order. With a huge series coming up this weekend on the road in Atlanta, now would be a great time to see this more recent success continue.