As the Phillies arrive in the Bronx for a two-game interleague series that opens Tuesday night, they will encounter a Yankees team that bears a striking resemblance to them.
Big payroll? Check.
Star-laden roster? Yessir.
A record that has hovered near .500: Uh-huh.
But there’s one notable difference. At 48-44, the Yankees are in fourth place, 3 1/2 games out of the second wild card, undecided about whether to buy or sell at the July 30 trade deadline. The Phillies, at 47-45, are 2 1/2 games out of first and going for it.
It has taken at least 90 wins to capture the NL East crown in every full season since 2007. Could this be the year that 87 gets it done?
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Scott Kingery’s fall continues with shoulder surgery
A few weeks ago, after getting dropped from the Phillies’ 40-man roster and clearing waivers and settling back into life in triple A, Scott Kingery summed up what it was like to strike out in 12 of his 19 plate appearances in the majors this season.
“I think,” he said, “it might be the worst feeling in baseball.”
It turns out there’s something worse: Not being able to play at all.
Kingery’s four-year fall from the Phillies’ next big thing to a triple-A utility man hit rock bottom last week when he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. There might not have been a player in the farm system who needed a summer’s worth of at-bats more than Kingery. Now, the Phillies are merely hoping he will be able to play when spring training opens in February.
When the Phillies designated Kingery for assignment in early June, the best-case scenario for all parties was for him to go to Lehigh Valley, play every day, recover the line-drive swing that once made him a blue-chip prospect, and either return to the majors or be packaged in a deal as a classic change-of-scenery candidate.
So, where does he go from here?
Kingery, 27, has two seasons remaining on the six-year, $24 million contract that he signed in 2018 without having played in a big-league game. He will make $6.25 million next year and $8.25 million in 2023 regardless of whether he ever gets back to the majors. The Phillies can exercise a $1 million buyout of three team options beginning in 2024.
The financial commitment represents the biggest reason that Kingery went unclaimed on waivers last month. Because as dreadful as he looked since a bout with COVID-19 last summer and the beginning of last season — 19-for-132 (.144) with 47 strikeouts, a .454 OPS, and an uppercut swing that had gotten woefully out of whack — he showed flashes of potential in his first two seasons. He even had borderline All-Star credentials in 2019, batting .292 with 16 doubles, 11 homers, a .545 slugging percentage, and an .889 OPS while starting at five positions in the first half.
If not for the money, a team surely would have taken a flier on recapturing that version of Kingery.
Kingery painted his demotion as a positive because he believed it would enable him to find his swing in an environment where “there’s not as many eyes on you.” In a videoconference last month before a game at Lehigh Valley, he reiterated that learning to be a utility player at the major-league level was more difficult than either he or the Phillies anticipated. He also acknowledged again that he put pressure on himself to live up to the contract.
“A lot of people would think that it would have the opposite effect where you’re like, oh, you can relax and just play baseball,” Kingery said. “But I’m the type of guy that wants to prove that the contract was the right call and I was given it because I could live up to it. That’s something that is always in the back of your mind.”
But progress had been slow in triple A. Kingery was 12-for-71 (.169) with 27 strikeouts and a .552 OPS in 22 games before getting injured.
Kingery’s shoulder is now another impediment to his path back to the majors. He will need to go through rehab from the surgery, get ready for spring training, then come to camp almost certainly as a nonroster invite and attempt to win a job after falling behind versatile infielders Luke Williams and Nick Maton on the depth chart this season.
“I still believe that I’m a starter at the major-league level,” Kingery said. “Obviously, there’s some things that need to get sorted out before that happens. But that’s what I’m working for, to get back up there. I don’t think that drive is ever going to go away.”
The Phillies could sign Cole Hamels or trade for a reliever. But as Matt Breen writes, the biggest boost to their pitching staff would be for Aaron Nola to get back to being an elite starter.
Speaking of the trade deadline, the Phillies are in buy mode. But how much does Dave Dombrowski really have to offer?
Tonight: Nola vs. Domingo Germán at Yankee Stadium, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Phillies and Yankees wrap up a two-game series, 7:05 p.m.
Thursday: The Braves visit Citizens Bank Park for four games, 7:05 p.m.
Monday: Juan Soto leads the Nationals into town for four games, 7:05 p.m.
Stat of the day
Milestone alert: Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins is closing in on his 500th major-league game. But he also has a chance to do something that no player in franchise history — and only seven players all-time — have accomplished.
If Hoskins scores two runs in his next five games, he will be the first Phillie to get to 300 runs, 300 walks, and 300 RBIs in his first 500 games. The others who have reached those marks within their first 500 games: Aaron Judge, Frank Thomas, Eddie Mathews, Ralph Kiner, Charlie Keller, Ted Williams, and Babe Ruth.
How’s that for good company?
From the mailbag
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Question: Enjoy Extra Innings and the insights it shares. Keep it up. My question is, much has been made about the blown saves by the Phillies relievers, but how do the Phillies rank in rescuing blown saves? — Skip H., via email
Answer: Thanks, Skip, for reading and for the question.
First, I need to clarify my answer to Bob S.’s question in Monday’s mailbag. To be fair, I should have reiterated, as I reported in June, that Phillies management has provided information about the COVID-19 vaccines, even arranging a group presentation during a road trip to Atlanta in April. But MLB isn’t mandating vaccines, so it’s all about personal choice. Compared to most teams, the Phillies have had fewer players choose to get vaccinated.
Now, to your question: The Phillies lead the majors with 23 blown saves. They have a 7-11 record in games in which they blew at least one save. Pulling out seven games after giving up a late lead illustrates the resilience that manager Joe Girardi talks about frequently. It’s hardly ideal, though.