Following a split of Monday’s twi-night doubleheader with the host New York Mets at Citi Field, the Philadelphia Phillies (50-39) find themselves still tied for first place with the Atlanta Braves in the National League East Division.
Yesterday’s split highlighted weaknesses that remain with this team as it battles to stay in contention with the calendar pushing towards the middle of July.
In the opener, a 4-3 loss in 10 innings, the Phillies rapped out 10 hits and the lineup worked the Mets pitching staff for seven walks. However, they also grounded into a pair of double plays, and twice they failed on attempted sacrifice bunts.
The Phillies saw the leadoff man reach safely in each of the first three innings but left two men on base in each of the first two. Following a solo home run from Maikel Franco in the fourth, they wouldn’t score again.
Bases loaded with one out in the top of the eighth? Nothing. First two men on base in the top of the 10th. Nada. Phillies hitters went 2-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 13 times.
In the nightcap, a 3-1 victory, the offensive production can be summed up in two words: Aaron Nola. The young ace starting pitcher surrendered just one hit and walked just one batter while striking out 10 to gain his 12th victory.
Oh, and that offensive production? Nola also provided his own offense, slashing a two-out, bases-clearing double in the top of the 5th inning. It was one of only two hits that the Phillies would produce in the entire game.
It is no secret that the first place Philadelphia Phillies have struggled to score runs for much of this season. Sure, they have scored in double-digits seven times. Those include a 20-run explosion way back on April 7, and a 17-run outburst just last week.
But those are enigmas. The Phillies have scored three runs or fewer in nearly 44% (39 of 89) of their games. That figure includes a streak that has now reached the team’s last four straight dating back to the 17 runs scored last Friday in Pittsburgh.
Despite being tied for the National League’s third-best record, the Phillies are just 10th in runs scored. A big part of the problem is that they lack consistent pop. As a group, Phillies hitters have worked the league’s sixth-best on-base percentage, but their overall OPS is just 11th among the NL’s 15 clubs.
Clearly this team can use one or two upgrades to the everyday lineup. These need to be hitters who can come in and make a legitimate impact on the Phillies ability to score runs on a more consistent basis.
The crown jewel of the 2018 MLB non-waiver trade deadline remains shortstop Manny Machado of the Baltimore Orioles. As each day passes with no deal, a new “favorite” pops up in the news. Last week, the Phillies were co-favorites. Then it became the LA Dodgers. Then the Milwaukee Brewers. Now it’s the New York Yankees turn.
The problem with each of those stories has been that when you delve into the details behind the headlines, there is always a “but”, such as teams not wanting to give up a big package, or Machado not wanting to switch to third base. Jon Heyman tweeted out the following on Tuesday morning:
manny’s interest in staying at SS doesn’t seem like it’s deterring yanks’ interest, though the match isn’t necessarily seen as very likely in any case. (indians are the other team that would want Machado for 3B, the interested NL want him for SS)
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 10, 2018
Fact is that even with the most inside of MLB insiders, it is all going to be speculation until the last hours, perhaps the last minutes, before an actual deal is in place. Machado clearly is a perfect fit for what the Phillies need: a proven middle-of-the-order run producer.
The Phillies remain as much a contender to acquire his services as any other team. Just yesterday, Roch Kubatko of MASN wrote this:
“Machado draws the biggest crowds to his locker as visiting media peck away at him. Would he like to play in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Los Angeles? Would he prefer cheese steaks or pizza? But he has no choice until the offseason. He can’t pick his city or his position. He goes and plays where he’s told.”
In his own piece on the Phillies offensive struggles and the need to add a hitter or two, Matt Gelb at The Athletic mentioned five more names that team management may be looking to acquire.
The names mentioned by Gelb are wide-ranging in their positions and offensive profiles. They include a pair of sluggers in third baseman Mike Moustakas of Kansas City and outfielder Adam Duvall of Cincinnati.
The 29-year old Moustakas (he turns 30 on September) comes with a lefty bat and has banged 17 homers while driving in 56 runs. That home run total would lead the Phillies, and the RBI figure would be tied with Rhys Hoskins for the club lead. Moustakas has played almost exclusively at third base for his entire eight-year big league career but does have four games at first base this season.
Duvall is also 29 and will also turn 30 years old in September. Now in his fifth big league campaign, the righty hitter has 14 homers and 55 RBI. He has played almost exclusively in left field but has also dabbled at first base. Despite his obvious power, Duvall would also bring an anemic .208 average and .282 on-base percentage, and both left field and first base are filled on this team.
Merrifield is yet another 29-year old. He turns 30 in January, and though he did bang out 19 home runs a year ago, he is more speed than pop. His 34 steals tied for the AL lead in 2017, and he has 16 this year along with 27 doubles. Merrifield also has a solid .303 batting average with a .369 OBP. While primarily a second baseman, he has also played in the outfield and at first base.
Escobar is 29 years old and turns 30 in January. Are we sensing a pattern here? Perhaps the most versatile of all those mentioned, the eight-year big leaguer plays primarily at third base and shortstop these days. However, he also has experience at second and in the outfield as well. He leads the AL with 35 doubles, also has 14 home runs and 53 RBI with a .276/.331/.526 slash line.
At 11 games over the .500 mark, the Oakland A’s are six games back in the AL Wildcard race. This could prove a factor in their ultimate willingness to part with perhaps the best of this group in Lowrie. At 34 years of age, he is also the oldest by five years.
A former shortstop, he hasn’t played there regularly for the last four years. Now he is primarily a second baseman who has also seen time at the hot corner. Lowrie also has pop, with 16 homers, 25 doubles, and 62 RBI as well as a solid .288/.358/.504 slash.
Some fans have felt that Moustakas would be a good fit as a replacement for Maikel Franco at third base, but the stats just don’t seem to bear this out. Over his last 20 games, Franco is slashing .367/.433/.617 with six doubles, three homers, and nine RBI.
Franco has struck out just eight times in his last 67 plate appearances and has also been playing inspired defense. Still just 25 years old, he cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season.
Gelb points out that adding one or two of the players he mentions makes more sense as a bench, pinch-hitting, and versatility option, rather than as an everyday starter. Such an addition improves the options for manager Gabe Kapler, who currently is relying on inexperienced players such as Dylan Cozens and Jesmuel Valentin in key moments.
“…the debate is not necessarily Franco vs. someone like Moustakas, who has similar numbers. It’s Moustakas vs. Cozens, or Moustakas vs. Valentín, etc.”
Fact is that right now there is no more perfect fit for the Phillies than the 26-year old Machado. The fact is also that the Orioles justifiably and understandably want a high price in return for the pending free agent.
How high would Phillies GM Matt Klentak be willing to go to bring in a player who could end up just a three-month rental? While the team certainly has the money, the young nucleus, the motivation, and the desire needed to entice him to remain here for the long term, there would be no guarantees.