Eventually, Odubel Herrera was going to go an entire game without reaching base safely. And at some point, Aaron Nola would give up more than three earned runs in a start. Unfortunately for the Phillies, those oddities happened simultaneously. Herrera’s 45-game on-base streak and Nola’s run of 13 solid starts in a row were snapped Sunday in a 5-1 loss to the Cardinals. But the Phillies still managed to split the four-game series in St. Louis and return home tonight for a first-place showdown against the Atlanta Braves.
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Make way for the ‘Baby Braves’
Excited about the Phillies’ best start in seven years?
Imagine how Braves fans must be feeling.
The Phillies went 66-96 last year and haven’t had a winning season since 2011. Well, the Braves went 72-90 and haven’t had a winning record since 2013. And while the Phillies (26-18) have every reason to be bullish about the core of mostly 24- and 25-year-olds that has them 1 1/2 games out of first place in the NL East, the division-leading Braves (28-17) are being led by 20-year-old leftfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. and 21-year-old second baseman Ozzie Albies, the two youngest players in baseball.
Behold the “Baby Braves,” Atlanta’s best collection of young talent since the days of Chipper and Andruw Jones.
Like the Phillies, the Braves appear to be a year ahead of schedule in their full-scale rebuild. Albies is tied with Bryce Harper for the league lead with 13 homers. Acuna and shortstop Dansby Swanson have been solid contributors. And veteran first baseman Freddie Freeman and outfielder Nick Markakis are putting up All-Star numbers. The Braves have won 11 of 15 series, including showdowns with the Chicago Cubs, Washington Nationals and Colorado Rockies. They are 17-8 on the road and have an NL-best plus-65 run differential.
And they’ve already given the Phillies fits. The teams have matched up in three series already this season, with Atlanta winning six of the nine games by a combined margin of 54-30.
It is against that backdrop that the Braves visit Citizens Bank Park for three games this week. As pre-Memorial Day series go, it’s a big one.
“There is a lot of adrenaline going into that series,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said. “We feel like we match up very well against them, and more than anything else, we’re not going to get outworked or prepared.”
Kapler put Herrera’s streak in context, as Matt Breen writes, by noting how many of the players who reached base in more than 45 consecutive games are in the Hall of Fame.
Speaking of which, Ed Barkowitz came up with some fun facts and figures about Herrera’s streak.
The Phillies made six errors in the four games against the Cardinals, including two throwing miscues by first baseman Carlos Santana. But Kapler defended Santana’s defense.
Do you believe in these Phillies? Our Bob Brookover does. Here are a few of the reasons.
Jorge Alfaro’s maturation behind the plate has been central to the Phillies’ success. I wrote about the strides Alfaro has made since the Phils acquired him in the Cole Hamels trade.
Maybe Zach Eflin’s new warm-up song should be “No More Mr. Nice Guy” by Alice Cooper? Eflin explains why a more aggressive approach on the mound has helped him this year.
Tonight: Nick Pivetta vs. Braves’ Mike Foltynewicz, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez goes for his fourth straight victory, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Jake Arrieta starts the series finale vs. Braves, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Off day
Friday: Phillies host the Toronto Blue Jays in an interleague series, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Seranthony Dominguez has retired 21 of the 22 batters he has faced through his first six major-league appearances. Impressive, right? Actually, it’s historic. Dominguez is the first pitcher in recorded history (since 1908) to not allow a run, hit or walk in his first six appearances, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Thus far, the only batter to reach base against Dominguez was New York Mets infielder Wilmer Flores on a hit by pitch. Dominguez’s fastball touched 99 mph Thursday night in St. Louis and has averaged 97.7 mph overall, and he got the final six outs Saturday to earn his first career save. Something tells us there will be many more to come.
From the mailbag
Question: Enjoy reading Extra Innings every day! My question is, what can the Phillies do to get Rhys going? He looks like he never saw a baseball before. I think he is taking too many pitches. Pitchers have seen he never swings at the first pitch and just throw a fastball over the plate every time. — Peter, via e-mail
Answer: Indeed, it has been a rough three weeks for Rhys Hoskins. He’s 10 for 70 (.143) with a .256 on-base percentage and two homers in his last 19 games after going 27 for 78 (.346) with a .495 OBP and four homers in his first 25. There are many possible explanations for the downturn. Kapler observed that Hoskins’ leg kick, which serves as a timing mechanism, has been a tick early or late.
Your point, Peter, is valid. Hoskins does see a ton of pitches. In fact, he’s tied for second in the league at 4.36 pitches per plate appearance. But his first-pitch strike percentage (52.5) is consistent with last year (53.8), and we all remember what Hoskins did after getting called up last August.
Personally, I think it’s a matter of adjustments. Let’s not forget: Hoskins has made only 393 plate appearances in his big-league career, which means the scouting report on him is still evolving. With a greater opportunity to study his tendencies, opponents have schemed new ways to get him out. It’s on Hoskins now to counter those adjustments with some of his own.