Tag Archives: Pete Mackanin

Rejuvenated Phillies keep Dodgers stumbling towards NL West crown

Hoskins four RBI pace Phils past Dodgers (Photo: LA Times)

I had the pleasure of taking in the Philadelphia Phillies 6-2 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night at Citizens Bank Park.

Let me tell you, this was not the same Phillies team that sputtered through the 2017 season’s first four months. It also was not the same Dodgers team that ran away and hid in the NL West race.

The win was the fifth in the last seven games for the once-again Fightin’ Phils. Since just after the MLB All-Star Game break back in mid-July, the Phillies have a 31-31 record. They have been competitive for months.

“It was nice to beat the Dodgers with Kershaw and Darvish pitching,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said per Ben Harris for MLB.com following the game. “It’s a great way to start the series. The guys have come alive.

The once dominant Dodgers are in free-fall coming down the stretch. Los Angeles has won just five of it’s last 15 games.

On a night made extremely windy and at times wet thanks to Hurricane Jose spinning off the east coast, the Phillies got off to a cold start.

Dodgers’ starter Yu Darvish shut the Phillies lineup down over 5.1 innings, allowing no earned runs on four hits. He struck out seven and walked just one batter.

The recent trade acquisition from the Texas Rangers was staked to a 2-0 lead. Yasmany Grandal pushed a wind-aided home run just over the left field wall in the top of the 3rd inning. In the very next inning, Curtis Granderson was robbed of a home run by that same wind, but his double scored Cody Bellinger for that 2-0 cushion.

The Phillies finally got to Darvish in the 6th, and as usual of late, it was rookie sensation Rhys Hoskins doing the damage. Hoskins slashed an RBI down the left field line to score Cesar Hernandez, cutting the lead to 2-1 and chasing Darvish from the game after 97 pitches.

LA skipper Dave Roberts went to lefty Tony Watson out of the bullpen, and when Nick Williams beat out a slow chopper for an infield hit, the Phillies had the bases loaded with just one out.

Roberts then rolled the dice, leaving Watson in to face the righty swinging Aaron Altherr. The gamble paid off when Altherr bounced into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.

Down 2-1, the Phillies went right back to work in the bottom of the 7th against new Dodgers pitcher Pedro Baez. It was another rookie sparking the inning. Third baseman J.P. Crawford drilled a ball to an opening in center field. As the ball split the Dodgers outfielders and rolled to the wall, Crawford raced all the way around the bases, sliding headfirst into 3rd base with a leadoff triple.

Yet another rookie, catcher Jorge Alfaro, was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners with nobody out. Maikel Franco followed by popping out easily to third base on the first pitch that he saw as a pinch-hitter for Phillies starter Aaron Nola. Fans have been frustrated with Franco’s failures for some time, and let him know it with some lusty booing.

Hernandez drew a walk to load the bases. Freddy Galvis then popped a fast-sinking fly ball to right field. Curtis Granderson was forced to slide to catch it, and it appeared that Crawford could have tagged to score the tying run. However, he instead raced down the line as the ball fell, and was forced to retreat to the bag when Granderson made the catch.

With that baserunning blunder, it appeared that for a second straight inning the Phillies might waste a bases loaded opportunity.

Instead, Odubel Herrera showed some uncharacteristic patience, drawing a four-pitch walk that forced home Crawford with the tying run.

That brought Hoskins to the plate again. Once again, the 24-year old cleanup hitter played the hero role to perfection. Hoskins worked a classic at-bat against Baez, battling to a full count. Then he crushed a clean hit down the left field line. All three base runner rushed home as Hoskins cruised into 2nd base with a double.


“He made some good pitches too with good strikes, not really anything in the middle of the plate,” Hoskins said per MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki. “I was just lucky enough to put a good swing on the last one.

That quickly, the Phillies held a 5-2 lead. They would extend it out to 6-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning when Altherr drilled his 18th home run of the year through the teeth of the wind in left-center.

Hector Neris allowed a leadoff single to former Phillies hero Chase Utley in the bottom of the 9th inning. Utley had received his typical standing ovation from fans when he first came to bat back in the top of the 2nd frame.

Neris then settled in, retiring the next three Dodgers hitters in order to seal the victory for the Phillies.

