Tag Archives: Francisco Liriano

Phillies suffering through a southpaw starting pitching drought

There was a time not all that long ago when the Philadelphia Phillies starting pitching rotation included outstanding southpaws among the group. And looking back through history, the team has nearly always presented a lefty option.

As recently as 2014, the season began with both Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee still in that starting rotation. The two left-handers had been teammates at that point for the better part of four of the previous five seasons.

When Lee first joined the Phillies in a 2009 trade from Cleveland he stepped into a starting pitching rotation that already included both Hamels and veteran Jamie Moyer.

Hamels was first called up to the big-leagues by the Phillies as a 22-year-old rookie in May 2006. The Phillies had no lefty options in their rotation as that season opened. Before it was over they would have three.

In the middle of the 2005 season, Randy Wolf, who had been a member of the team’s starting pitching group for the prior six years, suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He would miss the entire second half of that 2005 season and the first four months in 2006.

Wolf returned to join Hamels in the Phillies rotation on July 30, 2006. Less than three weeks later, Moyer arrived in a trade from Seattle. The three would finish out that year together before Wolf moved on to the Dodgers via free agency.

Wolf had been promoted to the big-leagues back in 1999, joining the rotation for good in June. In the prior two seasons, Matt Beech had been the lone left-handed Phillies starting pitcher.

Back further into the 90’s, the club had seen Sid Fernandez, Mike Mimbs, David West, and a late-career Fernando Valenzuela take regular turns at one point or another. And in the early part of the decade, the duo of Terry Mulholland and Danny Jackson helped the 1993 team win a National League pennent.

Mulholland had joined the team in a 1989 trade from San Francisco which also brought southpaw Dennis Cook. Those two joined Bruce Ruffin and Don Carman, giving the Phillies four left-handed starting options.

Carman could trace his own career beginnings back to the final effective years in the career of not only the greatest left-handed starter, but also the greatest Phillies pitcher of all-time, Steve Carlton.

During the early 2000’s, Wolf would be joined in the Phillies pitching rotation at various times by other left-handed starters, including Omar Daal, Bruce Chen, and Eric Milton. After Wolf was lost to the elbow surgery, Eude Brito was called up and made five starts as a left-hander.

Some of these southpaws were among the greatest pitchers to ever pull on a Phillies uniform. Some were effective starters for short periods. Others were journeymen filling a rotation spot for just a short period.

But one thing that Phillies teams had in their pitching arsenal for decades was a legitimate left-handed starter. Even before Carlton’s arrival, the last place 1971 Phillies had veterans Woodie Fryman and Chris Short and young Ken Reynolds, all lefties, pitching out of the rotation.

The pipeline, if you will, of left-handed starters has dried up down at Citizens Bank Park since the departure of Hamels. The next-man-up was supposed to be Adam Morgan, but he was never able to secure a long-term role and has now settled in as a reliever.

After Morgan finished up the 2016 season still as a member of the rotation, the Phillies had no left-handers take a regular turn for most of the next two-and-a-half years.

Trying to keep his team in the playoff hunt last season, general manager Matt Klentak signed 30-year-old Drew Smyly in late July and a week later swung a trade for 36-year-old veteran Jason Vargas. That gave the Phillies a pair of southpaws in their rotation down the stretch. But both were short-term additions, and neither will be back for the 2020 season.

As the Phillies get set to open the Grapefruit League season down in Florida this coming weekend there are once again few legitimate left-handed starting pitching options for the rotation.

In a Wednesday piece on the rotation, Scott Lauber for The Inquirer wrote: “Lefty prospect Damon Jones is a dark-horse candidate.” I like Jones, a 25-year-old who went 5-4 with a 2.91 ERA. He allowed just 74 hits over 114.1 innings across 23 starts with a 152/59 K:BB ratio in a 2019 season split between three levels of the minor league system. However, I see Jones more as a power reliever.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t lefty arms around camp, even a couple who could fill a rotation slot briefly at some point. The bullpen has a variety of left-handed options for new manager Joe Girardi, including Morgan, Jose Alvarez, and Francisco Liriano.

