See you later, Atlanta Braves. Much later. On their fourth try, the Phillies finally won a series from the Braves by taking Wednesday night’s rubber game, 4-0, at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies’ pitching staff allowed just three runs on 23 hits during the three-game series and twice blanked the Braves, who entered the series as the National League’s top hitting team. Jake Arrieta got his first win in his last five starts by pitching 6 2/3 scoreless innings as the Phillies pulled to within a half-game of first place. The teams will not meet again until Sept. 20 in Atlanta. Then they will play seven times in 10 games to close the season.
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The guy who got the biggest out for the Phillies in Wednesday night’s win was not Jake Arrieta or even Seranthony Dominguez. That deed belonged to catcher Jorge Alfaro, who continued to show off one of the best arms among catchers in baseball. After Ender Inciarte reached base on a one-out single off Arrieta in the top of the seventh, the Braves center fielder attempted to steal second base. He leads the majors with 18 steals and had been caught only four times. Make it five. Alfaro’s throw was a laser right on the second-base bag, making the tag easy for shortstop Scott Kingery.
It was a huge play because Arrieta walked Johan Camargo before giving up a double to Dansby Swanson, a hit that would have scored Inciarte. Instead, the shutout remained intact and Dominguez struck out pinch-hitter Preston Tucker to end the inning. Since April 30, Alfaro has nailed seven of 10 runners attempting to steal and has thrown out a league-leading nine attempting to steal this season.
“I think that was a huge out for us,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “He’s definitely becoming a weapon, and I think he’s definitely being game-planned for at this point. People are noticing him becoming a stronger receiver every day, and that’s not just guys on our side. These are anecdotes I’ve heard from other people on other clubs as well.”
Arrieta was appreciative of the Alfaro throw.
“Well, he’s incredible,” the pitcher said. “I think what’s most impressive is what he has done with his throwing accuracy. You can look at the release and the arm strength, but the accuracy on his throws is exceptional. I know if I give him a decent time to the plate he is going to throw the guys out even if they’re base-stealers.”
Phillies pitching coach Rick Kranitz told our Scott Lauber that he would not mind if struggling Phillies reliever Hector Neris disposed of his slider and relied just on his fastball and splitter to retire batters. Neris did get through another scoreless ninth inning for the Phillies in Wednesday’s 4-0 win over the Braves. He has not allowed a run in his last four appearances, lowering his ERA from 5.17 to 4.26.
Are the Phillies for real? How about the Braves? We’ll know for sure the next time they meet again on the field — in a long four months.
With additions such as Seranthony Dominguez and Zach Eflin, the farm system has already played a huge role in helping the Phillies win games. There is more help where that came from because the Phillies have more pitching depth in the minors than they have had in years.
It was bad day down on the farm as all four Phillies affiliates lost. Nick Fanti struggled in his second start at high-A Clearwater, and Pedro Beato blew a save opportunity for the first time this season as triple-A Lehigh Valley’s five-game winning streak end.
Lenny Dykstra did not get an invite to the Phillies’ scheduled June 10 tribute to the 1993 National League championship team that captivated the city from start to finish that season. He, of course, was the catalyst for that team, finishing second to Barry Bonds in the NL MVP voting, but his life after baseball has been filled with turmoil and the Phillies decided he did not belong at the team’s 25-year tribute. Any chance they would change their mind was extinguished Wednesday when Dykstra was placed under arrest again after allegedly threatening to kill an Uber driver.
Today: Off day
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin pitches opener of interleague series against Toronto, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Aaron Nola vs. Joe Biagini, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Nick Pivetta vs. former Phillie J.A. Happ, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Phillies start 10-game road trip at Dodger Stadium, 10:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
The Phillies sandwiched a couple of shutouts around their 3-1 loss to the Braves in the second game of the series, but only one of the runs in that loss was earned. The Braves series marked only the eighth time since 1913 that the Phillies twice blanked a team and allowed just one earned run in a series of any length. This was the first time they accomplished that feat since June 1995 against the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
From the mailbag
Over the years, the Phillies have usually had good fielding statistics, but lately this team is having their share of problems. I remember … going to games early to watch the Phillies do fielding and hitting practice before the game. They would spend some time on both hitting and fielding. Do teams still do fielding practice every day?
Answer: Thanks for the question, Clay. Fielding is certainly an underappreciated and underrated part of the game, and right now, the Phillies’ .980 fielding percentage is tied for 28th in baseball with San Francisco. A year ago, they finished eighth with a .986 fielding percentage. Some of the recent costly errors have been made by first baseman Carlos Santana on throws, and that is strange because he was among the best fielding first basemen in the game during his time in Cleveland.
Anyway, yes, players do still field fungos from coaches every day and Santana works as much as anybody on that part of the game. If you’re looking for a possible reason for the Phillies’ struggles in the field, it could be that under Kapler, the team is using more shifts than ever before. That means players are fielding and making throws at different angles than they might have been used to in the past. It’s just a theory, but Kapler conceded Wednesday that the team’s defense needs to improve.