Nola had given the club a strong start, nearly matching Darvish. The 24-year old Phillies righty surrendered just the two runs on five hits, striking out eight and walking a pair over seven innings. He would earn the Win thanks to that 7th inning rally, raising his record to 12-10 on the year.



“This is frustrating,” said Roberts per Ken Gurnick for MLB.com, as LA saw their division lead slashed from 21 games to 9 1/2. “That team over there with a good pitcher, they’ve got speedy guys, put the bat on the ball, they play hard. Teams that have nothing to play for but are trying to establish themselves, those are dangerous teams.

Despite their latest loss, the Dodgers ‘Magic Number’ to clinch the NL West Division crown lowered to just 2 when the Arizona Diamondbacks also lost. Los Angeles can clinch as early as Wednesday night.

The Phillies will try to continue frustrating Roberts and the Dodgers on Wednesday night. Despite playing well for over a month, the Phils will be trying to string together three straight wins for the first time in that span.

Philadelphia Phillies are no longer a pushover

Williams (L), Hoskins (R) keys in Phillies new lineup
For a fifth consecutive season, the Philadelphia Phillies will finish at or near the bottom of the overall Major League Baseball standings.
But over the past month, something is obviously different. What had become a doormat team is once again beginning to live up to the “Fightin’ Phils” moniker.
Since breaking out for a dozen runs on Saturday night, August 19 at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the Phillies have a 12-12 record.
On Wednesday night, manager Pete Mackanin‘s suddenly revitalized lineup thrashed the visiting Miami Marlins at Citizens Bank Park by an 8-1 score. It marked the 11th time since that explosion against the Giants nearly a month ago that the club has scored at least seven runs.
The reason for the dramatic turnaround in the Phillies offensive attack is as obvious as the results. The lineup has been infused with a handful of talented rookies, all of whom have made a difference. That difference is finally bringing back hope to the fans after a half-decade of suffering.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

The first new piece to debut was right fielder Nick Williams. Just turning 24 years of age a week ago, Williams joined the big league club on June 30.
In 275 plate appearances over 65 games, ‘Nicky Dubs’ has hit for a .292/.349/.500 slash line. He has 10 homers, 47 RBI, 38 runs scored, and a 122 OPS+ mark in what is essentially a half-season of play.
Next up was 24-year old catcher Jorge Alfaro, who got the call on August 5. He has been the Phillies starting catcher pretty much since that mid-August weekend series in San Francisco.
Alfaro went into Wednesday’s action hitting for a .311/.354/.419 slash in 79 plate appearances over 19 games. The native of Colombia has hit safely in 16 of the 19 games in which he has appeared.
Phillies
The most recent addition is infielder J.P. Crawford. A perennial top prospect, Crawford was tearing it up with AAA Lehigh Valley before receiving his call on September 5.
Still just 22 years of age, Crawford has struggled the most at the plate. However, he has gone 6-17 with his first three career doubles over his last four starts.
Unless you haven’t been paying attention to Major League Baseball over the past month, you are already aware of the biggest new contributor. Rhys Hoskins was named both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP of the AAA International League.

HOSKINS TAKES MLB BY STORM

By the time those honors were handed out, Hoskins was already doing damage in the big leagues. Since being promoted on August 10, he tore it up at a .298/.424/.754 clip.
Hoskins’ OPS was an unreal 1.179, and he entered play on Wednesday with 16 homers, 34 RBI, and 29 runs scored. That all came in just 139 plate appearances over his first 32 career games.
After Hoskins had crushed his 17th homer in Wednesday night’s victory, Mackanin joked: “Actually, I’m going to get his autograph on a ball today. It’s really outstanding. It’s fun to watch.”
Following Tuesday night’s two-homer performance by Hoskins, Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly quoted Williams on his fellow rookie.
“He’s an alien. He’s not human. That’s not real. That’s crazy. And I’m hitting behind him, too, and I’m just constantly watching him and I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’ What he’s doing is amazing. He plays hard. He’s a smart player. And what he’s doing, I just love watching and being a part of it.”
Mackanin had to really enjoy all of his newcomers last night. The combination of Hoskins, Williams, and Crawford reached base in 13 of 23 plate appearances, with six extra-base hits between them.
Now the Phillies cleanup hitter, Hoskins has Williams hitting behind him in the 5-spot of the batting order. With Aaron Altherr in the three-hole after spending over a month on the disabled list, the Phillies lineup core is legitimately dangerous.
In 347 plate appearances this season, the 26-year old Altherr hit for a .282/.354/.526 slash with 16 homers, 50 RBI, and 48 runs scored entering Wednesday night.
Since June 3, the sometimes maddening, bat-flipping connoisseur Odubel Herrera was hitting for a .343/.389/.563 slash line, scoring 41 runs in that time.

