Memo to bosses across the Delaware Valley: Please excuse all Phillies-fan employees for being a bit bleary-eyed this morning. They waited five years for their beloved ballclub to return to the national stage of ESPN Sunday Night Baseball, and although the outcome didn’t turn out as they hoped, man oh man, was it ever entertaining.
There was a little something for everyone packed into four hours. After rain halted play for 38 minutes in the fourth inning, the Phillies built a four-run lead only to see relief ace Seranthony Dominguez blow it in an 8-6 loss that scuttled a chance for a three-game sweep. Nationals star Bryce Harper gained redemption for his recent struggles with three doubles. Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco appeared to avoid injury after taking an ugly tumble at first base. And the eighth inning was a second-guesser’s delight, as Phillies manager Gabe Kapler called for an intentional walk of 19-year-old rookie sensation Juan Soto to load the bases before three-time All-Star Daniel Murphy volleyed a go-ahead, two-run single against Dominguez.
Got all that?
There’s no rest for the weary either. Hold on to your hats; the Yankees are coming to Citizens Bank Park on Monday night. And after getting swept over the weekend by the Rays, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton & Co. will be looking to unleash their aggression on Phillies pitching.
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Help wanted: Phillies’ front office can’t stand pat
On Friday night, once the Phillies were finished administering a 12-2 pounding to the Nationals in the series opener, manager Gabe Kapler was asked if his young team had made another statement that it should be viewed as a true playoff contender.
“At this point, in a lot of ways, we’ve proven ourselves. We’re a pretty good ballclub,” Kapler said. “We have gone toe-to-toe with some of the best teams in the league and done a pretty good job. At some point, it stops being that we’re trying to prove ourselves and we’re just competing with really good teams. I think that’s where we are.”
The question now is whether general manager Matt Klentak agrees? And if so, what will he do about it?
Despite Sunday night’s loss, the Phillies have the fifth-best record (41-34) and seventh-best run differential (plus-18) in the National League. They’ve won four consecutive series and nine of the last 13 games, all against quality opponents. It’s difficult not to take them seriously, even though they’re a year ahead of schedule in their long rebuild. But they’re also probably at least one middle-of-the-order hitter and one late-inning reliever away from being truly formidable, and Klentak won’t have to look very hard to find those pieces before the July 31 trade deadline.
In the American League alone, where four superpowers (Yankees, Red Sox, Astros, Indians) have dominated, most teams will be looking to sell off parts. For the right price, Klentak can have his pick of Manny Machado, Adrian Beltre, Mike Moustakas and maybe even Josh Donaldson, all of whom can be free agents at season’s end and would represent considerable upgrades at third base.
“We have to evaluate our team and figure out where we are heading into the month of July, come out of the All-Star break, and make the most informed decisions that we can,” Klentak said last week. “It might mean a rental, it might be in a longer-term piece. The performance of the team will dictate our direction.”
It’s doubtful Klentak will sacrifice any prized future assets for the short-term satisfaction of winning this year. But given how well the Phillies have played, he would be sending the wrong message by standing pat. After all, Kapler asked his players in spring training to “be bold.” The next five weeks will be a time for the front office to follow suit.
So, would you have pitched to Juan Soto or Daniel Murphy in that eighth inning? “You pick your poison right there,” Gabe Kapler said. Here’s more on a Kapler decision that backfired.
Lots of chatter during the Sunday Night Baseball telecast about Nick Pivetta’s curveball. I wrote about the pitch, which Phillies assistant pitching coach Chris Young described as “an elite weapon.”
Speaking of the ESPN broadcast team, Alex Rodriguez offered a candid critique of his performance in the booth so far, as Rob Tornoe writes.
Cesar Hernandez doesn’t usually get as much attention as, say, Rhys Hoskins or Odubel Herrera. But Bob Brookover makes a case for the second baseman as the Phillies’ most consistent position player.
In light of Gabe Kapler’s unconventional approach to bullpen usage, Frank Fitzpatrick tells the amazing tale of Jim Constanty, who virtually invented relief pitching 70 years ago for the Phillies’ Whiz Kids.
Tonight: Yankees make their first visit to Philly since the 2009 World Series, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta opposes Yankees ace Luis Severino, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Zach Eflin starts series finale vs. Yankees, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Aaron Nola Day, as Phillies open a four-game series vs. the Nationals, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
School’s out for the summer and the weather is warming up, a combination that typically results in rising attendance at Citizens Bank Park, especially when the Phillies are playing well. But there is another reason why the ballpark might fill up this week, and it doesn’t necessarily have to do with the upstart hometown team.
The Yankees lead the majors in average road attendance, attracting 33,524 fans per game entering play Sunday at Tampa Bay. By comparison, no other American League team draws an average of more than 30,000 fans per road game. The Yankees drew 27,252 and 29,831 on Friday and Saturday, respectively, at Tropicana Field, the second- and third-highest attended games there this season behind only the Rays’ home opener against the Red Sox.
And the Phillies could use the boost. Despite their 41-34 record — and a league-leading 24-13 mark at home — they rank 12th out of 15 National League teams in average attendance (24,714), ahead of only the Reds, Pirates and Marlins.
From the mailbag
Question: Is there any talk by Gabe [Kapler] or the Phillies’ brass of using an “opener.” On the surface, the idea makes sense to me. I’m not sure how successful it has been with Tampa Bay, but given the analytics upon which the Phillies depend, I was wondering if they’ve looked at it. — Kay D., via email
Answer: Great question, Kay. There isn’t much that the Phillies don’t consider, in part because Kapler thinks outside the box as much as any manager in the game. That said, this is one idea they haven’t entertained. For those who don’t know, the Rays are occasionally using a middle reliever — Sergio Romo, Ryne Stanek and lefty Jonny Venters, to name three — to start a game in order to get advantageous matchups in the early innings. Kapler favors deploying relievers based on matchups rather than pre-determined roles, even in the ninth inning. But he hasn’t considered that approach in the first inning. One reason: Entering play Sunday, Phillies starters combined for a 3.81 ERA, sixth-best among NL rotations. No sense messing with a good thing.