Liriano has made 300 starts in MLB over 14 seasons and could potentially be used as a spot or emergency starter. The only other two left-handers currently in camp who appear to have any chance to take the mound as a starting pitcher in the big-leagues at some point would appear to be Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez.

Irvin is now 26-years-old. He went 2-1 with a 5.83 ERA over 16 games, just three of those as a starter during his first taste of MLB play a year ago. However, Irvin has made 41 starts at Triple-A Lehigh Valley over the past two seasons. The Phillies are likely to keep him stretched out there again to begin 2020.

Suarez made three starts when first called up in 2018. He was used exclusively out of the bullpen in 37 games with the Phillies last season. Suarez made 28 starts over the last two seasons between Double-A Reading and Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

Down in the minor leagues the Phillies currently have only two left-handers who appear to have even a possibility of one day taking the mound as a starting pitcher. Those would be Erik Miller, chosen in the fourth round of the MLB Draft last June, and Ethan Lindow, who was the organization’s Pitcher of the Year last season. Both are a couple of years away, and neither can be considered a true top prospect at this point.

Is it important to have a left-hander in the starting rotation? Does it matter? That is a legitimate question. If the Phillies had five legitimate, effective, right-handers in their rotation at any point over the last half-dozen years it might not be an issue.

Showing opposing hitters the change of pace that a left-hander offers, neutralizing top left-handed hitters for the first two or three turns through the batting order. These are just a couple of ways a southpaw would help.

For my money, I would prefer to always have a right-left starting pitching mix that included two of one and three of the other. My preferred rotation would alternate lefties and righties against each opponent.

It would be nice if the Phillies could at least develop one truly legitimate starting left-hander. That, or trade for one who could be an effective member of their rotation for a few years. Right now, that arm does not appear to be on the 2020 roster.

 

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Sorting the pitching should be the story of 2020 spring training

There are a number of story lines set to play out as the Philadelphia Phillies open their formal spring training with workouts this week down in Clearwater, Florida. None is more important than the battles for a number of spots on the club’s Opening Day pitching staff.

New manager Joe Girardi will be paying special attention to the large group of arms in camp. It will be the successful or failure of the pitchers that will largely determine how the club fares over the coming 2020 season.

Also vital will be the ability of Girardi and new pitching coach Bryan Price to sort them all out. The two baseball veterans need to make the right decisions regarding who to keep on the big-league roster, who to stash away in the minor leagues for help later in the season, who to let go, and what roles on the Phillies staff each pitcher is best prepared to fill.

In the rotation, three arms are absolutely set in stone, assuming health. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Jake Arrieta have roles locked up from the outset. Zach Eflin is less experienced and may not be an absolute lock, but he enters camp as a presumptive member of the rotation as well.

Assuming all four come through camp healthy it would leave any others to battle it out for the fifth starter role. Vince Velasquez enters camp as the most likely to fill that slot. His challengers will be right-handers Nick Pivetta and Enyel De Los Santos as well as the lone left-handed starter at the moment, Cole Irvin.

It’s great talent,” Price said of Velasquez and Pivetta per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “But we do have to refine that talent and the productivity.

I think there’s a lot of pitching here that has room to get much better and I’m looking forward to being a part of that any way I can.”

Velasquez will be a special challenge. This is likely his last chance to prove that he can be a reliable starting pitcher for a big-league rotation. If he doesn’t step up in 2020 in that role the likelihood is that he will either be permanently moved to the bullpen or traded away.

The coaches will take a long look at Spencer Howard, but the organization’s top pitching prospect is expected to open the year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley. If the team needs an emergency starter early in the season the opportunity will likely go to someone else. But by no later than June, Howard should be ready to fill any such rotation opening.

Southpaws JoJo Romero and Ranger Suarez and righty prospect Adonis Medina are in camp and still viewed as potential big-league starting pitchers. All are lower on the organizational depth chart and would only see an increased role if a series of disastrous injuries should strike.

The bullpen is the place where there will be plenty of competition involving experienced veterans and talented youngsters. Some of the more interesting battles of the spring and some of the biggest roster surprises emerge from the relief pitching corps.

