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Five things for Phillies fans to be grateful on this Thanksgiving Day

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The Phanatic and the beautiful Citizens Bank Park are among many things for which Phillies fans should be thankful

 

Despite an eighth consecutive season without a winning record or postseason appearance, there remain a number of things for Phillies fans to be grateful when it comes to their favorite ball club on this Thanksgiving Day 2019.

In that spirit of gratefulness which most of us are examining on this uniquely American holiday, here are five things in no particular order which I believe all Philadelphia Phillies fans can agree on being blessed to experience.

ACTIVE, DETERMINED OWNERSHIP

It has become clear over the last two decades that few members of the Phillies ownership group are more interested and invested in winning than John Middleton.

Over the last five years in particular, Middleton has taken a more active role, becoming the public face of that ownership group. Three years ago, Middleton was elected as the club’s “control person”, making him directly accountable to the commissioner’s office.

Last off-season, it was Middleton’s direct involvement in the Bryce Harper negotiations that finally lured the young superstar to Philadelphia.

The owner has proven his willingness to get personally involved, and to write the big checks necessary to lure the biggest names to the Phillies. For that, we fans should all be grateful.

FRANCHISE HISTORY

This could be laughed off by anyone who wishes to point out that fact that the Philadelphia Phillies have suffered more losses than any professional sports franchise in American history.

However, most of that massive losing took place in the 1930’s and 1940’s. For the last four decades or so, the Phillies have given fans much to cheer, including 11 division crowns, five National League pennants, two World Series championships.

The Phillies have also become one of the best teams in all of baseball at celebrating their history. Numerous reunions and other celebrations and memorials of players and other significant figures are frequent and always well done.

The Phillies Wall of Fame has become a particular highlight. Established in 1978, there are now 41 individuals enshrined on the wall. Each year, one new person is added. The coming years will see many recent-era favorites join their ranks, with historic celebrations to honor those players and their teams.

CITIZENS BANK PARK

There are few more beautiful ballparks in all of Major League Baseball than this now 15-year-old shrine in South Philadelphia.

The facility itself is gorgeous on the outside, but it is even more so once you enter. From many sections you get a panoramic view of the downtown skyline. The open concourse allows a view of the game action from nearly everywhere you walk. Sight lines and seating angles are perfect no matter where you purchase.

The food options at Citizens Bank Park are the envy of baseball, in fact, of all sporting venues in the nation. From traditional Philly fare such as cheesesteaks and soft pretzels to traditional baseball fare such as hotdogs and Cracker Jack to pub-style bar food and sit-down restaurants, the ballpark has it all.

Chances to purchase all manner of clothing, paraphernalia, and memorabilia abound. You can find these items as well as the great food selections around the concourse, or along the outfield in the gathering spot known as Ashburn Alley.

There is plenty to keep the kids occupied. At the outfield section known as “The Yard” they can experience a miniature version of the ballpark, challenge themselves with a rock climbing wall, and more. In the Phanatic Phun Zone, smaller kids can lose themselves in a Phillies-themed playground.

And then there is that favorite of Phillies fans of all ages, the Phillie Phanatic. The big green fuzzy guy has entertained fans for more than four decades, and has become a beloved, and still fun, institution.

NEW GENERATION PLAYERS

When the Phillies began to turn the page from the winning decade of the 2000’s, the process of moving on from a host of fan favorite players was excruciatingly slow.

However, over the last year or two, new players have emerged from the farm system to become favorites to a new generation. The club has also swung a few key trades and made free agent signings to bring in more popular players.

Homegrown favorites include pitcher Aaron Nola, first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and versatile Scott Kingery. Trade acquisition J.T. Realmuto and free agent signee Bryce Harper were the two best Phillies players during this past 2019 season, and promise to  remain fan favorites for years to come.

Management and ownership are now under a mandate from the fans to continue adding to this new base of favorites, bringing in a few more players to finally push the team over the top and back to consistent contending status.

Oh, and of course, I would be remiss to not mention that we have a new manager with a mostly new coaching staff. Joe Girardi is a proven winner who did so in the media and fan crucible of the Big Apple. He was the Phillies fans choice, so again, someone for whom we should be grateful is now on board.

