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Mickey Moniak beginning to look like a worthy top draft pick

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Moniak was the top overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft

During their recent half-decade plummet to the bottom of the National League standings, the Philadelphia Phillies found themselves picking at a high position in the annual MLB Amateur Draft on a regular basis.

The Phillies had such a horrendous season in 2015 that their 63-99 record proved to be the worst in all of Major League Baseball. That set the club up with the #1 overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft.
This was going to be far from a slam-dunk selection. Sure, the draft has yielded some true impact players with that first overall pick. Since the turn of the century, that top pick has produced stars in Joe MauerDavid PriceStephen StrasburgBryce HarperGerrit Cole, and  Carlos Correa.
However, there have been as many misses as hits. Players selected #1 overall since the year 2000 also include Bryan Bullington (2002), Delmon Young (2003), Matt Bush (2004), Mark Appel (2013), and Brady Aiken (2014). Some were injury casualties. Some simply never developed as hoped.
Others made an impact, but it would be hard to say that they justified a first overall draft selection: Luke Hochevar (2006) and Tim Beckham (2008) fall into this category.
Even Justin Upton, taken first overall in 2005, has to be considered an overall disappointment when considering he was the top draft pick. Dansby Swanson, the top selection in the 2015 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, is just emerging this year as an impact player after being traded to the Atlanta Braves.
In June of 2016, Matt Klentak was overseeing his first draft as the general manager of the Phillies. Johnny Almaraz was the club’s head of amateur scouting at the time. When MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred stepped to the podium to announce the selection, he called the name of Mickey Moniak, an outfielder from La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California.
Collectively, we believe Mickey was the best player available in the draft,” said Almaraz at that time, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He’s a true centerfielder with incredible offensive ability and the potential to be a perennial All-Star.”
Per Salisbury, a rival talent evaluator also delivered a glowing appraisal of Moniak: “He’s going to hit and hit for average. He’s a good centerfielder. He can run. The question is how many home runs will he hit? If he ends up getting stronger, he could be a corner bat that’s unbelievable. There’s no negative here. It’s a good pick.
Moniak knew that the pressure would be on him, and seemed ready to accept the responsibility. “I am honored by this and I’m excited to prove the Phillies right,” Moniak said in an interview with the MLB Network after the pick was announced.
After passing a physical exam with the team, Moniak inked a contract that paid him a $6.1 million signing bonus. Financially set, it was time to play baseball.
Almaraz doubled down on his assessment of Moniak’s abilities, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com: “I think you’ll have a Gold Glove center fielder who will hit in the middle of the lineup and be a leader on the team,” Almaraz said.
As an 18-year-old, Moniak was assigned to the Phillies rookie-level team in the Gulf Coast League. He slashed .284/.340/.409 with 16 extra-base hits, 27 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases in 194 plate appearances across 46 games. It was a solid beginning to his professional career.
Moving up to Low-A Lakewood the following season, however, Moniak struggled mightily. He slashed just .236/.284/.341 in the summer of 2017 and frequently appeared to be over-matched, striking out in more than 20% of his plate appearances.
Still, the organization liked his maturity and believed he was up to another promotion for last season. It didn’t look that way early on, as things started out even more poorly with High-A Clearwater. Over his first 172 plate appearances across 43 games, Moniak slashed just .217/.233/.253, striking out in more than 25% of the time.
Then, something seemed to suddenly click. In his next four straight games, and five of his next six, Moniak produced a multiple-hit effort. He would slash .303/.346/.464 over his final 71 games and 293 plate appearances, with 30 extra-base hits and 41 RBIs. Moniak also cut down his strikeout rate to below the 20% mark over those final two and a half months.
With that performance his confidence grew, and Moniak moved up to Double-A Reading for this 2019 season. He turned just 21-years-old on May 13, and was playing so well that he was named to the Double-A All-Star team.
Unfortunately, a strained hamstring suffered while making a sliding catch in center field on June 30 has put Moniak on the minor league injured list. He will be in Richmond, Virginia for that Double-A All-Star Game on Wednesday night, but his ability to actually participate is questionable.
Moniak was slashing .266/.324/.437 with 32 extra-base hits, 42 runs scored, and nine stolen bases over 314 plate appearances in 75 games. In his last 13 games prior to the injury, he was hitting .318 with a .436 on-base percentage.
While Moniak had become a strikeout victim in 22% of his appearances this year, the now 6’2″, 185-pounder has quite obviously shown the ability to compete at the second-highest level of the minor leagues at more than three years younger than the average player age.
No, Mickey Moniak is still not demonstrating that he will be a difference-making impact player to the levels envisioned by the organization when he was drafted. But neither is he the bust that many were beginning to call him just one year ago.
I think it’s a lot of hard work in the offseason, but it has to do a lot with the past few years,” he said per Jackson Satz of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “The seasons I’ve had, the good, the bad, learning from everything that’s happened to me throughout my professional career so far. Ultimately, that’s going to work for me to become the best player that I can be.
Now, mission one is to recover from the hamstring and get back into action. The Phillies have advanced him in a patient, yet consistent manner. One minor league level at a time. Moniak has continued to develop, gotten bigger and stronger, and it is now finally possible to envision him wearing a Phillies uniform at Citizens Bank Park.
Fans should expect to see him finish the year with Reading, and then move on to Triple-A Lehigh Valley when next season opens. He is likely to spend most of the 2020 season continuing his development. At that point it will be all about performance and production.
It may not yet be time for Phillies fans to get excited about Mickey Moniak. But it is beginning to become possible to see him as a contributor at the big-league level within the next two years. And it remains possible that he could still become the impact player that Almanzar and others believed him to be.
NOTE: Special thanks to Cheryl Purcell for her picture of Moniak at Reading accompanying this piece, and RIP to a truly good boy, Jax: https://jack-jax.com/