Right-handed relievers in camp from the Phillies current 40-man roster include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Tommy Hunter, Edgar Garcia, Deolis Guerra, Reggie McClain, and Robert Stock. Neris, who has a contract arbitration hearing this month, is the presumptive closer.

Dominguez could be a particularly impactful addition after missing most of 2019 with an arm injury that both he and the club feared might require Tommy John surgery. Fact is, the talented 25-year-old may not be completely out of the woods yet. But he is ready to go at this point.

You get a Seranthony Dominguez that can stay healthy for the whole year, that’s a huge addition,” Girardi said per Matt Breen at The Inquirer. “You’re talking about a guy that was a closer and an eighth-inning guy that wasn’t there a good portion of the season.

Bud Norris, Blake Parker, Trevor Kelley, Anthony Swarzak, and Drew Storen are the more experienced members of a large group of non-roster invitee right-handed relievers. Each of them has the ability to make the club with a big spring.

From the left side, the 40-man roster group includes Jose Alvarez, Adam Morgan, Austin Davis, and newcomer Cristopher Sanchez. Non-roster southpaws in camp will include Francisco Liriano, Zach Warren, Tyler Gilbert, and prospects Kyle Dohy and Damon Jones.

Any of the arms who lose out in the fifth starter contest could also find a bullpen role. However, it is more likely that Pivetta, Irvin, or De Los Santos would instead be assigned to Lehigh Valley in order to remain stretched out as a starting pitcher.

In my pre-spring training evaluation and rankings of the starting pitching rotations for the teams in the National League East Division the Phillies came out fourth. The club came out third in my bullpen rankings thanks largely to those increased depth options.

If you look at this club last year, there were a lot of injuries, especially in the bullpen,” said Girardi per Evan Macy at The Philly Voice. “I did about five Phillies games at MLB Network and every time there was a different bullpen.

Girardi almost certainly remembered that situation when he took charge of the Phillies and pushed GM Matt Klentak to provide him with more potential veteran options. The bullpen now appears to have far more depth of legitimate talent this time around to weather any repeat of such an injury storm.

NOTE: As this piece was being published, De Los Santos became the first official casualty of spring. Matt Gelb reported that the pitcher injured his hamstring and will be out for a few weeks. Considering all of the competition this almost assures that he starts the regular season at Triple-A.

 

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NL East Division position comparison: bullpens

My evaluation of the National League East Division teams has moved on from the position players to a ranking of the pitching staffs of each ball club. I began earlier today with a look at the projected starting rotations. Now, the bullpens will undergo that same evaluation and ranking.

The performance and even the make up of Major League Baseball bullpens are extremely difficult to evaluate at this time of year. Many teams enter spring training with as many as half of their projected relief pitcher spots up for grabs. Injuries will also take their toll on the relievers, both in the spring and then during the season.

As I evaluate each club, I will list the handful of arms that I feel are most likely to be impactful for that team during the season. This will include the projected closer as well as any quality setup and match-up arms.

I will give mention during the team write-up to any pitchers who could begin the season in the bullpen, but who may ultimately end up impacting the rotation as starting pitchers due to injuries. In parentheses after their names you will find a designation for whether they are left- or right-handed.

Combine the starting pitching rankings from earlier today with these bullpen rankings, add them to the examinations of each of the other positions around the diamond which took place over the previous ten days, and you will get a good idea of where each team stands entering spring training.

Early next week, I will take a look at the managers, giving them that same evaluation and ranking treatment. Pitchers and catchers report to Clearwater, Florida on February 11, just 10 days from now, for the opening of Phillies spring training.

NL EAST – 2020 BULLPEN RANKINGS

  1. Atlanta Braves: Mark Melancon (R), Will Smith (L), Shane Greene (R), Sean Newcomb (L), Darren O’Day (R), Luke Jackson (R), Chris Martin (R), A.J. Minter (L), Touki Toussaint (R), Jacob Webb (R)

The two-time defending NL East Division champion Braves possess an embarrassment of pitching riches. That extends to their bullpen group. Smith is an especially solid addition as a southpaw, signing as  free agent back in November after two strong seasons in San Francisco, including an NL All-Star season a year ago. Right-hander Patrick Weigel could emerge from the minors this season to help out if needed. The Braves also have veteran Felix Hernandez and youngsters Kyle Wright Bryse Wilson competing for the fifth-starter job. Any or all of them could impact the bullpen if not being used in the rotation at the majors or at Triple-A. There is still more pitching depth nearly ready among their top prospect group. Atlanta appears to be well-insulated from any type of pitching injury issues.