HOT STOVE ANTICIPATION

Just as with a year ago when the Phillies were considered leading contenders to land either Harper or the other major free agent, Manny Machao, this off-season finds the club again under the ‘Hot Stove’ spotlight.

Both general manager Matt Klentak, whose future may be directly on the line over the next three-to-four months, and Middleton have publicly stated that rebuilding is over, and the time to win is now.

That management and ownership knows that they have a solid base of players already who put together a .500 season this past year. Now their job is to find the pieces to make it a winner.

There are any number of free agent starting pitchers who would improve the Phillies rotation, from ace-caliber arms to mid-level experienced pitchers. The club needs to add two of these hurlers, and that process will keep fans interested over the coming weeks and months.

With needs beyond just starting pitching – at least one more starting caliber position player, a couple of proven veteran bench options, maybe even another bullpen piece – there will be much to keep fans interested during the long, cold winter to come. For true baseball fans, that is always something for which to be thankful.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies Team of the 2010’s

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Few Phillies flames ever burned-out more quickly than Brown’s, who nonetheless made the team of the 2010’s

 

The decade of the 2010’s began with the Philadelphia Phillies at or near the pinnacle of baseball. The club was a two-time defending National League champion, and in the midst of what would become five consecutive NL East crowns.

You could easily understand thoughts at that point, and even a year later, that the Phillies might become the 2010’s Team of the Decade in Major League Baseball.

The fall came hard and fast, and fairly unexpectedly. By mid-decade the club had plummeted to the very bottom of baseball.

The leaders of those league and division championship teams disappeared over time, some due to age, some to injury, some in trades to replenish a farm system that would never deliver the help needed to turn things around.

Over the course of the ten years ending with this past 2019 campaign the Phillies went a cumulative 787-833. They finished in last place in the NL East on three occasions and have not enjoyed a single winning season since the first two.

As the decade draws to an end, the Phillies have now stabilized as a .500 team thanks to a handful of prospects developing into contributors and a few impact trades and free agent signings.

But this piece isn’t about looking ahead, it is a look back. In particular, this is one man’s selection of the Phillies Team of the 2010’s.

I decided to put together this team in a bit of a unique fashion. Rather than try to pick the best overall players in the fullness of the decade as others have, I opted instead to look at the actual performance of individual Phillies regulars during each particular season.

This Phillies team is therefor made up of the best individual WAR seasons turned in by a player for the team at each position on the diamond. I’ve listed the player name, their top season, and some of their more important stats and notes, including that Baseball-Reference WAR mark.

PHILLIES TEAM OF THE 2010’s

First base – Ryan Howard, 2010: .276/.353/505, 31 HR, 108 RBIs, 87 runs, 2.7 WAR. NL All-Star. Finished 10th in NL MVP voting.

Second base – Chase Utley, 2010: .275/.387/.445, 16 HR, 65 RBIs, 75 runs, 13 steals, 5.8 WAR. NL All-Star.

Shortstop – Jimmy Rollins, 2014: .243/.323/.394, 17 HR, 55 RBIs, 78 runs, 28 steals, 3.9 WAR.

Third base – Placido Polanco, 2010: .298/.339/.386, 6 HR, 52 RBIs, 76 runs, 3.2 WAR.

Left field – Domonic Brown, 2013: .272/.324/.494, 27 HR, 83 RBIs, 65 runs, 2.8 WAR. NL All-Star.

Center field – Shane Victorino, 2011: .279/.355/.491, 17 HR, 61 RBIs, 82 runs, 19 steals, 5.5 WAR. Led MLB with 16 triples. NL All-Star. Finished 13th in NL MVP voting.

Right field – Jayson Werth, 2010: .296/.388/.532, 27 HR, 85 RBIs, 106 runs, 13 steals, 4.5 WAR. Led NL with 46 doubles. Finished 8th in NL MVP voting.

Catcher – Carlos Ruiz, 2012: .325/.394/.540, 16 HR, 68 RBIs, 56 runs, 4.6 WAR. NL All-Star. Finished 28th in NL MVP voting.