FRUSTRATING FRANCO JOINS THE PARTY

Even third baseman Maikel Franco, who frustrated for most of the season to the point where many felt his long-term job was in jeopardy, has begun to catch fire.
Franco went into Wednesday night’s game hitting .343/.361/.600 over 36 plate appearances in September. This past weekend in Washington, Franco homered in consecutive games for the first time since mid-April.
This is no illusion. The Phillies lineup is far more talented now than the one that was so ineffective over the season’s first four months.
With 14 of their final 17 games at home, this newly muscled-up Phillies lineup should finally provide real entertainment for the fans at Citizens Bank Park. More importantly, there is now reason to be legitimately excited for the future of the team in 2018 and beyond.

J.P. Crawford becomes latest phenom promoted by Phillies

Crawford becomes latest Phillies phenom given a shot in 2017
At first blush, 2017 would appear to be yet another in a recent string of Philadelphia Phillies lost seasons. It has been six years since the last winning Phillies club. This will be the team’s fifth straight season finishing last or next-to-last in the NL East Division.
Any outsider who simply peers at the standings and sees their 52-85 record, the worst in Major League Baseball, could be excused for not realizing that something more is going on here. But it is.
While the Phillies are indeed 33 games below the .500 mark, a glance at their game results table reveals improvement. The club has registered a 23-25 mark since dropping the first two games out of the MLB All-Star break in mid-July.
On August 10, Rhys Hoskins was promoted from AAA Lehigh Valley. The 24-year old natural first baseman was hitting for a .284/.385/.581 slash line at time with the IronPigs. He would ultimately be named both the Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player of the International League.
Three days after entering the lineup as a left fielder, Hoskins registered his first big league hit. A day later, he drove his first two big league home runs out of Citizens Bank Park.
The show was on. In 105 plate appearances over 25 games, the rookie has hit for a .307/.419/.750 slash. He has also bashed a dozen homers, driven in 25 runs, scored 22 times, and become the team’s cleanup hitter. Hoskins was named the National League Rookie of the Month for August.

ALFARO AND WILLIAMS SHOW THEY BELONG

Also up from Lehigh Valley in August, Jorge Alfaro entered the lineup for the first time on August 5. Within a week he was sharing the catching duties evenly with veteran Cameron Rupp.
Alfaro has hit for a .340/.375/.434 slash. While he still has work to do as a backstop, Alfaro has shown that he is more than ready to take on the full-time job beginning with the 2018 season.
Nick Williams preceded those two in getting his promotion from the AAA ranks. Stepping into the lineup for good on July 1, Williams has mostly sparkled on defense while showing that his bat is big league ready.
Williams turns 24 years old this coming weekend. Over 241 plate appearances this season he has a .271/.332/.468 slash line with eight homers, 35 RBI, and 33 runs scored. Only once has he gone as many as three games without recording a hit.
That the Phillies have shown improvement in the 2017 season’s second half is directly attributable to the improvement in their lineup brought particularly by these three players.

CRAWFORD JOINS THE SHOW

Now, another is getting his shot, and there is a chance that he may be the best of them all. Shortstop J.P. Crawford was once the top prospect in baseball, and was the top prospect in the Phillies organization for a few consecutive years.
Crawford went into a deep funk, and a number of alleged experts began to write him off as an impactful prospect earlier this season.
But then suddenly, it all clicked back in for the 22-year old. Since May 26, Crawford has hit .275/.380/.494 with 14 homers, 49 RBI, and 57 runs scored.
On Labor Day, Crawford punctuated his comeback with a huge two-run, first-inning home run. The blast helped Lehigh Valley bolt to an early 4-0 lead. The club would ultimately hang on for a 4-3 victory, clinching a berth in the AAA playoffs.
Rather than continue his journey with the IronPigs, Crawford was rewarded with an even better prize. The Phillies made the phone call for which he had been waiting his entire life, to come join the big league team.
Tonight, Crawford will join Williams, Hoskins, and Alfaro in the visitor’s dugout at Citi Field in New York as the Phillies take on the host New York Mets. They will spend the final three and a half weeks of the 2017 season together enjoying life in Major League Baseball.

