The Phillies gave up eight homers Monday night and were thumped by five runs, yet they still found themselves Tuesday morning in first place. Barely. The Phillies are tied with the Braves atop the National League East. They have been in first place since April 26 and have enjoyed a lead as high as 3 1/2 games.
But that could soon change. The Braves have won seven of their last nine games and have two more games left against the lowly Pirates before the Phillies visit Atlanta this weekend. Here come the Braves.
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The final pitch Jerad Eickhoff threw Monday night traveled 366 feet before landing over the right-field fence. It was his fifth home run allowed in less than four innings and was the continuation of a troubling trend.
The Phillies’ starting rotation has allowed a National League-leading 69 homers this season. The starters have the fifth-highest homer rate, 1.68 per nine innings, in all of baseball and are on pace for 169 homers, which would tie the major-league record set in 1987 by an Angels team that won just 75 games.
The Phillies built a lineup this season that they expected would take advantage of baseball’s spiked home-run rate inside a hitter-friendly ballpark. But 66 games into the season, it’s the starting rotation that seems to be digging the long ball.
“It's definitely a problem,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “It's definitely something we have to get out in front of and figure out how to solve. That's a lot of work on the part of the staff. That's our responsibility to get out in front of that.”
Eickhoff’s 16 homers, in 10 starts, are tied for the most in the National League. Jake Arrieta, who will start Tuesday night, has the fourth most with 14. Zach Eflin and Aaron Nola each have given up 11, the 15th most.
The Phillies are the only NL team with four-fifths of their starting rotation ranked in the top 15 of homers allowed. Just two teams, the Giants and Rockies, have three. The Giants are in last place with a record that’s 12 games below .500. The Rockies play their home games at Coors Field, where home runs are expected.
“It’s not a concern for me,” Eickhoff said. “Home runs happen. Solo home runs happen. What I get frustrated with is the free passes then the home runs. The multi-run home runs, those are the ones that kill you. The solos, I could care less about. And I think all of us in here could care less about [solo home runs] because those happen and those don’t hurt you in the long run. It’s the guys that get on base and the ones that follow that’s the biggest thing.”
The Phillies allowed three more home runs after Eickhoff left the mound Monday. The offense hit five, as the Phillies and Diamondbacks combined for a major-league-record 13 homers. It was a humid night and perhaps an indication of how the ball could travel this summer in South Philly. That’s good news for the lineup, which has hit the sixth-fewest homers in the National League. But for the starting rotation, it was an alarming night.
“The ball was just absolutely flying,” said Scott Kingery, who homered twice. “It felt like every ball that went in the air was a home run. I’m not sure if that had to do with the weather, the humidity. I don’t know. It was just crazy out there.
“People are trying to get the ball in the air more. Pitchers are throwing harder. You combine those two and you’re going to get balls flying.”
Eickhoff made Phillies history Monday, but that might be enough to bump him from the starting rotation, Scott Lauber writes. Eickhoff was the first Phillies starter to allow homers to the first three batters he faced. Kapler said afterward that the team would discuss if Eickhoff would make his next start or be replaced in the rotation.
The Phillies, Marcus Hayes writes, made the right decision by staying away from Dallas Keuchel and trusting their internal options. Keuchel signed last week with the Braves and pitched Monday night in the minor leagues. He’ll be in the majors this month and the Phillies, Hayes writes, will keep revisiting this outlook: “For his asking price, we think what we’ve got is just as good as what he is. And what we’ve got is getting better. He’s not.”
Seranthony Dominguez is hoping for a miracle as he awaits a visit this week with Dr. James Andrews, who will provide a second opinion on his elbow injury. Dominguez is a candidate for Tommy John surgery, which would end his season and keep him out for the start of next year.
Tom Eshelman, once one of the Phillies’ top pitching prospects, was traded Monday morning to Baltimore. He had a miserable 2018 season, but was beginning to show some improvement this year at triple A. He’ll get a fresh start in Baltimore, and the Phillies will get additional money to spend on international free agents.
Tonight: Jake Arrieta faces right-hander Jon Duplantier, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin starts against right-hander Merrill Kelly, 7:05
Thursday: The 35th annual Phillies Phestival at Citizens Bank Park, 3:30 p.m.
Friday: Phillies open three-game series in Atlanta, 7:20 p.m.
The Phillies will be off Thursday, but the ballpark will still be buzzing as the Phillies host the 35th annual Phillies Phestival at Citizens Bank Park to raise money for the fight against ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. The event raised $725,050 last year and was attended by more than 4,000 fans. Thursday’s event will begin at 3:30 p.m.
The Phillies adopted ALS as their primary charity in 1984, and have since raised more than $18 million for patient and care services in the Philadelphia area. The team’s biggest fundraiser is the annual Phestival, an autograph and auction party attended by players, coaches, broadcasters, front-office staff, and others. In 2016, the Phillies were awarded the Allan H. Selig Award for Philanthropic Excellence for their organization-wide commitment to the cause.
This year’s marquee attraction — a photo booth with Bryce Harper — and autograph tickets are already sold out. But $15 general-admission tickets ($5 for kids) are still available by calling the Phillies ticket office at 215-463-1000. The list of silent-auction items — including a game-worn Harper jersey and a pair of the Phillie Phanatic’s shoes — can be found here.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @matt_breen.
Question: Why did the Phillies trade Eshelman? Seems like he was starting to come around. — Charles D. via email.
Answer: Thanks, Charles. I agree that Eshelman was starting to come around. He had a 2.77 ERA this season in four starts in triple A and was looking more like the 2017 version of himself than the one who struggled so mightily in 2018. It was easy Monday night to imagine Eshelman being an option to replace Jerad Eickhoff in the rotation.