Starting pitcher – Aaron Nola, 2018: 2.37 ERA, 0.975 WHIP, 3.01 FIP, 17 wins, 33 starts, 149 hits over 212.1 IP with 224 strikeouts, 10.5 WAR. NL All-Star. Finished 3rd in NL Cy Young Award voting. Finished 13th in NL MVP voting.

Relief pitcher – Jonathan Papelbon, 2014: 2.04 ERA, 0.905 WHIP, 2.53 FIP, 2 wins, 39 saves, 45 hits over 66.1 IP with 63 strikeouts, 2.9 WAR.

The top two players on the 2019 club, catcher J.T. Realmuto and right fielder Bryce Harper, were edged out at their respective positions. 2012 “Chooch” slipped past JT by a 4.6-4.4 margin, and Werth’s 2010 campaign slid by Bryce’s Phillies debut in a 4.5-4.2 finish.

The top WAR figures of the early-decade great starting pitchers Roy Halladay (2011 – 8.8), Cliff Lee (2011 – 8.5), and Cole Hamels (2014 – 6.6) were beaten out by Nola’s fantastic 2018 season.

 

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Top 10 Philadelphia Phillies players of the decade

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Cole Hamels tossed a no-hitter during his final start with the Phillies at Wrigley Field in July 2015

 

Despite the fact that this decade technically ends with the year 2020 and not the current year of 2019, many sources are using the turn from the 10’s to the 20’s as an excuse to pop out some “end of the decade” pieces and lists.

Who am I to buck that trend?

With that in mind, over the next few weeks, I am going to take a glance back at the 2010’s in Phillies baseball.

It was a decade that began with such promise, with the Phillies as one of baseball’s best teams. But it all fell apart rapidly, with the club degenerating into one of baseball’s worst by the middle of the decade.

During these final weeks of 2019, I am going to examine how and why that happened. I am also going to present a few lists, including the best individual seasons and games from the last ten seasons.

The first look back today at the 2010’s is a list presenting the top Philadelphia Phillies players of the decade. Rather than make it a subjective list, I decided to consult the folks at Fangraphs.

Using their research tools, I came up with the top WAR figure accumulated by each position player and pitcher between the years 2010-19 while with the Phillies. Those players are presented here in order, from 10-1.

10. Odubel Herrera (10.8 WAR)

Herrera won a starting job with the Phillies out of spring training in 2015. He remained the starting center fielder with the team until his suspension at the end of this past May due to a scandalous domestic violence incident. Herrera slashed .276/.333/.423 and produced 60 home runs, 233 RBIs, 294 runs scored, and 56 stolen bases over 2,492 plate appearances. He was a 2016 National League All-Star.

9. Shane Victorino (10.8 WAR)

Tied with Herrera in WAR, “The Flyin’ Hawaiian” was ranked higher here since he accumulated that WAR total over nearly 800 fewer plate appearances. He was the Phillies starting center fielder as the decade began, a position he held until being dealt away at the July 2012 trade deadline. Victorino slashed .267/.336/.433 with 44 home runs, 170 RBIs, 225 runs scored, and 77 stolen bases over 1,665 plate appearances with the club prior to his trade. He won a 2010 NL Gold Glove and was a 2011 NL All-Star, receiving NL MVP votes that season.

8. Carlos Ruiz (10.9 WAR)

The Phillies primary catcher until being dealt way in August 2016 to the Dodgers, “Chooch” was a fan favorite for a decade. While with the Phillies during the 2010’s he slashed .275/.359/.400 with 46 homers, 263 RBIs, 262 runs scored, and 14 steals over 2,625 plate appearances. Ruiz received NL MVP votes each year from 2010-12 and was a 2012 National League All-Star.

7. Cesar Hernandez (11.6 WAR)

Hernandez has been the Phillies starting second baseman since August 2015, so the entirety of the second half of the decade. He made brief appearances in the two years prior as well. Hernandez has slashed .277/.352/.381 with 46 home runs, 253 RBIs, 407 runs scored, and 80 steals over 3,282 plate appearances during the decade. He scored more runs than any other Phillies player during the 2010’s.

