At this rate, the Phillies should refuse to leave Chicago. Or maybe they can get the Cubs to travel with them, à la the Washington Generals with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Because halfway through a four-game series at Wrigley Field, the Phillies have scored a week’s worth of runs — 28, to be precise — against the Cubs, losers of 11 in a row. In last night’s 15-10 romp, they pounded old friend Jake Arrieta for seven runs, including a first-inning grand slam by Andrew McCutchen.
The Phillies put up double-digit runs in back-to-back games for the first time since 2015, of all years. Despite losing 99 games that season, they hung consecutive 11-run games on Joe Girardi’s Yankees in New York.
Zack Wheeler would surely appreciate the run support tonight in his final start before the All-Star break, but odds are, he won’t need it. Wheeler has allowed a total of three runs in 31⅔ innings over his last five starts.
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Harper would’ve passed on the All-Star Game
Bryce Harper got picked to play in the All-Star Game in six of his first seven major-league seasons. But he’s 0-for-2 since he signed with the Phillies, not including last year, when there was no All-Star Game.
Surely the star rightfielder must be disappointed to not be headed to Colorado next week.
“Nah,” Harper said last night. “I mean, of course you always want to be an All-Star, and when you’re not there it [stinks]. But for me, I probably wouldn’t have went anyways.”
“I’ve been dealing with my back, I’ve been dealing with the shoulder and the wrist, and things like that,” he continued. “I probably would’ve took a break from it and just tried to enjoy my family and took some downtime.”
It has been a difficult season for Harper. The nagging injuries on his aforementioned checklist have caused him to miss 21 of the Phillies’ 83 games. He sizzled at the start, batting .329 with six home runs and a 1.083 OPS through 23 games before getting hit in the face by a 97-mph fastball April 28 in St. Louis. Since then, he’s hitting .258 with nine homers and an .829 OPS.
Harper’s overall numbers — .282, 15 homers, and a .914 OPS after tying his career-high with five hits and hitting his first non-solo homer of the season last night at Wrigley Field — are solid, if not eye-popping. He received the eighth-most votes among National League outfielders in the fan balloting and wasn’t selected as a reserve in voting by players and managers.
It will mark the second consecutive All-Star Game omission for Harper, who hasn’t taken part since 2018 in Washington, his last season with the Nationals. Considering he’s one of the most recognizable and marketable superstars in the sport, it would seem his absence is less than ideal for Major League Baseball.
“When it counted for home-field advantage [in the World Series], to me that was a time when the players that were playing the best should be there,” Phillies manager Joe Girardi said. “But because it’s a fan-driven game, I think the stars should be there. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes the stars need those days off. But I do think it should be the people who they want to see the most because it is for the fans.”
Harper is showing signs of heating up again. His four RBIs last night were the most he’s had in a game since Sept. 21, 2019, at Cleveland. He has seven homers in his last 13 games, including the three-run shot against Cubs reliever Dan Winkler to snap a run of 14 homers in a row without a runner on base. It was the longest such streak to begin a season for the Phillies, eclipsing Fred Luderus’ 10 solos in a row in 1914.
“I didn’t really realize it until I got to 13, and [catcher Andrew Knapp] was like, ‘Hey man, do you know you haven’t hit a homer with guys on base yet?’ ” Harper said. “I’m like, ‘Man, I’ve been that bad with guys on base, huh?’ To be able to come in the dugout today, Knappy was like, ‘Hey, you did it. Finally.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, man, here we go.’
“Hopefully I can do that a couple more times within the next couple days and then the rest of the year.”
Staying healthy will be central to that mission. If four days off during the All-Star break will help Harper’s body recover, it makes sense that he would’ve taken a pass had he been named to the NL roster. Not that he was expecting it this year.
“I never look at my midseason numbers, or my first month or my second month,” Harper said. “I try to look at it as a season, as a whole, once we get into September. Hopefully we’re in first place, getting ready for some cold baseball in October.”
Does Harper feel ready for a strong second half?
“I mean, I feel OK,” he said. “I feel like Bryce. That’s a good spot to be in.”
I caught up with Bryson Stott, the shortstop prospect who will represent the Phillies in the Futures Game on Sunday in Colorado and had Harper pump his gas in spring training.
J.T. Realmuto has a funny way of describing Wheeler, the Phillies’ All-Star ace: “He’s a thumber,” Realmuto said. Matt Breen asked the catcher to explain.
Odúbel Herrera is struggling in the leadoff spot and dealing with a few minor injuries, so he’s getting a few days off.
Tonight: Wheeler faces the Cubs, 8:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Zach Eflin starts the finale at Wrigley Field, 8:05 p.m.
Friday: Vince Velasquez opens a three-game series in Boston, 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: Phillies and Red Sox square off at Fenway Park, 4:10 p.m.
Sunday: Nola vs. Nick Pivetta in last game before the All-Star break, 1:10 p.m.
Stat of the day
For the first time since 2013, the Phillies have more than one All-Star. And if Wheeler happens to throw to Realmuto next Tuesday night in Colorado, it will mark the sixth time that an all-Phillies battery has hooked up in an All-Star Game.
In 2012, Carlos Ruiz caught both Cole Hamels and Jonathan Papelbon in the National League’s 8-0 win in Kansas City. Heathcliff Slocumb and Darren Daulton worked together in 1995 in Texas. Two years before that, Daulton caught Terry Mulholland at Camden Yards in Baltimore. In 1979, Steve Carlton pitched to Bob Boone at the Kingdome in Seattle.
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: “Hi. Love reading your articles and Extra Innings. I was wondering if you could explain how options work. Are they by year or by the number of options total? Some players seem to be able to be optioned back and forth between triple-A and the big leagues and others can’t. Thanks.”
— Jeff F., via email
Answer: Hi, Jeff. Thanks for being a loyal reader. The minor-league options system can be confusing. I’ll try to simplify it.
Generally speaking, players on a 40-man roster have three options to be sent to the minors without passing through waivers. (There are cases, based on major-league service time, that allow for four options.) Only one minor-league option is used per season, no matter how many times a player is yo-yo’d between the minors and majors.
Players who get sent to the minors at least once in three seasons, or accumulate at least five years of major-league service, are said to be “out of options.” At that point, the only way they can go back to the minors is by getting “designated for assignment,” a process that removes them from the 40-man roster and exposes them to outright waivers to be claimed by another team.
Got all that?
Here’s more on how options work.