Close your eyes, Phillies fans. Now, click your heels and repeat after me: There's no place like home. After 11 days on the road — and a 3-7 record in 10 games against the Dodgers, Giants and Cubs — Citizens Bank Park will be a sight for the Phillies' sore eyes Friday. The schedule won't get any easier, mind you, with the National League Central-leading Brewers coming to town. But at least the Phillies will be back in an environment where they have been at their very best. At 19-9, they have the best home record in the league, not to mention a 137-85 run differential. No place like home, indeed.
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J.P. Crawford was in the Phillies lineup Thursday for the first time since April 28, the day before he went on the disabled list with a strained right forearm. But he was playing a less familiar position: third base.
Crawford might want to get used to it. Now that he's healthy again, the former top prospect and consensus shortstop of the Phillies' future will get regular playing time. But unlike the season's first few weeks, when Crawford was the primary shortstop and rookie Scott Kingery shuttled among a half-dozen positions in a super-utility role, manager Gabe Kapler intends to divide at-bats at shortstop and third base among Crawford, Kingery and third baseman Maikel Franco.
"I think we'll create opportunities for all three guys," Kapler said.
Ultimately, the hottest hitters will play. The problem, of course, is that Crawford, Kingery and Franco haven't been hot for nearly long enough. Kingery got off to a blazing start but has struggled for most of the past six weeks. Franco went on a tear in late April but has two extra-base hits in 24 games since May 10. And Crawford? Well, the Phillies have yet to see him get on any kind of roll offensively.
Overall, the Phillies rank 27th among 30 teams with a .623 OPS from the shortstop position and 24th with a .692 OPS at third base. As long as that's the case, and the Phillies continue to get strong enough pitching to hang around in the playoff race, they will continue to be viewed throughout the industry as the likeliest team to swap prospects for Orioles star Manny Machado before the July 31 trade deadline.
It will be up to Crawford, Kingery and Franco to give the offense a boost and quiet the Machado noise, at least until he becomes a free agent this winter.
"This was not our best road trip," said manager Gabe Kapler, who nevertheless believes the past 10 games proved the Phillies can hang with the big boys in the NL.
It was virtually unavoidable, but catcher Andrew Knapp couldn't help illegally blocking the plate on a pivotal play in the fifth inning. It wound up being the deciding run in the game.
The Phillies drew seven walks and had 12 baserunners in five innings but scored only one run against erratic Cubs starter Tyler Chatwood. It was the culmination of a tough road trip for the offense.
For most of the week, Phillies amateur scouts hunkered down in Citizens Bank Park for the annual draft. Over the three days, they picked 20 pitchers, five catchers, five outfielders, four third basemen, three shortstops and one first baseman. Our Matt Breen broke down the strategy behind the selections, from first-rounder Alec Bohm through the 40th round.
Down on the farm, Enyel De Los Santos did it again, tossing eight stellar innings to lift triple-A Lehigh Valley to a victory. De Los Santos has a 1.63 ERA for the IronPigs.
Tonight: Phillies return home to face NL Central-leading Brewers, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta makes his first start since railing against the shift, 1:05 p.m.
Sunday: Phillies honor 1993 NL-champion team before 1:35 p.m. game.
Monday: Off day for Phillies, but Extra Innings goes on.
Tuesday: Phillies host Colorado Rockies, 7:05 p.m.
If they're being truthful, most Phillies officials would concede they thought Dylan Cozens would make a greater impact than Rhys Hoskins as a middle-of-the-order power threat. It didn't happen that way. While Hoskins had a historic start to his major-league career last season, Cozens continued to struggle in triple A.
But Cozens showed glimpses of his potential this week in Chicago, highlighted by his first career home run Wednesday night. It wasn't just any homer, either. Cozens absolutely crushed it. The ball left his bat at 111.3 mph, according to Statcast, and was the second-hardest opposite-field shot hit by a Phillies player since tracking data became available in 2015. Only Jorge Alfaro's 114.5-mph shot April 7 against the Marlins was hit harder the other way.
"We were all really surprised he was able to go oppo on that ball," Kapler said. "Impressive stroke off a very difficult pitcher to square up."
Also, Cozens became the first player in 22 years, since David Doster, to give the Phillies a lead in the ninth inning or later with his first career homer.
Question: Love Extra Innings in my mailbox every day! I wish Kapler would use [Seranthony] Dominguez strictly as a 9th inning closer. If not, will there be a closer available in July at the trade deadline? Thank you. — Greg S., via e-mail
Answer: Thank you for reading, Greg, and for the question. Kapler seems intent on using Dominguez in the highest-leverage situation, regardless of the inning. It makes sense. If the middle of the order is coming up in the eighth inning of a close game, there's no point in saving your best reliever for the ninth. But someone needs to pitch the ninth, and rather than designating a traditional closer, Kapler is letting matchups and game situations dictate his bullpen usage. It's an experiment, to be sure, and it's fascinating to watch it play out.