Walks for Phillies during 4-1 win over Brewers on Saturday

The Flyers traded veteran defenseman Mark Streit to the Lightning, who promptly traded him to the Penguins. The Flyers receive veteran center Valtteri Filppula, 2 draft picks.

The Jerry Sandusky tragedy never should have been about football. It should always have been about the victims of a sexual predator and finding the truth about the Penn State administration’s handling of the situation. The NCAA made the Sandusky scandal about football. Not Penn State.

Eric Fisher’s weekly column about a variety of topics. This week Eric serves up opinions on the fragile nature of the Sixers’ foundation, signs that the Flyers have a bright future, and the success of two older players at Wimbledon.

Archive for the ‘Phillies’ Category

Phillies Notebook: Pitching is secret to success

Posted by Eric Fisher On May - 28 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

It would have been better to write that the Phillies are in first place on Memorial Day. And that still could be true by the end of the night. But, as I write this Phillies Notebook, the Phillies are in second place in the National League East, just a half-game behind the Braves.

The Phillies spent a little less than 24 hours in first place during the Memorial Day Weekend, but Sunday’s 5-3 loss to the Blue Jays, combined with the Braves’ win over the Red Sox, dropped the Phillies (29-21) back to second place. Still, that doesn’t change the narrative of this Phillies season.

One year ago, we were beginning to question whether the Phillies would suffer through a historically bad season. After an 11-9 start, the Phillies plummeted in the standings during May, a freefall that would continue through early July.

The biggest difference for the Phillies is their starting pitching. It’s a simple formula. When you receive terrific starting pitching, your chances for success improve.

At the top of the rotation are Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta. Nola, who had a no-hitter through 6 2/3 innings on Saturday, is 6-2 with a 2.27 ERA. Nola has 67 strikeouts in 71 1/3 innings, and he has looked like the ace the Phillies had hoped he would become..

The late offseason pickup of Jake Arrieta has meant that Nola is not alone at the top of the rotation. Arrieta is 4-2 with a 2.45 ERA. As important as his statistics is the professional attitude Arrieta brings to the pitching staff. Having a proven winner like this former Cy Young Award winner benefits everyone.

The middle of the rotation hasn’t been too bad, either. Nick Pivetta is 4-3 with a 3.26 ERA. Prior to his last start, Pivetta had allowed only one earned run during a 19-inning stretch. Even Vince Velasquez has given the Phillies quality starts. After a few rough starts at the beginning of the season, Velasquez has improved to 4-5 and a 4.18 ERA. He still throws too many pitches, but he no longer lets early mistakes derail him.

Zach Eflin is 1-1 with a 3.27 ERA in four starts since joining the rotation. Those are good numbers for a No. 5 starter.

There are other reasons for the Phillies’ terrific first two months of the season. Odubell Herrera (.333 batting average), who reached base during his first 441 games, has been terrific. Maikel Franco (.264, 8 home runs, 31 RBI) has been much more consistent and other players have produced timely hits.

On the whole, however, the Phillies offense includes plenty of disappointment. Herrera, Franco and Cesar Hernandez (.263) are the only starters hitting above. 240. Rhys Hoskins (.234), Scott Kingery (.221), Carlos Santana (.207) and Aaron Altherr (.194) are among those who aren’t pulling their weight.

The inconsistency in the lineup is further evidence that the main reason the Phillies are contenders – yes, you read that right – is their starting pitching.


STREAK ENDS: Odubel Herrera’s on-base streak ended at 45 games during a 5-1 loss to the Cardinals on May 20. In typical Herrera fashion, the streak ended in bizarre fashion – with Herrera reaching base.

In his final at-bat, Herrera tried to check his swing on a pitch far outside the strike zone. He was unable to check his swing, but the pitch went all the way to the back stop. Herrera beat the throw to first base, but, from a statistical perspective, reaching base on a strikeout isn’t considered reaching base safely, so Herrera’s streak came to an end.

I have been critical of Herrera during his Phillies tenure, and he still fails to hustle from time to time, but there’s no denying that the good has far outweighed the bad for Herrera this season. He has been critical, if you’ll pardon the use of that word, to the Phillies’ success this season.


