Yesterday’s game ended at almost 4:30 p.m., perfect timing for the Brewers to hit rush-hour traffic on I-95 South on the way to the airport. If they wanted an escort, though, there was no need to call the Philadelphia Police Department. Surely the Phillies would’ve volunteered to give them a lift out of town. After back-to-back-to-back beatings by a combined margin of 22-6, they were ready to bid farewell to the Brew Crew.
But there isn’t any relief in sight. The Rockies, who have gone 17-10 since a 3-12 start, will visit Citizens Bank Park for three games beginning tonight before the Phillies embark on an eight-game road trip to face the sizzling Cubs and those Brewers again.
So far, the Phillies appear to be the best team in the NL East. We’re about to find out how they stack up against the best teams in the league.
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When the $330 million right fielder muddles through a batting slump that sinks his average to .220, it tends to obscure anything else that might be amiss with a ballclub.
That must be how we have glossed over Seranthony Dominguez’s struggles.
A year ago, and for most of last season after he got called up in early May, Dominguez was blowing fastballs by overmatched hitters. He was so good in such a short period of time at the big-league level that there was even serious conversation about his meriting All-Star Game consideration.
It was a rapid ascent, to say the least, for a reliever who had spent only about 2 1/2 weeks in double A and one week in triple A.
That’s what makes Dominguez’s recent outings so glaring. He entered a one-run game in the seventh inning yesterday and promptly allowed a three-run homer to Yasmani Grandal that put the game away. It marked the fourth time in eight appearances that Dominguez has allowed at least one run.
Grandal’s homer came against a change-up, Dominguez’s third-best pitch after the fastball and slider. But his heater appears to be the root of his problem. Although his average velocity is back up to 97.3 mph, only a tick below his 2018 average of 98 after a dip in spring training, opponents have been teeing off. Entering yesterday’s game, they were batting .314 and slugging .486 against his fastball compared to .203 and .305 last season.
Regardless, the downturn couldn’t come at a worse time, with fellow reliever David Robertson having already missed a month and now shut down from throwing for another three weeks because of a slow-healing flexor strain in his right elbow/forearm. Tommy Hunter, also dealing with a flexor strain, has not pitched this season and isn’t likely to come back until some time in June, at the earliest.
The Phillies bullpen was considered a strength at the start of the season, but manager Gabe Kapler is running out of trustworthy options. If Dominguez continues to falter, an even greater burden will fall on Hector Neris, Pat Neshek, and upstart lefty Adam Morgan. It might even compel the Phillies to try Nick Pivetta or Vince Velasquez in the bullpen sooner than they would like.
“This stretch is going to be a grind. There’s no sugarcoating it,” Gabe Kapler said with the Phillies in the midst of 20 games in 21 days against the Brewers, Rockies, Cubs, Cardinals, and Dodgers.
Bryce Harper said he still believes the Phillies are “a great team.” As Bob Brookover writes, Harper would help his argument by finally emerging from his prolonged slump.
More on Kapler’s decision to bump up Harper to the No. 2 spot, as Matt Breen writes.
It’s a big day for the organizers of a campaign to get Dick Allen elected to the Hall of Fame. Mayor Jim Kenney and Gov. Tom Wolf will throw their support behind the movement in a 9 a.m. press event at City Hall.
Tonight: Cole Irvin starts series opener vs. Rockies, 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola tries to get back on track, 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Jerad Eickhoff vs. Rockies’ Kyle Freeland in series finale, 1:05 p.m.
Monday: Jake Arrieta makes first start at Wrigley since leaving Cubs, 8:05 p.m.
Bryce Harper isn’t the only Phillies outfielder who has been slumping at the plate. Andrew McCutchen’s fifth-inning double Thursday marked his first extra-base hit in 54 at-bats dating to April 28.
It was the longest stretch of McCutchen’s career without an extra-base hit, surpassing a 50-at-bat drought from Sept. 26, 2016 to April 11, 2017 for the Pirates. His previous longest spell within a single season came from July 1-15, 2018 with the Giants (48 at-bats).
But McCutchen’s funk has mirrored Harper’s in that he continues to reach base via walks. In his last 21 games, McCutchen is 16-for-79 (.203) with three extra-base hits. But he has drawn 13 walks during the stretch to keep his overall on-base percentage at .363.
Send questions by email or on Twitter @ScottLauber.
Answer: Thanks for the question, Dan. You’re right: Franco has cooled off. He’s gone colder, actually, than Kapler’s stare throughout most of the Brewers series. Since his bases-clearing double May 1 against the Tigers, Franco is 8-for-44 (.182) with two doubles and no homers. It certainly seems as if that old eighth-hole magic has worn off.
For the record, not once during the last two years have I sensed that the Phillies are sold on Franco as the “long-term answer at third base.” Once upon a time, they dreamed of having Manny Machado there, and just because they signed Bryce Harper instead, it doesn’t mean they are committed to Franco.