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)

National League East Report: 4/8 – 4/14

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Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso has helped the Mets get off fast

The early going in the National League East Division has already made for some tremendous head-to-head excitement and we’re only in the opening weeks. A division race which many predicted would be dog-eat-dog over six months of drama seems to want to unfold in exactly that manner.

During what was the second full week of the Major League Baseball campaign we saw more of those face-to-face meetings between the Phillies closest rivals. For the Phillies themselves, that’s all it was, a week filled with intra-divisional showdowns. In fact, 11 of the club’s first 14 games have been against those rivals.
As always, my NL East Beat report reveals how each of those Phillies divisional rivals fared over the course of the past week: games scores, pivotal performers, key injuries, and other important updates on each team are included.
ATLANTA BRAVES
Summary: With a second consecutive winning week the Braves continued to bounce back from their season-opening sweep at the hands of the Phillies. They began the week by sweeping a quick two-game set Colorado, scoring 15 runs in the rarified air of the Mile-High City. Atlanta then came home to host the New York Mets in a big, early four-game set which the two rivals would split. The Mets took the first two before the Braves offense opened up for 18 runs to win over the final two games.
25-year-old left-hander Max Fried was stellar over six innings at Coors Field, holding the Rockies to just an unearned run and five hits in that difficult pitching environment. It was a second straight strong start for Fried, who began the season pitching out of the bullpen. On a club with a ton of talented young starting pitching options, Fried is one of the best, and he should remain in the rotation moving forward.
Last year’s NL Rookie of the Year, left fielder Ronald Acuna, finally began to heat up. That could be bad news for the rest of the division. Acuna slashed .545/.630/1.091 over the Braves six games with three homers among five total extra-base hits. He drove in nine runs, scored seven, and stole his second base of the season. He now leads the club with five homers.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson continues to lead the club in RBI with 18. New third baseman Josh Donaldson leads the Braves with seven extra-base hits, five of those as doubles. Freddie Freeman is hitting .345 with a .478 OBP.
Key injuries: Right-hander Mike Foltynewicz was scheduled for his third minor league rehab game on Monday night. He is working his way back from spring elbow issues. The Braves hope that he can return either this coming weekend or at some point next week. Veteran catcher Brian McCann has been on the IL with a right hamstring strain and could return this weekend as well. A trio of key relievers in Johnny Venters, Darren O’Day and Arodys Vizcaino are all on the IL. There is no timetable on any of the three, though Venters is likely closest to helping again, possibly before April is out.
Upcoming: Atlanta will host the Arizona Diamondbacks for three games beginning Tuesday night at SunTrust Park. The club then heads out on a six-game Ohio road trip starting with a three=game Inter-league series over the weekend in Cleveland before moving on to Cincinnati to open next week’s schedule.


