It’s a good time to make up ground in the standings when you have a three-game interleague series at home against the team with the eighth-worst record in baseball.

So, naturally, the Phillies lost two out of three.

Disappointing? That understates what happened over the weekend. The Phillies scored 11 runs in 35 innings against the White Sox, who are 6-17 since the All-Star break. As my colleague Matt Breen tweeted yesterday after the Phillies’ 10-5 loss, “Maybe the Phanatic wants to be a free agent.” (Don’t get the joke? Read on.)

The road doesn’t get any easier now that the Phillies are, well, hitting the road. They will open a three-game series against the Diamondbacks (post-Zack Greinke version) tonight, then face the Giants for four games beginning Thursday night. If you can’t stay up late, don’t fret. We’ll have you covered all week from Arizona and San Francisco.

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After nearly two years of having to fight to retain his job, Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sunday.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
After nearly two years of having to fight to retain his job, Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco was optioned to triple-A Lehigh Valley on Sunday.

It’s time for the Phillies to free Maikel Franco

It has become increasingly difficult to defend Maikel Franco.

Since 2015, when he slugged .497 in 80 games for the Phillies, his slugging percentage has risen no higher than .467. His OPS fell from .840 in 2015 to .733 in 2016 and .690 in ’17, then from .780 last season to .702 this year. Of the 18 third basemen with 1,000 plate appearances since 2016, he ranks 16th with a .725 OPS.

Somehow, though, Franco deserves better treatment than he has received from the Phillies over the last two years.

Franco got optioned to triple-A yesterday, a move that was at least 12 months in the making. The Phillies had benched their former top prospect numerous times since the middle of last season, but each time, he got back into the lineup because of various injuries.

They tried to replace him in the offseason, but after Manny Machado signed with the Padres, management held its nose and stuck with the third-base devil it knows. If the Phillies hadn’t turned away from Franco now, there’s a good chance they would have next season when top prospect Alec Bohm is ready for the big leagues.

As Bob Brookover writes, the whole thing is reminiscent of the “bring out your dead” scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

But Franco has still had three consecutive 20-homer seasons. He has improved his defense over the last two seasons. And he’s only 26. Yet if everyone realizes that Franco is held in such low regard by management, then Franco surely sees it. And it can’t be easy to relax and play the carefree style that he exhibits when he’s most effective if he knows that he’s going to get benched at the slightest trace of a slump.

Franco slugged .514 with seven homers in 107 at-bats through the season’s first 30 games despite batting primarily in the No. 8 spot, in front of the pitcher. But that only earned him enough rope to get to Memorial Day, when Scott Kingery had begun to make more starts at third base before having to move to center field.

In deciding to send Franco to triple A and keep two utilitymen (Sean Rodriguez and Brad Miller) on the roster, manager Gabe Kapler cited Franco’s lack of positional versatility, his struggles as a pinch hitter (4-for-33 for his career), and his .198/.278/.360 slash line against left-handed pitchers this season.

It’s hard to argue with any of that. Franco isn’t a fit off the bench, at least not until September when rosters expand and roles don’t matter as much.

At this point, though, the Phillies must dispense with any notion that Franco could get another shot to win back the third-base job. The ship has sailed, both for them and for him.

The rundown

It was Alumni Weekend, and the Phillies added Bobby Abreu to the Wall of Fame and paid tribute to the 2009 Phillies. Brooky had this entertaining look back at the ’09 team, while Breen asked, “Where’s Cliff?” And then there was this ’09 World Series memory from Pedro Martinez: “Some of the guys had swine flu.”

Scary story here: Phillies Wall of Fame second baseman Tony Taylor was taken to Jefferson University Hospital after suffering three mild strokes Saturday night after the ceremonies.

Seranthony Dominguez (remember him?) could be the late-season bullpen upgrade that the Phillies crave, but only if he’s able to do what so many of his fellow relievers couldn’t: Get healthy.

The creators of the Phanatic want to renegotiate the 1984 agreement in which the Phillies obtained the copyright to the big, green guy for $215,000, as Oona Goodin-Smith writes.

Kingery’s supplanting Franco as the Phillies’ everyday third baseman didn’t happen just Sunday, columnist Mike Sielski writes.

Important dates

Tonight: Vince Velasquez opens the series in Arizona, 9:40 p.m.

Tomorrow: Jake Arrieta faces Mike Leake in his Diamondbacks debut, 9:40 p.m.

Wednesday: Jason Vargas vs. Zac Gallen in series finale, 9:40 p.m.

Thursday: Aaron Nola starts series opener in San Francisco, 9:45 p.m.

Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn pitched two innings in Friday night's 15-inning loss to the White Sox.
CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Phillies outfielder Roman Quinn pitched two innings in Friday night's 15-inning loss to the White Sox.

Stat of the day

Let it be said that Roman Quinn really did do it all Friday night.

Quinn played all 15 innings of the Phillies’ 4-3 loss to the White Sox and, well, he made the most of it. He led off the third inning with a home run. He stole second base in the fifth inning and again in the seventh. He came in to pitch in the 14th inning and gave up the go-ahead run in the 15th. And then, quite naturally, he struck out for the final out of the game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Quinn became the second player since 1900 to hit a homer, steal a base, and wind up as the losing pitcher all in the same game, joining Fred Hutchinson of the Detroit Tigers on Sept. 28, 1948. (Quinn’s two steals put him in a class by himself.)

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.

Question: Thoroughly enjoy your work. It’s a great start to my day. Here is my question: At what point does the club’s coaching philosophy come under scrutiny? Specifically, which young hitter has improved over the past two seasons?

Scott Kingery seems to have fought past the “see the maximum number of pitches” and “launch angle” requirements to have improved, but Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr and Andrew Knapp regressed. Either the talent evaluation is suspect or the coaching philosophy is flawed.

The same question applies to the young pitchers. Does this pitching coach know how to teach a change up to [Vince] Velasquez, [Zach] Eflin and [Nick] Pivetta? There is clearly something missing.

— Joe G., via email

Answer: Thanks, Joe, for the kind words and the excellent question. It’s interesting because hitting coach John Mallee and pitching coach Chris Young are very much in philosophical lockstep with both Kapler and the front office in terms of what they are preaching to the players. Young, in particular, was elevated to his position at the expense of Rick Kranitz, who was let go in November and subsequently hired by the division-leading Braves.

But I do think the Phillies will take a look at their processes after the season to determine if changes need to be made. It’s already happening, actually. They have tried to curb the home-run epidemic by getting their pitchers to work at the top of the strike zone and above the strike zone more consistently. Offensively, they have simplified their approach at the plate. Thus far, the results have been mixed.

You’re correct in saying that several players have regressed this season, which never reflects well on the coaches. If the Phillies miss the playoffs, it will be interesting to see if they shake up the staff.