2) New York Mets: Edwin Diaz (R), Dellin Betances (R), Seth Lugo (R), Jeurys Familia (R), Justin Wilson (L), Robert Gsellman (R), Paul Sewald (L)

It would be hard for me to believe that young closer Diaz, who turns 26 during spring training, won’t bounce back from a somewhat down season in 2019. Even during a year where his ERA ballooned to 5.59 and his WHIP to 1.379, Diaz had a 15.4 K/9 rate and a 99/22 K/BB ratio across 58 innings. If he cannot beat out Michael Wacha and Rick Porcello for a starting rotation nod, Steven Matz will contribute out of the pen as well. Betances, Lugo, and Familia all have closer stuff. Wilson is leaned on heavily as a southpaw arm. He could get help in that regard from prospect David Peterson during the season. The health of former Yankees stud Betances, who turns 29 during spring training, will go a long way towards the New York pen maintaining this ranking during the season.

3) Philadelphia Phillies: Hector Neris (R), Seranthony Dominguez (R), Jose Alvarez (L), Francisco Liriano (L), Adam Morgan (L), Bud Norris (R), Victor Arano (R), Ranger Suarez (L), Robert Stock (R)

The Phillies bullpen has the potential to finish anywhere from second to fourth on this list by the end of the 2020 season, which can also be said for the Mets and Nationals relief group. If I had more confidence in Dominguez being and remaining healthy for the full season, I might even have ranked them ahead of New York already. New skipper Joe Girardi has a ton of arms with which to work and to sort out during spring training. Those could ultimately include arms like Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Cole Irvin, and Enyel De Los Santos, all of whom will try to win the fifth starter job at the outset. The Phillies might have  the deepest selection of lefty relievers in the division. If only they had a strong starting southpaw for their rotation. If the team can stay in contention, they just might finally get some value out of David Robertson late in the season. They also bought a lottery ticket in former Nats closer Drew Storen this winter.

4) Washington Nationals: Sean Doolittle (L), Will Harris (R), Daniel Hudson (R), Roenis Elias (L), Wander Suero (R), Tanner Rainey (R), Hunter Strickland (R), Ryne Harper (R), Javy Guerra (R)

The bullpen was a problem, perhaps the only real problem, for Washington during much of the 2019 season. Recognizing that fact and not wishing to go down that road again they inked free agent righty Will Harris. The Nats also re-signed free agent Daniel Hudson, who was outstanding after coming over in an early-August trade from Toronto last year. Hudson is forever etched in Nationals history after recording the final out in their World Series victory. A trio of youngsters vying for the fifth starter job – Joe Ross, Erick Fedde, and Austin Voth – could also impact the bullpen. If they use Doolittle as the closer, the rest of the pen lacks an impact southpaw, where Elias is likely to be asked to handle the load, at least initially. Prospect arm Seth Romero could ultimately be the answer in that role.

5) Miami Marlins: Brandon Kintzler (R), Drew Steckenrider (R), Jose Urena (R), Jarlin Garcia (L), Ryne Stanek (R), Tayron Guerrero (R), Yimi Garcia (R), Adam Conley (L), Jose Quijada (L)

The Fish signed the 35-year-old Kintzler last week to serve as the closer, allowing a talented group of young arms more time to develop in the setup and match-up roles earlier in games. This is indeed a talented, albeit largely inexperienced, bullpen crew. When top prospect Sixto Sanchez is ready it will bump someone, likely either Elieser Hernandez or Pablo Lopez, to the pen. If enough of these pitchers take a step forward, the Miami bullpen could quickly become a legitimate strength and begin to shoot up these rankings.

 

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Philadelphia Phillies December 2019 mailbag

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No one in baseball is more under the spotlight this off-season than Phillies general manager Matt Klentak.

 

Back on Christmas Eve Eve, I asked my social media followers to shoot me out any questions that they might have on the Phillies.