MIAMI MARLINS
Summary: Another week and more losing baseball from the Fish, though their bats did enjoy one big night at the Phillies expense. The Marlins began the week by getting swept in Cincinnati and scoring just one run over three games. They returned to Miami to face the Phillies and scored just one run on both Friday and Sunday. In between the Marlins erupted for a 10-spot to gain their lone victory of the week on Saturday night.
Left-hander Caleb Smith was the beneficiary of all the Saturday runs, but he was also outstanding on the mound. Smith held the Phillies to just one hit over six innings, striking out six and walking three to earn his first victory of the year. It was the third start for the 27-year-old southpaw and he has been excellent in all three outings.
Former Phillies catcher Jorge Alfaro is tied for the Marlins team lead in homers (3), RBI (6) and is slashing at the .316/.366/.553 mark. Shortstop Miguel Rojas has gotten off hot, hitting .310 with a .375 OBP and also has six RBI. Austin Dean also is tied with six RBI for the club lead, though five of those came in one night when he drove in half of the Marlins runs in a big 4-4 night against the Phillies.
Key injuries: While the news in the standings and on the scoreboard hasn’t been good, the news from the trainer’s room is solid. The Marlins remain the healthiest team in baseball, with no significant injuries suffered to this point.
Upcoming: Miami is in the midst of a nine-game home stand which continues this week as the host both the Chicago Cubs and division-rival Washington Nationals for three games apiece. This will be the first meeting of the season between the Fish and Nats.


NEW YORK METS
Summary: It was a roller coaster .500 week for the Metropolitans, who began by dropping a game to the Minnesota Twins and ended with a pair of losses in our nation’s capital. In between there were three victories, one over the Twins and two over the Nationals. Offense was the story for New York as the bats provided 39 runs over the half-dozen games.
Utility man Jeff McNeil continues to prove invaluable. The 27-year-old has split time in left field and at third base, and even took up second base for a game. He hit .360 with five RBI this week and was slashing .383/.463/.511 by week’s end with nine RBI and eight runs scored.
Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso also continued to rake. The 24-year-old is emerging as an early NL Rookie of the Year contender, and this week he slashed .286/.400/762 with three home runs, six RBI, and five runs scored. He leads the club with six homers and 17 RBI. Catcher Wilson Ramos, who had a cup of coffee with the Phillies late last season, is hitting .320 with a .393 OBP in the early going and has 10 RBI.
On the mound, defending NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom lost a pair of games last week after having looked dominant over his first two starts of the season. The righty surrendered nine runs and 13 hits over nine innings in the pair of defeats. Noah Syndergaard was also whacked around a bit, allowing nine runs on 14 hits over a dozen innings.
New closer Edwin Diaz has been everything that Mets could have hoped since coming over from Seattle. The 25-year-old entered this week with five Saves having allowed one run with a 10/1 K:BB ratio over his first 5.2 innings with the club.
Key injuries: Veteran infielder Todd Frazier will be activated during this week’s series with the Phillies. The 33-year-old began the year on the IL with a left oblique strain. He is likely to slot in as an infield backup who sees most of his time at third base when either he gets hot or McNeil and J.D. Davis are cold. Jed Lowrie has been out since spring with a sprained knee capsule that has been slow in healing. He is taking batting practice but has not played the field and is still likely weeks away. There remains no timetable on outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, who could miss months, or could miss the season.
Upcoming: The Mets travel south on I-95 to meet the Phillies for the first time this season with the early lead in the NL East on the line. New York then flies out to visit the tough Saint Louis Cardinals over the weekend at the conclusion of a 10-game road trip.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS
Summary: The Nationals began the week by taking two of three from the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, with their offense exploding for 25 runs to win the final two games. But the Nats then dropped two of three over last weekend to Pennsylvania’s other team, the Pittsburgh Pirates, scoring just three runs in each of the three games at home in Nationals Park.
Pending free agent Anthony Rendon remains on fire in the early week’s of the season. The third baseman slashed .360/.370/. 760 on the week with a pair of homers, eight RBI, and a half-dozen runs scored and extra-base hits. Rendon leads the Nats with six homers, 14 extra-base hits, 17 RBI, and 18 runs scored.
22-year-old center fielder Victor Robles is second on the club with three homers, eight extra-base hits, and 11 runs scored. 20-year-old left fielder Juan Soto is second with 10 RBI.
The Nats have really missed shortstop Trea Turne, lost when he was hit on the hand while trying to bunt against the Phillies last week. His hot bat and big-time speed have been replaced by Wilmer Difo, who is slashing just .184/.262/.263 with little production over 43 plate appearances this season.
On the mound, Max Scherzer is off to another ace-level start. Over his first four starts the righty has allowed 24 hits across 27 innings with a 35/10 K:BB ratio. Jeremy Hellickson. the Phillies starter on Opening Day in both 2016 and 2017, returned to Citizens Bank Park and shut his old club down over six strong innings last Wednesday.
New lefty Patrick Corbin has gone at least six innings in each of his first three outings with the team. He gave a strong seven-innings performance with 11 strikeouts while surrendering just four hits against Pittsburgh, but was let down by his offense and bullpen in a 6-3 loss over the weekend.
Starters Stephen Strasburg and Nate Eovaldi and the entire Nationals bullpen other than closer Sean Doolittle have been up and down over these first few weeks.
Key injuries: Turner has begun the early stages of rehab work as he starts to recover from the broken finger. It is anticipated that he will miss up to five more weeks, so the Nationals will have to do without their spark plug until the end of May.
Upcoming: The Nationals will host the San Francisco Giants to open this week. The club then heads out on a road trip to Miami over the coming weekend and then on out to Colorado for a three-game set at Coors Field to open next week.