6. Jimmy Rollins (16.0 WAR)

The Phillies all-time hits leader, “JRoll” opened the decade as the club’s starting shortstop, a role he had held since the 2001 season. Prior to his December 2014 trade, Rollins slashed .252/.323/.390 over 2,999 plate appearances with the Phillies during the 2010’s. He also had 70 home runs, 266 RBIs, 380 runs scored, and 127 stolen bases. His steals total was the most of any Phillies player during the decade. In 2012, Rollins won his fourth and final career NL Gold Glove.

5. Roy Halladay (16.8 WAR)

The late ace pitcher is the lone Phillies Wall of Famer on this countdown, though he will undoubtedly be joined in that honor by a number of the others over time. “Doc” won 55 games with the club from 2010 through his injury-forced retirement in 2013. Across 103 starts he registered a 3.25 ERA, 1.119 WHIP, and allowed 649 hits over 702.2 innings with 622 strikeouts. Halladay was the 2010 NL Cy Young Award winner, the runner-up in 2011, and in both seasons was a National League All-Star and received NL MVP votes.

4. Aaron Nola (17.2 WAR)

The new Phillies ace, Nola was the club’s first round pick at seventh overall in the 2014 MLB Draft. He debuted the following season, and became a 2018 NL All-Star during a season in which he finished third in NL Cy Young Award voting and received MVP votes as well. Nola has allowed 669 hits over 771.1 innings across 127 starts while striking out 826 opposition batters. He also has career 3.49 ERA and 1.172 WHIP marks to date.

3. Chase Utley (19.1 WAR)

The top position player on the countdown, “The Man” was the Phillies starting second baseman until an August 2015 trade. He slashed .265/.348/.425 with 72 home runs, 331 RBIs, 347 runs scored, and 59 stolen bases in his 2,804 plate appearances with the club during the decade. He was a National League All-Star in both 2010 and 2014.

2. Cliff Lee (19.6 WAR)

Lee did not open the decade with the Phillies, having been dealt way to Seattle on the same day in December 2009 that Halladay was acquired. However, he returned as a free agent for the record-setting 2011 campaign and remained with the club until forced into retirement by injuries in 2014. He won 41 games with a 2.89 ERA and 1.085 WHIP, allowing 697 hits over 747.2 innings across 106 starts with 739 strikeouts during the decade. Lee finished third in the 2011 NL Cy Young Award voting and sixth in 2013 and was an NL All-Star in both seasons, also receiving NL MVP votes in 2011.

1. Cole Hamels (25.6 WAR)

Far and away the leader among Phillies players in WAR during the decade, the homegrown Hamels was a primary cog in the starting rotation until being dealt away at the 2015 trade deadline. He won 66 games with a 3.07 ERA over 179 games, 178 of those starts. Hamels allowed 1,038 hits over 1,193.1 innings during the decade while with the club, striking out 1,158 opposing batters. He was a National League All-Star in both 2011 and 2012, and finished among the top eight in NL Cy Young Award voting in 2011, 2012, and 2014.

 

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NL’s Cy Young Award has gone to a Phillies hurler seven times

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Denny won the 1983 NL Cy Young Award for his performance with the Phillies that season

 

Major League Baseball continues the announcement of its 2019 awards on Wednesday evening. The top pitchers in both the National and American Leagues will be honored as the Cy Young Award winners are publicly revealed in a 6:00 pm EST broadcast on the MLB Network.

Those will be the more formally recognized awards as voted on by the Baseball Writers Association of America. However, a few hours earlier, the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America) will announce the winners of voting from their membership.

The 2019 American League Cy Young Award finalists are teammates Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander of the AL champion Houston Astros and former Phillies pitcher Charlie Morton of the Tampa Bay Rays. Verlander previously won the award back in 2011 and is a three-time runner-up for the honors.

In the National League, the finalists are last year’s winner Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets, Korean southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and three-time winner Max Scherzer of the world champion Washington Nationals. Both Ryu and Cole are free agents this off-season.

My choices are Cole and deGrom. Those are the two men who received my IBWAA vote.

MLB first began recognizing the best pitcher in baseball with this formal award with the 1956 season. For the first 11 years, just one winner for all of Major League Baseball was honored.

Due to an overwhelming outpouring of fan requests, a winner was honored from both the National and American Leagues beginning with the 1957 season.