As you might expect, the majority of those ended up in reference to moves the club has made and might still make during this current off-season.

Following are a representative sampling, along with my responses, presented in a question (Q) and answer (A) format.

 

Q: Sean Fitzpatrick (@SeanFit91141350 on Twitter) asks “I’m questioning the configuration of the infield as it stands now. I dont see either Segura or Kingery as a legit third base option, and which one plays second? Do we bring in an outside option?

A: As we sit here in the week between Christmas and New Year’s the Phillies 2020 infield configuration appears that it will feature Rhys Hoskins at first base, Jean Segura at second, Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and Scott Kingery at third base. Kingery is likely keeping the spot warm until top prospect Alec Bohm is ready, at which point Kingery would return to a super-utility role. That assumes he is not needed at another position due to injury.

Q: Robin Heller (@flower_auntie on Twitter) says “I am wondering about who will play third base and how they will address the holes in the rotation!

A: As for third base, see the above answer – though there remain rumors that the Phillies could consider a trade for Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant. The starting rotation is currently projected to be made up of Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jake Arrieta, Zach Eflin, and Vince Velasquez.

It doesn’t appear as though GM Matt Klentak feels that there are “holes in the rotation” – though you and I would disagree with him. Arrieta needs to prove that he can stay healthy and produce past May. Eflin and Velasquez have been consistently inconsistent.

Wheeler was a great signing. But we went into this off-season believing that the Phillies needed two new starting pitchers of the type who had proven to be winners at the big-league level. There is still plenty of time to bring in another arm via free agency or trade.

Among free agents remaining, perhaps Klentak would consider taking a shot on Alex Wood, if the 28-year-old southpaw keeps hanging out on the market and his price is reasonable. The Phillies have also been linked to Arizona lefty Robbie Ray.

Q: Dan McElhaugh on Facebook asks “You (Phillies) need to address the bullpen and get another starter. What are you doing about it?

A: I addressed the starting pitchers above. However, you also have to consider that top pitching prospect Spencer Howard is close to big-league ready and will likely impact the rotation at some point in 2020. He is probably going to start at Triple-A Lehigh Valley, and assuming health and success there we should see him by the second half of the season, at the latest.

The bullpen is a tough question. There actually are the makings of a decent group here. But much of that depends on them being healthier than last year’s group. Right-handers include Hector Neris, Seranthony Dominguez, Victor Arano, Edgar Garcia, Trevor Kelley, Robert Stock and possibly even Nick Pivetta or prospect Adonis Medina.

Among lefties the club currently has Adam Morgan, Jose Alvarez, Austin Davis, and Cristopher Sanchez. You could even see minor league starters Cole Irvin, Ranger Suarez, and JoJo Romero slide into a pen role.

There are a number of veteran relievers remaining on the free agent market including Daniel Hudson, Will Harris, Steve Cishek, Pedro Strop, Francisco Liriano, and Fernando Rodney. Any of them would help upgrade the bullpen. Klentak may be waiting to see if any can eventually come dirt cheap.

Q: JBFazz1213 (@JBFazz1213 on Twitter) stated “Very Disappointing if the Phillies don’t sign Dellin Betances because of the Luxury Tax.

A: As we now know, the Phillies indeed did not sign Betances, who received a one-year deal at $10.5 million guaranteed from the division-rival New York Mets which can rise to $13 million based on incentives. He also received two player option years, though if he proves himself healthy it is likely that Betances re-sets his value and returns to the free agent market next fall.

Having previously pitched his entire career in the Big Apple with the Yankees, he has a number of ties to New York. Likely of most importance were that the doctors who treated his shoulder injury and his Achilles injuries are located there. Those injuries, especially the September Achilles, are likely most of the reason that the Phillies and any number of other ball clubs in need of bullpen help were not involved.

Q: Wally Potter on Facebook asks “Why does the Phillies farm system have a bad history of producing quality starting pitching ? More specific within the last 40 years.”

A: Back in July of 2019, Dan Roche of NBC Sports Philadelphia did a nice piece on this very subject. In that piece, Roche listed the top 10 homegrown Phillies pitchers over the last four decades as ranked by Baseball-Reference WAR value.

