Among the best characteristics of the Phillies teams that won five consecutive division titles from 2007-11 was their sheer dominance at home. During those glory days, they went 246-162 at Citizens Bank Park, a .603 winning percentage, and outscored teams by 2,047-1,698. Talk about a home-field advantage.
It’s notable, then, as the Phillies aim to return to contention, that this is once again becoming a tough place for opponents. Including Wednesday night’s 11-1 rout of the San Francisco Giants, the Phils are 14-5 at home, where they have a plus-48 run differential. And if they win a matinee series finale today, it will mark their second four-game sweep in South Philly, after last month’s takedown of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
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Tommy Hunter expects success
It was one of the biggest outs recorded by a Phillies pitcher last Saturday in a 3-1 victory over the Washington Nationals.
But Tommy Hunter wasn’t about to celebrate.
Hunter struck out Bryce Harper to end the seventh inning and preserve a two-run lead. But Harper, who had bashed two home runs to almost singlehandedly win the previous night’s game, forced Hunter to throw 10 pitches in the at-bat, after quickly getting down two strikes. At one point, Harper fouled off four consecutive pitches. He laid off a 95-mph heater to work the count full before finally swinging through a cutter.
And when Hunter finally vanquished Harper, he simply walked off the mound and returned to the dugout, just as he would after any routine inning-ending out.
“When you square off with a guy like him — the Harpers, the [Mike] Trouts, the [Manny] Machados, Miguel Cabrera — yeah, it’s fun to win. But then again, a pitcher’s expected to win eight of 10 times, you know?” Hunter said. “That’s something that a lot of times guys lose track of, myself included sometimes. We’re going to win a lot more than [hitters] are. You’re not going to see me doing a glove flip from the mound because I struck out Bryce Harper. I mean, I got him out. I did my job.”
Would Hunter mind, then, if a batter celebrated a home run with a bat flip?
“If he hits a walkoff off me,” Hunter said, “I expect him to throw the bat into the third level. No, I think there’s a mutual respect. I don’t think you’re going to see a huge bat flip from a guy if he clicks me. If he does, he does. That’s how I view it.”
“Check back in September,” Carlos Santana said last week when I asked about his slow start. Well, Matt Breen writes, maybe Santana meant May? After notching three hits and driving in five runs in the rout of the Giants, Santana has 12 RBIs in his last six games and has hiked his OPS to .698, 127 points higher than it was at the end of April.
Pat Neshek has a mild strain of his flexor tendon, manager Gabe Kapler announced, and will be shut down from throwing for at least a week. In other injury news, righthander Ben Lively (back) was reinstated from the disabled list and optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Hector Neris didn’t run from his ninth-inning meltdown Sunday in Washington. He learned from it, as Matt Breen writes.
If they’re being honest, Phillies officials would say they thought Dylan Cozens was a safer bet than Rhys Hoskins to have a big impact in the majors. But Cozens struck out 194 times last season in triple-A and watched Hoskins make a historic entry into the Phillies lineup. In our weekly minor-league feature, Bob Brookover caught up with Cozens recently at Lehigh Valley and found a more confident hitter.
Today: Facebook-only telecast of Phillies-Giants series finale, 1:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta starts series opener against Mets at Citizens Bank Park, 7:05 p.m.
Saturday: Phillies face Mets ace Noah Syndergaard, 7:05 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola vs. Jacob deGrom in Phillies-Mets finale, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Day off before Phillies open a two-game series in Baltimore.
Stat of the day
There have already been 16 attempts to steal second base against the Phillies’ Jorge Alfaro this season, more than any catcher in the majors. That trend might not continue much longer. Alfaro has thrown out four of the last five runners who have tried to swipe a base, including two in one inning Sunday. Part of Alfaro’s success is his “pop time,” a measurement of the moment the pitch hits a catcher’s mitt to the moment the ball reaches the point where the fielder is projected to receive the throw. The average pop time for steal attempts of second base is 2.01 seconds. Alfaro’s average is 1.91, fifth best in the majors according to Statcast.
“Throws, blocks, framing, pop, energy,” manager Gabe Kapler said of Alfaro. “He’s just been really good for us.”
When the season began, the Phils envisioned a 50-50 split in playing time behind the plate between Alfaro and Andrew Knapp. But Kapler said Alfaro, like Aaron Altherr in right field, “has earned the right to get some more reps.”
From the mailbag
Question: The Phils need a lefthander in the rotation. How do you size up the prospects, either by trade or help from the farm system? — Jim R., submitted by e-mail
Answer: Thanks, Jim, for the question. It’s astounding to me that the Phillies went an entire season last year without getting a single start from a lefthander. The streak has continued into this season, and there isn’t an obvious end in sight. There are two lefties in the triple-A rotation, but neither Cole Irvin nor Brandon Leibrandt is on the 40-man roster. Ranger Suarez and JoJo Romero are touted prospects, but both have struggled at double-A Reading.
Here’s a thought: If the Phillies are in the playoff hunt and the Texas Rangers remain buried in last place, a trade-deadline reunion with Cole Hamels would make sense. Hamels has a 3.94 ERA through eight starts and likely will be a free agent at season’s end (he has a $20 million team option or a $24 million vesting option that will be difficult to achieve based on innings pitched). And we know how fondly Hamels and his wife regard Philadelphia. Look, stranger things have happened.