Bryce Harper’s first Phillies home run paces victory over Braves

Bryce Harper’s first homer leads Phillies to victory
The Phillies (2-0) powered up for the second game in a row to open the 2019 campaign, rolling past the Atlanta Braves (0-2) by an 8-6 score on Saturday afternoon at raucous Citizens Bank Park.
For the second straight game it was the club’s new-found long ball power that led the way. The team used Maikel Franco‘s second no-doubt homer of the season and the first-ever blasts from both J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper in a Phillies uniform to supply the difference.
For Harper, who agreed to a 13-year, $330 million contract with the Phillies just one month ago, the first home run was also his first hit with the team. The second-deck shot to right-center field was one of the longest in Citizens Bank Park history and elicited a deafening roar from the home crowd, which demanded a curtain-call from their new hero.
Harper was happy to oblige, pumping both arms into the air as he faced the crowd behind the Phillies dugout and roared back at them with as much energy and excitement as they were washing over him.
“It was awesome. One of my favorite homers that I’ve ever had, definitely,” said the Phillies right fielder to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Gregg Murphy following the game.
The game didn’t begin well for the home side. The Braves broke out to a 3-0 lead on the strength of a 1st inning RBI single from Freddie Freeman and a 2nd inning two-run homer from Dansby Swanson. For Freeman it was the first of four hits on the day as he almost single-handedly kept the visitors in this one.


STARTING PITCHING PERFORMANCES

All of that damage came against Phillies starter Nick Pivetta, who did not fare well in his first outing of the season. Pivetta lasted 4.2 innings, surrendering four earned runs on eight hits while walking one and striking out four. He threw 76 pitches, 50 of those for strikes and was touched for three extra-base hits, including the Swanson homer.
Meanwhile, rookie starter Bryse Wilson was pretty much cruising along into the bottom of the 4th, allowing just a 2nd inning RBI single off the bat of Realmuto. But the Phillies got to him big-time in that home 4th, with Cesar Hernandez lacing a one-out RBI triple followed by Franco’s blast off the left-field foul pole.
Wilson was knocked out at that point having allowed four earned runs on five hits over 3.1 innings. He struck out three and walked four, throwing just 40 strikes among his 73 pitches.

PHILLIES BULLPEN AND POWER MAKE THE DIFFERENCE

Freeman’s RBI single in the top of the 5th got the Braves back even at 4-4. After retiring one more batter, Pivetta’s day was done. Over the next 3.1 innings the Phillies bullpen group of Adam MorganJuan NicasioJose AlvarezPat Neshek and Seranthony Dominguez would shut the Braves out without allowing a hit. The five hurlers walked two and struck out four over that period.
The home side responded immediately in the bottom of the 5th when Realmuto crushed his first Phillies home run to dead center. The two-run blast scored Rhys Hoskins and gave the Phillies a 6-4 lead that they would never relinquish.
In the bottom of the 7th, Harper provided his dramatics to make it 7-4. In the bottom of the 8th, Franco popped a fly behind first base along the foul line. Three Braves sprinted for it and the ball would end up popping from Freeman’s glove. Hernandez raced all the way around from first base to score and extend the lead out to an 8-4 margin.
Phillies skipper Gabe Kapler turned the ball over to David Robertson for the 9th inning, and for the second straight game was let down by his new big-money reliever. Robertson surrendered the first hit by the Phillies pen on the day, and it was a big one. A two-run homer from Charlie Culberson, who had entered the game as part of a double-switch, cut the Phillies lead down to 8-6.
Robertson struck out pinch-hitter Matt Joyce. But then Freeman continued to haunt the Phillies, raking a double down the left field line. That brought 2018 NL Rookie of the Year Ronald Acuna to the plate as the tying run with two outs. Robertson buckled down, getting the 20-year old to sky out to Harper in right for the final out.
PHILLIES NUGGETS PLAYER OF THE GAME:
*BRYCE HARPER*