Those ten arms belong to, in order, Cole Hamels, Aaron Nola, Kevin Gross, Randy Wolf, Brett Myers, Ryan Madson, Don Carman, Kyle Kendrick, Hector Neris, and Ricky Bottalico.

It’s not a bad list, but there is a major and obvious flaw. Nola and Neris are “now” arms on the current roster. Hamels, Myers, Madson, and Kendrick were all pitchers with the 2008 World Series champions and were with the club for a number of years around that magical season.

What you are left with are Gross, Carman, and Ricky Bo as the only pitchers developed out of the Phillies farm system from the late-1970’s through the mid-2000’s who had any real impact on the ball club.

Roche estimates that the Phillies have drafted upwards of 1,000 pitchers over the last 40 years and stated “Even by blind luck, a team should be able to do better than the Phillies have.

The answer to the “why” is difficult to explain. That poor history comes under various regimes led by eight different general managers and a number of higher executives.

Perhaps that poor homegrown pitching record is beginning to change. If you make the history just of the last dozen years or so, you get seven of the above 10 names. You also get arms such as current top pitching prospect Spencer Howard and former top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, the centerpiece of the J.T. Realmuto deal.

Q: d dask (@DocD19 on Twitter) wanted me to “Ask Matt Klentak if he is allergic to southpaws?

A: I am not sure regarding the topic of Klentak’s allergies. But I get it. Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels, Dallas Keuchel, and Hyun-Jin Ryu were all available as free agents this time around. Any would have been a perfect fit for the Phillies rotation – especially our old hero Hamels on a one-year deal. The exact reasons why the GM didn’t get any of those arms to Philly is perplexing, to say the least.

Q: DDNAGS (@DDNAGS1 on Twitter) opined “They will not win with the current roster. Ask Matt Klentak when he is going to get off his big ass and make a couple trades? We don’t need all these scrubs he always signs.

A: Well, that’s simply wrong. Klentak signed Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen last off-season. He signed Zack Wheeler and Didi Gregorius this off-season. They had a .500 roster prior to the recent moves and on paper appear to be improved. So, it would seem that, given health, they are already good enough to “win with the current roster.
Now, if you are talking about winning enough to reach the playoffs, maybe even contend for a division crown, and beyond that, a world championship, I get it.
It is my contention that the Phillies need a more proven center fielder, a left-handed veteran starting pitcher, another veteran bullpen arm with a successful track record, and another bench bat with pop from the right side similar to what Jay Bruce brings from the left. Let’s see what the GM does between now and the start of the season.

Q: PhilliesCurveballMachine (@phillies_the on Twitter) asks “Will a “culture change” in the clubhouse under the new coaching staff really make a difference in the team’s intensity/ focus/ “hustle” this season? And will this translate into wins? Why/how?

A: When you talk about a “culture change” inside the Phillies clubhouse, you specifically mention the change of managers from Gabe Kapler to Joe Girardi. Honestly, we’re not going to know how the club responds. But I expect that a proven winner with a championship pedigree will be more influential and regarded more positively than a rookie with a cheerleader personality.

There is another major change inside the clubhouse, with a pair of starting players gone in Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco. This year should find Realmuto, McCutchen, and Harper stepping into even more vocal leadership roles. I don’t know about you, but that prospect elicits more confidence from me.

I am expecting that Girardi will simply not tolerate any lack of hustle. He is not only going to be willing to make an example out of any player, but also have the confidence and support from management to bench anyone for any reason.

This comes from the popularity of his hiring, the unpopularity of the general manager, the fact that Girardi is just beginning what should be at least a three-year run in the dugout, and his own confidence based on his experiences as a championship-winning player and manager.

Now, will this change in style and substance result in more victories? I think it will have some effect. However, the team has to stay mostly healthy, especially where its biggest stars are concerned, and needs to receive actual improved performance from a few players. Any more positive attitude needs to be backed by positive performances.

Q: Andrew (@Andrew201711 on Twitter) asks “With the roster as it stands , I don’t see the Phils doing any better than third place …. your thoughts ?