In 1969, the American League vote ended in a tie between Denny McLain of the Detroit Tigers and Mike Cuellar of the Baltimore Orioles, and for the only time in the history of the award it was shared. Voting rules were changed as a result, with just one winner honored thereafter.

While the Cy is generally considered to be an honor for the top starting pitcher in the game, that is not a requirement. Mike Marshall of the Los Angeles Dodgers became the first reliever to take the honors in 1974, and eight other relievers have since won the award across the two leagues. The most recent was Eric Gagne of the Dodgers back in 2003.

Roger Clemens holds a record for having won the award seven times. A pair of former Phillies pitchers, Roy Halladay and Pedro Martinez, are among a group of a half-dozen hurlers to be honored with the Cy in both leagues at some point during their careers.

The late Baseball Hall of Famer and Phillies Wall of Famer Halladay is one of just four pitchers to take home a National League Cy Young Award while a member of the Fightin’ Phils pitching staff.

Halladay was the unanimous winner of the award after a historic 2010 season in which he threw a Perfect Game as well as just the second postseason no-hitter in MLB history. He registered an incredible 8.6 WAR value that year, winning 21 games and tossing 250.2 innings with nine complete games.

In 1983, right-hander John Denny captured the honors with the Phillies “Wheeze Kids” team that would go on to win the National League pennant. Denny received 20 of 24 first-place votes to finish as an easy winner.

That Cy followed a 19-win season during which he tossed 242.2 innings over 36 starts. Denny was also the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year in that first full season after coming to the Phillies from the Cleveland Indians in a September 1982 trade.

Four years later, the only Phillies relief pitcher to ever win the Cy took the honors in one of the closest votes ever. Steve Bedrosian saved 40 games for the team that year, exactly half of their total 1987 wins total. He worked 89 innings over 65 games, allowing 79 hits with 74 strikeouts and a 2.83 ERA.

“Bedrock” received just nine of 24 first-place votes, but came out the winner with 57 total voting points. That total edged out the 55 received by Rick Sutcliffe (four first-place) of the Chicago Cubs and 54 for Rick Reuschel (eight first-place), who split the season between the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants.

Halladay, Denny, Bedrosian. Those are three of the seven times that a Phillies pitcher has taken the NL honors. As I said earlier, four pitchers have won the award while with the club. Which means that the fourth hurler would put four Cy Young Awards into his trophy case.

That hurler was, of course, lefty Steve Carlton. The greatest pitcher in Phillies franchise history, Carlton won the Cy for his performances on the mound in the 1972, 1977, 1980, and 1982 campaigns.

That first win in 1972 was one of the most impressive pitching performances in Major League Baseball history. In his first season after arriving from the Saint Louis Cardinals in a spring training trade for Rick Wise, Carlton was the unanimous winner of what has been ranked as the ninth-greatest Cy Young season in history.

The man who became alternately known as “Lefty” or “Super Steve” won 27 games with a putrid Phillies team that would win just 59 games. He made 41 starts with 30 complete games, numbers that are unheard of in today’s game. Carlton allowed just 257 hits over 346.1 innings with 310 strikeouts, registering a 1.97 ERA and 0.993 WHIP.

In 1977, Carlton won 23 games while tossing 283 innings over 36 starts. He registered 17 complete games and struck out 198 with a 2.64 ERA and 1.124 WHIP. That performance allowed him to receive 17 of 26 first-place votes and finish comfortably ahead of runner-up Tommy John of the Dodgers.

For his performance during the Phillies first-ever World Series-winning campaign in 1980, Carlton became just the third pitcher to ever win three Cy’s, joining Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver with that distinction.

That year, the lefty won 24 games, with 38 of his starts resulting in 13 complete games. He struck out 286 batters while allowing just 243 hits across 304 innings pitched. Carlton registered a 2.34 ERA and 1.095 WHIP, and received 23 of the 24 first-place votes as the runaway winner.

Two years later, Carlton became the first pitcher to ever win four career Cy Young Awards, and did so again in runaway fashion, receiving 20 of 24 first-place votes.