While there were players who contributed more on the day, there was no doubt that Harper electrified the crowd like no one else. His blast also proved a key hit, extending the Phillies lead at an important time in the game. Ultimately it proved to be the difference-maker.
During his post-game press conference, Kapler spoke on the first of what he expects to be many such moments for his superstar right fielder:
I thought that was a pretty special moment. I think facing Biddle, Harper had been 0-5 with something like four strikeouts. Somewhere in that neighborhood. I know it was someone that Bryce has had trouble with in the past. And, took a pitch in off the plate and hit it 460 feet into the upper deck in right-center field. His bat speed is just lightning and the bigger the spotlight, the bigger the moment, the more Bryce shines.

NEXT GAME

  • Sunday, March 31, 7:05pm vs the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park
  • TV coverage as ESPN’s Game of the Week
  • Radio: SportsRadio 94 WIP FM, WTTM 1680 (Spanish)

Originally published at Phillies Nation as “Phillies use new-found power to blast past Braves by 8-6”

Jerad Eickhoff not as bad as the 2017 record looks

Most of the talk surrounding the Philadelphia Phillies these days rightly involves two main topics. First is just how bad the current group of placeholder players is performing.
The other major topic revolves around when the Phillies will begin to promote some of its better minor league prospects. And which of those prospects will get the call first?
Management is evaluating the current players to determine which will be here for the long-term. A look over the active roster shows that there are very few such candidates. Maybe three or four position players at best.
But on the mound, the Phillies developing pitching staff is a different story. A number of the current arms have a chance to stick around for the next few years.
One of those arms is starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff. The soon to be 27-year old right-hander is struggling through a difficult individual season.
Eickhoff enters his start on Saturday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks with an 0-7 record. He carries a 5.09 ERA, 1.528 WHIP, and an ERA+ mark at just 85 through 13 starting assignments. Eickhoff has allowed 81 hits over 70.2 innings with a 63/27 K:BB ratio.
There are a few encouraging signs, however, when you continue glancing at Eickhoff’s 2017 stat line. His 4.20 FIP mark is just a tick higher than the 4.19 he posted last year in what was considered a successful season. After yielding 30 home runs last year, his nine thus far in 2017 leave him on pace to allow a few less this season.
In nine of Eickhoff’s 13 starts he has gotten the Phillies into the sixth inning. He has allowed three or fewer earned runs in eight of those 13 starts.

ENCOURAGING RECENT OUTINGS

His two most recent appearances came on the road at Atlanta and Boston. He surrendered 11 hits over 11 innings with a 10/3 K:BB ratio.
However, one bad pitch resulted in a Dansby Swanson home run and cost him against the Braves. “I did a really good job except for the one pitch,” said Eickhoff per Philly.com’s Matt Breen. “That’s the most frustrating part. You look at the scoreboard and see three runs from that homer. That’s not any indication of how things have went.”
At Fenway Park, he was handed a 4-0 first inning lead. But then Eickhoff was tagged by Mookie Betts for three doubles in four innings. The young Boston star outfielder has victimized many big league pitchers already in his short career. “These guys did a really good job of getting us out to a good lead, and I was just trying to keep us in the game the best I could,” said the pitcher per Reuters.

LONG-TERM BACK-END STARTING PITCHER

Eickhoff, obtained by the Phillies from the Texas Rangers as one piece of the huge haul for Cole Hamels, is never going to be an ace. His strong performances in 2015 following that deal, and then last year, left some misguided fans and writers thinking that he had that type of potential.
The Phillies don’t need Eickhoff to be an ace. They need him to be what his talent and personality say that he should be, a solid back-end starting pitcher for the next four to five years.
Eickhoff has indeed been hit a little more this season, and his command and control have been off. Chuck Booth at FanSided’s Section 215 pointed out that the solution may be as simple as the reintroduction of the changeup to Eickhoff’s repertoire.
Whatever Eickhoff’s issues, he does not appear to be very far off based on what I saw in those last two performances. They were far more indicative of his bulldog ability to fight to keep the club in the game. He is certainly not an 0-7 pitcher, talent-wise.
As the Phillies continue to evaluate their future, my bet would be that Eickhoff finds himself a key piece. The role will be as a workhorse, back-end starting pitcher. Hopefully tonight’s outing at Citizens Bank Park proves to be a step back towards more consistent results of that type.
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