OK, show of hands: Who here likes The Godfather movies?
For the record, my hand is up. Way, way up. Of course it is. The Godfather is a classic by any standard, and the sequel might be even better. But The Godfather Part III? Let’s be kind and say that most fans of the series wish that the third movie had never been made. I disagree. There’s no denying that Part III fell short of the lofty bar set by its predecessors, but if it could somehow stand alone, without being held to such a high standard, it’s really a halfway decent film.
Anyway, there’s a scene — a line, actually — from The Godfather Part III that sums up how you might feel about the Phillies. Counted out after getting outscored 17-8 by the Mets on Aug. 30-31, they won three games in a row. Cast aside again after losing three straight last week — and Bryce Harper to a bruised hand Friday night — they notched back-to-back victories over the Mets on Saturday and Sunday and returned to within two games of the Cubs for the second NL wild-card spot with the division-leading Braves coming to town tonight.
Cue Michael Corleone.
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Let’s start here: Maikel Franco will play for another team next season.
That much is obvious. Once regarded as the Phillies’ top prospect and a key member of their next great team, Franco’s stock has plummeted in the estimation of the organization’s decision-makers. He spent most of the last month in Triple-A and has returned to the big leagues in a bench role for which Gabe Kapler has said he isn’t a fit. His days here are numbered, and everybody knows it.
But the Phillies can control how they cut ties with Franco, and if his performance against the Mets over the weekend was any indication, they had better not mess it up.
Franco, who is making $5.2 million this year, is once again eligible for a raise through arbitration before he can become a free agent after the 2020 season. If the Phillies make him a tender by early December, they might find it difficult to trade him to a team that will have to take on his arbitration-determined salary. If they don’t, he can become a free agent and sign with any team he wants.
The Mets would have to be interested, right? Not only have they gotten an even lower OPS from their third basemen (.727) than the Phillies (.729), but Franco went 20-for-59 (.339) with seven homers and 18 runs batted in against them this season. He tortured them again Sunday by collecting two hits, including a two-run dinger. Nearly half of his homers this season have come against the Mets.
“I think he feels comfortable in the batter’s box [at Citi Field],” Kapler said.
Imagine what Franco might do in 19 games against the Phillies every year.
That’s always been the danger in moving on from Franco. He hasn’t lived up to the promise he showed as a rookie in 2015, but he also just turned 27 last month. What if he goes to another team and finally figures it out? It has happened before. Edwin Encarnacion, for instance, slugged .453 and averaged 17 homers per year through his age-28 season and has slugged .528 and averaged 37 homers per year in the ensuing eight seasons.
Franco won’t have much value on the trade market. But they might be better off packaging him as a second or third piece in a larger trade early in the offseason rather than letting him enter the market and choose where he’d like to play.
Sunday’s game was exhausting to watch, unless you were Gabe Kapler. The Phillies manager found it exhilarating, as Bob Brookover writes.
Bryce Harper update, courtesy of Matt Breen: The $330 million man (Bryce, not Breen) is expected to play tonight against the Braves.
Speaking of Harper, he doesn’t take for granted the opportunity to be in a playoff race. His first came as a rookie in 2012, but as he told me last week, “all I could think about was Dan Marino getting [to the Super Bowl] and never getting back."
When Bob Brookover watches Harper and the 2019 Phillies, he thinks about Jim Thome and the 2003 Phillies for reasons that he explained in his Sunday column.
Tonight: Aaron Nola vs. Mike Foltynewicz in series opener vs. Braves, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Jason Vargas faces Max Fried in a dual between lefties, 7:05 p.m.
Wednesday: Zach Eflin takes on Atlanta’s Dallas Keuchel, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: Drew Smyly vs. Julio Teheran in series finale vs. Braves, 7:05 p.m.
Friday: A rare Friday night off for the Phillies before the Red Sox visit town.
When Dallas Keuchel starts against the Phillies on Wednesday night, it will be impossible not to think of how much he could’ve helped them.
OK, to be fair, the Phillies aren’t the only team that passed on Keuchel. The veteran lefthander became a free agent last November, and it wasn’t until June 7 that he agreed to terms with the Braves on a one-year, $13 million contract that was far from the type of deal he initially sought. But the Phillies have the sixth-worst starters’ ERA in the National League this season, and in 15 starts with Atlanta, Keuchel has a 3.47 ERA, the 23rd-best mark among 82 pitchers who have worked at least 75 innings since June 7.
By comparison, here’s a look at the ERAs of several pitchers who have occupied the Phillies’ rotation since that date: Vince Velasquez (5.19), Zach Eflin (5.45), Nick Pivetta (4.87), Jake Arrieta (5.14), Jason Vargas (4.64 between the Mets and Phillies) and Drew Smyly (4.98 between the Rangers and Phillies).
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Maikel Franco has been on a bit of a hot streak since rejoining the team. Do you think he’s played his way into some more starts over these final few weeks?
— Dan M., via email
Answer: Hey, Dan. Thanks for the question. I’ll tell you, man, given the many options that Gabe Kapler has available on the expanded roster, it has become increasingly difficult to predict what he might do on a nightly basis with the lineup. That said, I think he will start whomever he believes has the best chance for success against a particular starting pitcher.