A: For me the big thing right now is that factor of health. If the roster as currently assembled remains healthy, they can contend for a postseason berth. If they stay healthy, get improved performances from a few players such as Adam Haseley, Hoskins, and Arrieta, and if Klentak can make a couple of big in-season moves, they can win the division.

All of that said, the Braves are two-time defending NL East champions with a talented young core. The Nationals are defending World Series champions. Both teams have solid overall rosters. The Mets have improved their already tough pitching staff in both talent and depth this off-season. All three of those teams finished above the Phillies in the 2019 standings.

It is way too early for me to make any predictions. A lot can still change on not only the Phillies roster, but that of their division rivals. But right now you can make a legitimate argument for the club finishing anywhere from first to fourth in the National League East Division in the 2020 season.

That’s it for the mailbag this time around. I’ll open it up once again as spring training gets underway in February. Between now and then, you can always hit me up on social media: @philliesbell on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

 

Phillies bats go cold during a 5-1 loss on a hot Saturday night in Pittsburgh

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Joe Musgrove gave the Pirates a strong starting effort

The Pittsburgh Pirates (46-51) pitching cooled off the Philadelphia Phillies (51-48) bats on a steamy, hot summer night at PNC Park to give the hosts a 5-1 victory.

With the win, the Bucs rewarded the sellout crowd who showed up to pay homage to their 1979 Pirates club in celebration of the 40th anniversary of that “We Are Family” team winning the World Series.
As part of that celebration, both teams wore throwback uniforms. The Pirates adorned in black, the Phillies wearing their popular powder blues from that era.
The sharp-looking uniforms wouldn’t help the visiting Phillies even a little bit. They managed to muster just three hits all night, and their only run was of the unearned variety.

Pittsburgh jumped out on top first, scoring three times in the bottom of the 3rd inning, and it was the Pirates starting pitcher Joe Musgrove who got it going. He doubled, then rolled home with a head-first slide on a Bryan Reynolds base hit. Reynolds then scored on a double by Starling Marte, who then scored himself on a base hit off the bat of Josh Bell.
The Phillies finally pushed through with an unearned run off Musgrove in the top of the 5th inning before a short rain delay caused a stoppage. When play resumed, Musgrove stayed as hot as the weather, striking out Scott Kingery with a runner at third base and two outs.
In the home 6th, the Pirates traded a double play for a run to up their lead to 4-1. Then in the bottom of the 7th, newcomer Mike Morin took the mound after being acquired by the Phillies just this morning in a deal with the Minnesota Twins for cash considerations. Morin surrendered doubles to both Marte and Colin Moran, the latter driving in the run that provided the final 5-1 score.
After Musgrove had shut the Phillies down over the first six frames, he was followed to the mound by Michael FelizFrancisco Liriano and Felipe Vazquez. That trio each tossed one shutout inning, and combined to allow the Phillies just one hit while walking one and striking out two.
The two teams will go at it once again on what promises to be a third consecutive midsummer steam bath in Sunday afternoon’s series finale rubber match. Expected to make his first start on the mound for the Phillies is lefty newcomer Drew Smyly. The Pirates have yet to announce their starting pitcher.

SHIBE VINTAGE SPORTS STARTING PITCHING PERFORMANCE

PHILLIES – Zach Eflin: 4 IP, 5 hits, 3 earned, 0 BB, 3 strikeouts. 57 pitches, 40 for strikes.
PIRATES – Joe Musgrove: 6 IP, 2 hits, 1 run (unearned), 2 walks, 8 strikeouts. 98 pitches, 64 for strikes.

PHILLIES NUGGETS PLAYER OF THE GAME: JOE MUSGROVE

Not even a short rain delay in the middle of the game could derail Musgrove. The 26-year-old right-hander came out of that delay to end the only real threat against him, striking out Scott Kingery with a runner on third base and the Pirates holding just a 3-1 lead.
Musgrove retired eight straight at one point, and allowed just two hits, both to Phillies shortstop Jean Segura. Those came on singles in both the first and sixth innings. He raised his record to 7-8 on the season, lowering his ERA to the 4.08 mark.
That was on the mound. Musgrove also got the Pirates on the board first with his head-first slide in the bottom of the 3rd inning, which followed on the heels of the double that he swatted to the left field wall.

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