The time has come, once again, for an interleague interlude. After Sunday’s rousing victory over the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park and a day off Monday, the Phillies make the short trip to Baltimore for two games against the Orioles in the span of about 20 hours.
As bad as the past six seasons were for the Phils, interleague play was particularly cruel. From 2012 through 2017, they went 43-72 against American League opponents, a .374 winning percentage that falls woefully short of even their overall .439 mark. But the O’s look like a pushover. At 13-28, they have the second-worst record in baseball, and that includes winning five of their last six games. At this rate, the only question is where will Manny Machado be playing after July 31.
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Machado is a Manny-splendored thing
Manny Machado is batting .350. He is tied for the major-league lead with 13 homers and has driven in 38 runs, more than any other player in baseball. Machado’s on-base plus slugging percentage is 1.100, almost double J.P. Crawford’s .575 mark.
Don’t think the Phillies haven’t noticed.
It’s no secret that the Phils covet Machado. They know him well, too. Team president Andy MacPhail was the Orioles’ general manager in 2010 when Baltimore selected Machado in a draft run by amateur scouting director Joe Jordan, who now runs the Phillies’ farm system. General manager Matt Klentak and assistant GM Ned Rice also have Orioles/Machado ties.
At season’s end, Machado will hit the free-agent market with all the force of one of his Camden Yards moonshots. By virtue of his age (he’ll turn 26 in July), his production (he has averaged 35 homers and an .840 OPS over the past three seasons) and the fact that he’s playing shortstop again after five years at third base, he figures to be one of the most sought-after free agents in a mega-class that also includes Bryce Harper.
The Phillies likely will be among the most active bidders. They have money to spend, and with a maturing young core on the cusp on playoff contention, there’s no better time to spend hundreds of millions on a star player in his prime.
With the Orioles already buried in the Red Sox/Yankees-dominated AL East, they could deal Machado before the July 31 trade deadline. But because he is almost certain to test his value on the open market rather than signing an extension now, it’s difficult to imagine that the Phillies would trade prized prospects (19-year-old righthander Sixto Sanchez, for instance) to rent Machado for two months.
Still, these next two days will give the Phillies an up-close look at the player who, for the right price, could be the centerpiece star of their next great team.
As Odubel Herrera turns into one of the best all-around center fielders in baseball right before our eyes — a development that even first-year Phillies manager Gabe Kapler labeled “an incredibly pleasant surprise” — Jorge Velandia might be the only person who can get away with saying he expected this. I spoke to Velandia about Herrera’s breakout season in the Venezuelan Winter League, which led the Phillies to select him in the Rule 5 draft in 2014.
In case you missed it over the weekend, Matt Breen had a terrific story about Rhys Hoskins, who was elected last offseason to be the Phillies’ representative in the players’ union, a role that his late mother would have approved of.
Aaron Nola wishes he could throw a 97-mph fastball like, say, Mets righthander Noah Syndergaard. But the Phillies ace has plenty of other ways to flummox hitters, as Bob Brookover writes and Nola has demonstrated.
Tonight: Nick Pivetta starts the opener in Baltimore, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez seeks his third straight win in finale vs. O’s, 12:35 p.m.
Thursday: Jake Arrieta starts the opener in St. Louis, 7:15 p.m.
Friday: Phillies continue a four-game series against the Cardinals, 8:15 p.m.
Stat of the day
The sample size is still quite small — 31 fastballs over four appearances, all within the past week — but Seranthony Dominguez’s heater isn’t going unnoticed. At 97.5 mph, the Phillies rookie has the seventh-highest average velocity among four-seam fastballs, according to Statcast, trailing Aroldis Chapman (Yankees, 98.8), Jose Alvarado (Rays, 98.2), Tayron Guerrero (Marlins, 98.0), Ryne Stanek (Rays, 97.7), Luis Severino (Yankees, 97.6), and Justin Anderson (Angels, 97.6). Dominguez has not yet allowed a hit and has gotten five swings and misses with his fastball, giving him the look of a future closer.
From the mailbag
Question: Is it just me, or does Jorge Alfaro seem to be greatly improved with his pitch framing this year? He looks really smooth back there catching the ball. And that’s not something I tend to notice. That’s how much it’s jumped out at me. I haven’t heard any announcers say anything about it. What are your thoughts? — Trip, via e-mail
Answer: It isn’t just you, Trip. (Thanks for the question, by the way.) Pitch-framing has been a point of great emphasis for the Phillies, so much so that they hired Craig Driver in the offseason to oversee catcher receiving. Defensive metrics for catchers are still evolving and tend to vary greatly, but Alfaro’s numbers seem to be better across the board. According to Stat Corner, Alfaro has gotten strike calls on 7.7 percent of the pitches he has caught outside the strike zone. And although that puts him 18th out of 32 National League catchers who have caught at least 500 pitches this season, it’s an improvement over his 5.6 percent mark from last year. So, yes, the numbers suggest Alfaro is becoming a better framer.