BEGINNING OF THE BEGINNING

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin has made a number of Phillies fans, myself included, very happy right away. All four of the talented rookies will be in the starting lineup together on Tuesday night, albeit a couple of them a bit out of position.
Hoskins continues to start in left field, where he has actually fared well. The skipper continues to give Tommy Joseph and his awful .240/.290.430 slash line regular first base at-bats.
Crawford will play third base, a position where he had been given some recent action with Lehigh Valley. With Freddy Galvis playing a Gold Glove caliber shortstop this year in Philly, and with regular third baseman Maikel Franco continuing to struggle, it is entirely understandable.
But wherever they are playing in the short term, the fact remains that the Phillies rebuilding program is kicking into high gear as the 2017 season winds down. This is the true beginning of the beginning for the Phillies.
It may not be continuous smooth sailing from here on out, but the direction should prove to be steadily upwards in the National League standings.

Phillies winning spurts tempered by lessons of history

The Phillies have won eight of their last 12 games
The Philadelphia Phillies walked off the Atlanta Braves on Saturday night. The 4-3 victory in eleven innings gave the Fightin’ Phils their eighth win in the last dozen games.
Despite the hot stretch of winning baseball over these last two weeks, the Phillies remain in last place in the NL East Division standings.
The Phillies are 24 games behind the first place Washington Nationals. They sit 20.5 games out in the National League Wildcard race. The Phils are even 10.5 games behind the two teams tied for fourth in the division, the Braves and the New York Mets.
I’ve noticed a pattern with these little winning spurts by the Phillies in recent years. When they start winning, all is right in the world. Not only for the players and manager Pete Mackanin, but also fans and the media who follow the team on a regular basis.
When the Phillies are winning, social media explodes with platitudes for the current players, extolling their skills and feats. Talk begins of players in their mid-upper 20’s who will be part of the “winning future” core.
As someone who has always considered themselves a “glass half-full” personality, it pains me to add the “but” to this piece. It’s something that I learned a long time ago, an old saying: “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.”

MR. KLENTAK, MEET MR. SANTAYANA

Many have heard the saying, or some variant of it, at some point in their lives. It comes from philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) and his 1905-06 “The Life of Reason” project.
The full quotation leading to that famed finish actually goes as follows: “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The Phillies have indeed seen a great deal of change in recent years, all of it necessary. However, GM Matt Klentak and the club’s fan base cannot make the mistake of settling for what they are seeing in short, winning spurts. The change must continue, and it must strike at the heart of this current lineup.
Over the last three years, the Phillies have gone with a core lineup that features Maikel FrancoOdubel HerreraCameron RuppFreddy Galvis, and Cesar Hernandez.
None of these players is to blame for all of the losing. Each of these players has redeeming qualities as a ball player. Galvis can be sensational defensively. Franco has legitimate power. Rupp is a typical catching field general. Hernandez has speed and makes good contact. Herrera is the most talented, and perhaps conversely the most maddening.

LENGTHY LOSING FOLLOWS BRIEF WINNING

The problem with these players, as I have visited in the past, is that they are wildly inconsistent, both individually and as a unit. What it has led to over these last three years is a dysfunctional mix that cannot win consistently.
From April 15-27 this year, the Phillies won eight of ten, lifting their overall record to 11-9. They proceeded to lose 26 of their next 32 games. Prior to this recent win stretch, they had dropped seven of eight.
Last year they played hot for most of the first seven weeks of the season. On May 18, their 24-17 record left them just a half-game off the division lead. The Phils proceeded to drop 26 of their next 32 and never recovered.
That 2016 team would capture eight of 12 games between August 2-14. They went just 15-28 the rest of the season, losing eight of their final 10 games.
In 2015, the first season that the current position player core spent together, there was a six-game win streak in mid-May. The team then dropped 24 of their next 30 contests.
After the 2015 MLB All-Star break, the Phillies came out firing. The club won the first four straight, nine of 10, and 15 of 20 games. It made for a fun stretch of baseball from mid-July through early August.
By the end of August and into September, however, they found themselves dropped 20 of 26 games en route to a last place finish. That season finally saw the end of the Ruben Amaro era, after manager Ryne Sandberg quit on the club less than halfway through the campaign.