That season, Carlton won 23 games while making 38 starts, half of those resulting in complete games. He struck out 286 over 295.2 innings with a 1.147 WHIP for a Phillies team that would battle his old Saint Louis club for the NL East crown down to the last two weeks of the season before falling three games short.

Carlton and Halladay went on to become both Baseball Hall of Famers and Phillies Wall of Famers. Carlton’s 84.1 career WAR mark is the fifth-best in baseball history among left-handed pitchers, while Halladay’s 65.4 mark leaves him among the top 50 hurlers in the history of the game.

Denny had a nice career, winning 123 games over 13 big-league seasons, 37 of those with the Phillies over parts of four years. Bedrosian registered 184 career saves and 76 wins in a 14-year career.

At this time last season, Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola was a finalist for the award after winning 17 games and allowing just 149 hits over 212.1 innings across 33 starts with 224 strikeouts.

Will Nola some day become the fifth Phillies pitcher to capture an NL Cy Young Award? Perhaps Zach Eflin will elevate his game to that level. Or maybe the club will be able to lure Cole or Ryu this winter in free agency and find one of them taking the honors in some future season.

One thing is certain, as the 2011 Phillies who won a franchise record 102 regular season games while featuring a “Four Aces” rotation of Halladay, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt showed, starting pitching is the name of the game in Major League Baseball.

The Phillies need to upgrade their starting pitching rotation by landing a pair of new, proven arms in the free agent market this winter. If they do, the club should finally once again become a serious challenger for a postseason berth in 2020. And perhaps they’ll also get a Cy Young winner in the bargain.

 

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J.T. Realmuto wins 2019 NL Gold Glove Award

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J.T. Realmuto becomes the first Phillies catcher in 20 years to win an NL Gold Glove Award

 

The winners of the 2019 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards were announced on Monday evening, with J.T. Realmuto of the Philadelphia Phillies earning the hardward at the National League catcher position.

Three nominees at each of the nine positions on the diamond in both the National and American Leagues had previously been announced. The Phillies had three NL nominees: Realmuto at catcher, Bryce Harper in right field, and Aaron Nola at pitcher.

The Phillies would go one-for-three as the winners were announced in a special program on ESPN2, with the 28-year-old Realmuto capturing the first Gold Glove Award of his six-year career in Major League Baseball.

After spending the first five seasons of his career with the Miami Marlins, Realmuto came to the Phillies in a February 7, 2019 trade in exchange for catcher Jorge Alfaro and pitching prospects Sixto Sanchez and Will Stewart.

During his first year with the Phillies, Realmuto made his second consecutive National League All-Star team and enjoyed his finest all-around season as a big leaguer.

Realmuto becomes the first Phillies player to win a Gold Glove Award since Jimmy Rollins took home the honors at shortstop back in 2012. He is the third Phillies catcher to ever win the award, following Wall of Famers Bob Boone (1978-79) and Mike Lieberthal (1999).

On Thursday, winners of the Silver Slugger Award will be announced. Realmuto is the leading contender to win that award at the National League catcher position for the second year in a row.

Chase Utley, who won the Silver Slugger as an NL second baseman from 2006-09 is the most recent Phillies player to capture that award. The only Phillies catcher to ever win a Silver Slugger was the late Wall of Famer Darren Daulton all the way back in 1992.

When considering all aspects of the game, Realmuto is clearly the best all-around catcher in baseball at this time. He is in the prime of his career, and was arguably the Phillies most valuable player this past season.

The catcher was extremely inexpensive in modern baseball terms after having made just $5.9 million this past season. Eligible for salary arbitration this winter, the Phillies will certainly not allow the situation to ever get that far. Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inquirer has speculated that a new deal could be at $110 million over five years.

Realmuto is due to become a free agent following the 2020 season. Having given up one of the top pitching prospects in baseball in Sanchez in order to obtain him, the Phillies certainly do not want to lose Realmuto on the open market.

In addition to all of the work that general manager Matt Klentak needs to get done this off-season in order to push the Phillies from their current status as a .500 team to contending status, working out a contract extension with Realmuto also needs to be high on his agenda.

NOTE: Featured Photo Courtesy of Mark Krajnak | JerseyStyle Photography (Twitter: @MarkKrajnak)

 

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