RISING QUICKLY: Reliever Seranthony Dominguez hasn’t missed a beat since being promoted to the Phillies. Dominguez, who started the season with Class AA Reading, wasn’t with Class AAA Lehigh Valley for very long before being promoted to the majors. Since arriving with the Phillies, Dominguez has allowed just two hits during 10 1/3 shutout innings. He is 1-0 and recently picked up his first save. The Phillies certainly have to be considering Dominguez to be their closer in the future – or perhaps even in the present.


CHANGE IN PLANS: Sometimes things don’t go according to plan. The Phillies attempted to solidify their bullpen during the offseason with the acquisitions of veterans Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. Neshek, re-acquired after the Phillies traded him last summer, has been sidelined by injuries since the beginning of the season. Hunter has a 5.11 ERA in 15 appearances.

The veteran relievers the Phillies were counting upon haven’t been very good. Closer Hector Neris is 1-3 with a 4.50 ERA and has blown three of his 12 save opportunities.

The bullpen has been saved by holdovers such as Edubray Ramos (0.95 ERA in 22 appearances), Adam Morgan (1.84 ERA in 21 appearances), Luis Garcia (2.91 ERA in 26 appearances) and additions Seranthony Dominguez (see previous item) and Victor Arano (1.20 ERA in 13 appearances).


MIXED RESULTS: First baseman Carlos Santana recently made errors in four consecutive games. That has to be slightly concerning for the Phillies. Equally concerning is that, despite a resurgence in May, Santana is batting .207. On the other hand, he leads the team in home runs (9) and RBI (32).


COMING THROUGH IN A PINCH: Outfielder Nick Williams would prefer to start, but he’s making a name for himself as a pinch hitter. Williams’ pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning Saturday boosted the Phillies to a 2-1 victory over the Braves and into first place in the National League East. Williams has three pinch-hit home runs this season, and all of them were game-winning blasts. Overall, Williams is 9 for 19 as a pinch hitter this season.


UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY: The Phillies’ brief stay in first place during Memorial Day Weekend was their first time in first place since the end of the 2011 season.


TIGHT RACE: While all eyes have been on the Phillies’ battle with the Braves for first place, the Nationals (29-22) have closed to within a half-game of the Phillies. The Nationals have a remarkable 17-8 road record while being below .500 (12-14) at home.


CATCHING ON: Catcher Jorge Alfaro is becoming a defensive force. He has thrown out 10 of 29 runners attempting to steal this season, but that includes a recent streak in which he threw out 7 of 10 runners. Teams are catching on to the fact that stealing with Alfaro behind the plate is a difficult task.


HITTING THE ROAD: The Phillies hit the road on Memorial Day to begin a 10-game road trip. They face the Dodgers for four games, and then move on to San Francisco for a weekend series with the Giants. After an off day next Monday, the Phillies go to Wrigley Field for three games with the Cubs. The road trip is followed by nine games against teams currently in first place (6 with the Brewers and three with the Rockies), so this next stretch is a crucial one of the Phillies.

Phillies Notebook: Early test for Kapler

Posted by Eric Fisher On April - 10 - 2018 ADD COMMENTS

Winning is the best deodorant. But winning a series against the lowly Marlins and a series opener over the Reds, who are tied for the fewest wins (2) in the majors during this young season, isn’t enough to erase the scent of dissent emanating from first-year manager Gabe Kapler’s moves during the first week of the season.

Kapler’s unorthodox approach didn’t end with spring training. He moved players, such as Scott Kingery, all over the field. He started Andrew Knapp at catcher the first two games instead of Jorge Alfaro. He removed opening day starter Aaron Nola after 68 pitches. Perhaps worst of all, Kapler made a pitching change, calling for reliever Hoby Milner, even though no reliever had been told to warm up.

Failing to have a reliever warming up drew the ire of an umpire and Major League Baseball. Fans questioned Kapler’s qualifications to be manager and booed him during the home opener last Thursday.

What truly matters, however, is what the players think. In my “5 things that could go right or wrong” lists just before the season started, I cited “Kapler’s energy and infectious attitude can’t hide the fact that the rookie manager’s bold decision-making often leads to unwanted results, leading to a lack of trust and confidence from his players” as one of the things that could go wrong.

