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The Phillies need J.T. Realmuto to be the best catcher in baseball during the second half | Extra Innings

If the Phillies are going to win the NL East and end their nine-year playoff drought, they need Realmuto to step up.

J.T. Realmuto homered in Tuesday's All-Star Game in Denver, and now the Phillies need their catcher to have a strong second half.
J.T. Realmuto homered in Tuesday's All-Star Game in Denver, and now the Phillies need their catcher to have a strong second half.Read moreJack Dempsey / AP

The Phillies have one more day off before the second half resumes with a doubleheader Friday against the Miami Marlins. Manager Joe Girardi likely will finalize his pitching plans for the Miami series Thursday if he hasn’t already.

Given how little Zack Wheeler needed to do in his first All-Star Game appearance Tuesday night, the Phillies’ ace should be ready to go for one of Friday’s games and Girardi would be wise to use his ace in an effort to keep the momentum rolling that the Phillies gained by going 5-2 on their final road trip of the first half.

Wheeler, in his two starts against Miami since joining the Phillies, has allowed just one earned run on 10 hits and struck out 14 in 14 innings, and the Marlins have never seen him as good as he is right now.

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Is J.T. Realmuto still the best catcher in baseball?

J.T. Realmuto came to the Phillies in 2019 with the title of best catcher in baseball, and he definitely lived up to the billing in his first season, hitting .275 and setting career highs with 25 home runs and 83 RBIs. Add in his best-in-baseball ability to throw out runners on the bases, and it was clear that the Phillies had the total catching package.

Since then, Realmuto has been good. Very good even. But there is now at least some room for debate as to whether he is still the best catcher in baseball. Kansas City’s Salvador Perez and San Francisco’s Buster Posey are back in the conversation.

After missing all of 2019 with an elbow injury, Perez has reemerged as an offensive force, leading all catchers with 21 home runs and 53 RBIs at the All-Star break. At 32, he is still also terrific at gunning down baserunners, nailing 35% so far this season. Posey, meanwhile, is playing like a kid again at age 34. After opting out of the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, he has returned in 2021 to hit .328 with 12 home runs and a .968 OPS before going on the injured list earlier this month.

Also, Yadier Molina is still going strong, ranking third among catchers with 40 RBIs and also throwing out runners at a major-league-best 40% clip.

Among the younger generation, Will Smith of the Los Angeles Dodgers, with 10 homers and 32 RBIs, and Oakland’s Sean Murphy, with 12 homers and 43 RBIs, are also deserving of honorable mention.

Realmuto, to be sure, is still in the conversation. He entered the All-Star break hitting .268 with eight home runs and 34 RBIs despite missing 11 games while on the injured list with a bone bruise on his left hand. He suffered the injury on a walk-off wild pitch in St. Louis on April 29 and tried to play through it for a couple of weeks.

Before the injury, he was hitting .329 with a .425 on-base percentage and a .932 OPS. Since the injury, he is hitting .241 with a .344 on-base percentage and a .751 OPS.

Perhaps he just needs to be healthy, and maybe the opposite-field home run he hit off Detroit’s Gregory Soto in the fifth inning of Tuesday night’s All-Star Game is a sign that he is getting there. There is, however, one other mystifying stat about Realmuto. After throwing out runners at a major-league-best rate of 47% in his first season with the Phillies, he has nailed only 10 of 44 runners the last two seasons, including 5 of 24 this season, which is below the major-league average of 25%, according to

Maybe that has something to do with the small fracture in his right thumb that he suffered just before the start of spring training when he was catching a Jose Alvarado bullpen session. Or maybe the Phillies’ pitchers are just bad at holding runners. Either way, it has been a major drop-off.

A hip injury cost Realmuto 11 games last September when the Phillies were trying to make a playoff push.

Injuries, of course, are always a huge risk for a catcher because he takes a beating behind home plate. The Phillies decided to take that risk when they signed Realmuto to a five-year deal worth $115.5 million during the winter. If they hope to make a serious playoff run in the second half, they need Realmuto to be both healthy and the undisputed best catcher in baseball once again.

The rundown

The Phillies are only 3 1/2 games out of first place, and for that they can thank Brad Miller and the team’s strongest link: the bench.

While the Phillies prepare for a doubleheader Friday to resume the season, Cole Hamels will be auditioning in front of a lot of major-league teams, including the Phillies, in Texas in an effort to resume his career.

If you haven’t read Scott Lauber’s story about Wheeler’s climb to his role as the Phillies’ ace, you really should.

Villanova right-hander Jimmy Kingsbury, a Malvern Prep graduate, was taken in the 17th round by the Seattle Mariners on Tuesday. Marc Narducci tells how his father, Larry, was drafted by Oakland in 1991 and 1992, but never pitched professionally.

Important dates

Today: One more off day before the second half begins.

Tomorrow: The Phillies return with a doubleheader vs. Miami at Citizens Bank Park, 4:05 p.m.

Saturday: The Phillies play the Marlins, 6:05 p.m.

Sunday: The series finale vs. the Marlins, 1:05 p.m.

Tuesday: Phillies open a two-game series at Yankee Stadium.

Stat of the day

On this date 14 years ago, the Phillies were cheered at Citizens Bank Park after an ugly 10-2, Sunday night loss to the St. Louis Cardinals that included six home runs by the visiting team. So why the ovation from the sellout crowd of 44,872? It was the team’s 10,000th loss, making the Phillies the first team in history to reach that milestone.

One fan held up a sign that read “10,000 N Proud.” The back page of the Daily News the next day: Distink Honor.

“I don’t know too much about 10,000 losses,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said that night. “I try to concentrate on the wins.”

The Phillies, of course, went on to win the NL East that year. They went 43-28 after the loss to the Cardinals and won the division title on the final day of the season. The Phillies’ record since their 10,000th loss is 1,087-1,076. Five other franchises — the Braves, Pirates, Cubs, Reds, and Cardinals — have since joined the Phillies in the 10,000-loss column, but the Phillies became the first team to lose 11,000 games, on the final day of the 2019 season.

The Phillies need 103 more wins for 10,000, a milestone that has already been reached by the seven other franchises that started in the 19th century as well as the New York Yankees, who played their first season in 1901.

From the mailbag

Send questions by email or on Twitter @brookob.

Question: Why has it taken so long for Ranger Suarez to assume the closer’s role? His numbers are lights out and his performance against the Red Sox in game three was astounding. Please say he’s won the job! — John R., via email

Answer: We’ll start with the good news: Yes, Suarez is officially the Phillies’ closer and he has definitely earned the job. Among the 73 relievers with at least 35 innings pitched, Suarez has the lowest ERA in baseball at 0.77. Chicago Cubs veteran closer Craig Kimbrel has a 0.57 ERA to go along with 20 saves and is probably headed to somebody else’s bullpen before the July 31 trade deadline. He’d look good in Phillies red.

As for the reason it took so long for Suarez to become the Phillies’ closer, it’s hard to blame Girardi for trying more experienced guys such as Hector Neris and Alvarado first. Did the manager stick too long with Neris? Yes, but now Suarez has the role and we’ll see if that can make the Phillies’ entire bullpen better.