MORE CHANGE NEEDED TO CHANGE HISTORY

The point here is to remind fans that this will not last. This current Phillies lineup is simply not constructed to win over months of play. They are simply not that good, at least not consistently. The likelihood is that a fairly long stretch of losing is coming, and probably beginning soon.
I want the Phillies to win. I root for them now, as I have since discovering the existence of the team and the game all the way back in 1971 at age nine. But these 46 years of watching Phillies baseball, and especially these last three years, have taught me valuable lessons.
There has been some recent change. Over the last few days, Klentak has done what was expected as the MLB trade deadline approaches. He dealt away veterans Jeremy Hellickson, Pat Neshek, and Howie Kendrick. That will hopefully open some playing time opportunities for youngsters who might truly become pieces of the club’s long term future.
But those recent deals are not enough. The Phillies will not win again on a consistent, season-long basis until they turn the page from this current position player core group. Until those wholesale changes happen, enjoy the wins when they come, but realize the good times are sure to end soon. That is the lesson of recent Phillies history.

The Philadelphia Phillies are simply not ready to contend – yet

Much is being written by local scribes who follow the Philadelphia Phillies on a daily basis regarding the increased competitiveness of the club thus far in the 2017 season.

Those writers are echoing the comments of Phillies team officials. In signing manager Pete Mackanin to a contract extension, GM Matt Klentak had this to say per Ryan Lawrence of Philly Voice:
“I think the effort level of this team – we can see progress in what’s happening right now. Pete can see it, we all can see it’s happening before our very eyes. Obviously, it’s not reflected in our win-loss record yet, but we can see the progress happening.”
25 of the Phillies first 35 games in 2017 have been decided by either one or two runs. That includes both games of Sunday’s split doubleheader with the division rival Washington Nationals. Unfortunately, the Phils are just 9-16 in those tight games.
Much is also being made of the competition in this early part of the schedule. The Phillies have played those Nationals a dozen times already this year. At 24-13, the Nats have the best record in the National League.
The Phillies have also played seven total games against the Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, both leading contenders this season. They went 1-6 in those games.
So in 19 of the club’s first 35 games, they have been up against some of the best teams in the league. Their record in those contests is 6-13.

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR

There is the rub. While the Phillies may indeed be more competitive, they are still nowhere near a contending ball club. Even in the rest of their games, the Phils have only an 8-8 record.
They cannot beat the good teams, and they only break even against the mediocre clubs. This team is simply not good enough to win, let alone contend – yet.
Offensively, the Phillies are 18th in Runs scored and 9th in OPS in all of Major League Baseball. They finished last, 30th of 30 teams, in each of those categories last season.
Still holding the team back is their overall approach at the plate. The Phillies are fourth in the National League in striking out. They are just 19th in MLB in drawing walks.
On the mound, their Batting Average Against of .264 is tied for 26th in baseball. The pitchers don’t overpower anyone, as the staff’s cumulative total of 248 strikeouts is next-to-last in the National League, 28th in all of baseball.
The writers who cover the Phillies and the management of the team can talk about close results and consistent effort all they want. But the 14-21 record, 5th worst in the NL, has been earned.
The Phillies have now lost 12 of their last 15 games. And now 18 of their next 28 games on the road, where they are just 6-13 so far on the season.

ONLY TALENT INFLUX WILL IMPROVE RESULTS

Meanwhile down on the farm, the AAA Lehigh Valley IronPigs are in first place in the International League North Division standings. The Pigs record of 23-13 has them 3.5 games in front, tied for the most victories in the league.
If the current Phillies continue on their current losing path, it is only a matter of time before some of the players find some of those IronPigs AAA prospects pushing for a big league role.
That is the only thing that will push the Phillies forward, an influx of better talent. That talent seems to be nearly ready in the minor leagues at a number of positions.
When the season began, I predicted a 72-90 last place finish for the 2017 Philadelphia Phillies. Serious followers of the team should refer back to that piece, linked in the previous sentence. My realistic review of the team is playing out before our eyes.
The good news is that the turnaround has begun. There are some pieces in Philly who should be able to help the team contend in the next couple of years. More talent is coming soon from the minor leagues. And the team has tons of money to lavish on the strong free agent classes coming over the next couple years.
But for now, and until real changes are made in the talent level on the field, the Phillies will remain what their record says they are – a scrappy team that battles tough, but is simply not talented enough to win on a consistent basis.