It didn’t take long for Kapler to be put to the test. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports quoted an anonymous Phillie of saying “We just need the manager to get out of the way” when talking about the team’s poor first week. And then second-year outfielder Nick Williams, after starting just two of the first six games, said, “I guess the computers are making (the lineup).”

Williams initially said he wasn’t complaining. Laster, he said he was joking and the quote was taken out of context before finally apologizing.

Having to deal with this type of issue one week into his managing career isn’t a good sign. It’s obvious that Kapler has a long way to go to earn the complete trust and confidence of his players.

But Williams’ comments indicate another potential problem. Perhaps the players don’t trust – or perhaps understand – analytics. If players don’t understand why they’re not playing, it could lead to confusion and misunderstandings.

The problem is the Phillies are invested in analytics. They’ve hired people solely to put analytics into practice. Even if Kapler wanted to disregard analytics when making out his lineup, could he do it?

Kapler’s belief in analytics is one reason why he was hired. But, if the manager’s moves don’t make sense to the players, the moved had better work or else their faith will disappear. The fact that Kapler doesn’t have a track record of success – or any kind of track record at all – is yet another hurdle he will have to overcome.


BY THE NUMBERS: The Phillies scored one more run during their 20-1 destruction of the Marlins on Saturday than they had scored in their previous six games combined.


POWER SURGE: Maikel Franco produced 10 RBI during wins over the Marlins on Thursday and Saturday. He had six RBI on Saturday, including a first-inning grand slam. The question with Franco is whether he will sustain his success or revert to the up-and-down performance of the past two seasons.


FAST START: Rhys Hoskins apparently wants to quickly squelch any thoughts that he’s a flash in the pan. Through Monday’s 6-5 victory over the Reds, Hoskins is batting .429 with two home runs, five doubles and nine RBI. Hoskins also has walked eight times.


SLOW START: Shortstop J.P. Crawford had just one hit in 23 at-bats. Maybe trading away Freddy Galvis wasn’t such a great idea.


VELASQUEZ STRUGGLES: Overshadowed by the 20 runs Saturday night was that Vince Velasquez still hasn’t learned how to pitch. Velasquez threw 53 pitches during the first two innings. He went to a full count against 6 of the first 10 batters he faced, including the opposing pitcher, who was trying to execute a sacrifice bunt.

Keep in mind that Velasquez was running up his pitch count even though he had been staked to an early lead by Maikel Franco’s grand slam in the first inning. Sometimes it seems as if Velasquez might never figure out how to pitch well enough to last beyond the fifth inning.


ERROR MESSAGE: Phillies catchers Andrew Knapp and Jorge Alfaro have five errors after eight games. That’s a ridiculous pace. The errors have come on passed balls, throwing errors and catcher’s interference, so there’s not one easy solution to their problems.


HIGH EXPECTATIONS: The expectations for pitcher Jake Arrieta, signed to a three-year, $75 million contract are high. Perhaps they’re too high – at least for the early portion of the season. Because he signed with the Phillies in the middle of spring training, Arrieta hasn’t had time to round into form. April is almost like spring training for him.

In his season debut on Sunday, Arrieta gave up 3 runs in the first inning. He left after four innings. That’s not what anyone wants to see, but fans need to be patient with Arrieta as he tries to regain his old form.


FITTING TRIBUTE: Eagles head coach Doug Pederson made a wonderful tribute to Roy Halladay by wearing his jersey as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch Thursday before the Phillies’ home opener. The Phillies will induct Halladay, who died in a plane crash in November, into their Wall of Fame on Aug. 4.


LOOKAHEAD: After the Phillies finish their series with the visiting Reds on Tuesday (7 p.m.) and Wednesday (7 p.m.), they get a day off Thursday before beginning a six-game road trip Friday (7:10 p.m.) against the Rays. They’ll face the Rays again on Saturday (6:10 p.m.) and Sunday (1:10 p.m.) before making their second visit to Atlanta for games on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday (all at 7:30 p.m.). Entering Tuesday’s action, the Reds and Rays have combined for four wins (two apiece).

(click on logo above for 2012 season schedule)
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