Chip? Check. Chair? Check. Chance to make the playoffs? Still a long shot.
Give the Phillies props for coming from behind last night to defeat the pesky Mets at Citizens Bank Park. The 5-2 victory assures they will remain mathematically alive in the National League East race through at least Friday and probably longer than that. And the Phillies refuse to look ahead to 2019 as long as, in manager Gabe Kapler's words, they "still have a chip and a chair" at the table of playoff contenders.
But the win over the Mets also amplifies the Phillies' recent missed opportunities. The division-leading Braves have lost four games in a row. It's premature to suggest they are collapsing, but just imagine the difference if the Phillies had won Sunday and Monday. The Braves' lead would be down to 3 1/2 games rather than 5 1/2 with the Phillies heading to Atlanta for four games beginning Thursday night. Think of the drama. Instead, the Phillies still need a Hail Mary.
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When the Phillies took the lead last night and Kapler began to plot how he might deploy his bullpen in the late innings, he took note of the success that many Mets hitters had early in the season against Hector Neris.
And then he ignored it.
Neris isn't the same pitcher he was in June. His fastball command is precise. His splitter is diving and darting. His confidence is skyrocketing. And after vanquishing the Mets with another perfect inning in which he racked up two more strikeouts, the erstwhile closer finally broke his silence about how he had managed to save his season.
"The changes are that I stopped thinking," said Neris, who was declining requests to be interviewed after returning last month from a midseason demotion to triple A. "I enjoy the game and pitching. I don't think too much. That's it. I make my pitch, and I'm ready no matter what."
Neris has made 16 appearances since rejoining the Phillies; 14 have been scoreless. He has faced 56 batters and struck out 29 of them. He has allowed 10 hits and only four walks and posted a 2.57 ERA. Last night marked his first save since June 16.
It's a dramatic turnaround for a pitcher who was a mess in May and June. Unable to locate his fastball and lacking confidence in his signature splitter, he began throwing too many sliders, according to pitching coach Rick Kranitz. He dragged a 6.00 ERA to triple A, where he made an adjustment to his delivery to shorten his leg lift. Mostly, though, he stopped overthinking everything.
"I think he absolutely has overcome the early-season issues," Kapler said. "This is a different pitcher. This is a Hector Neris I'm not sure any of us have seen. This is a better version. Since he's been back, this is a better version of him than his best last season or the season prior, [in] my personal opinion."
So much so that Neris has reentered the conversation for a spot in the Phillies bullpen next season.
"It's just coming to the game and doing my job," Neris said. "It's taking the positive time and remembering that today is another day. I feel great."
Jorge Alfaro's go-ahead three-run homer was the biggest hit of the game. But as Matt Breen writes, it was also just one example of the skills that have the Phillies believing the 25-year-old catcher is a centerpiece of their future.
Once upon a time, the Phillies weren't sure if Rhys Hoskins or Dylan Cozens was the best power-hitting prospect in the organization. But while Hoskins rose to stardom, Cozens lagged behind. Cozens talked to Bob Brookover about why he's confident he can still make an impact with the Phillies.
Asdrubal Cabrera didn't play last night because of a strained left calf. His absence, however long it lasts, will create valuable playing time for shortstop J.P. Crawford.
Tonight: Phillies face Noah Syndergaard in finale vs. Mets, 6:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez opens Phillies' last stand in Atlanta, 7:35 p.m.
Friday: Nick Pivetta faces the Braves, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday: Jake Arrieta goes for his second win since July 31, 1:05 p.m.
Sunday: Aaron Nola starts series finale vs. Braves, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Phillies open final road series of the season at Colorado, 8:40 p.m.
In general, Kapler doesn't believe in pairing a starting pitcher with a particular catcher. The Phillies manager would rather preserve maximum lineup flexibility by having his pitchers feel comfortable throwing to any catcher on the roster.
But Kapler also can't deny the chemistry between ace Aaron Nola and Jorge Alfaro.
Alfaro has caught all but two of Nola's 31 starts this season. And Nola credits Alfaro for contributing to his success because of the familiarity they have developed. It has gotten to a point, Nola says, that Alfaro can anticipate the movement of each pitch and even steal a few strikes by framing pitches for the umpires.
Although Alfaro must improve his blocking skills behind the plate and the accuracy of his rocket arm, the Phillies are pleased with his improved receiving. According to Baseball Prospectus, Alfaro entered last night with 13.4 framing runs, third best in the majors behind the Braves' Tyler Flowers and the Dodgers' Yasmani Grandal.
Answer: Great question, Cal. In grading Carlos Santana's first year with the Phillies, perception is everything. I looked at him as the free-agent hitter the Phillies needed to sign one year before they sign the really big free-agent hitter. And if you view him through that prism, his production was never going to align with his role in the offense this season.
Santana batted in almost every spot in the order during his years in Cleveland. But when the Indians made the playoffs in 2013, 2016 and 2017, he was primarily the No. 6 hitter or the leadoff man. A .355 on-base percentage, buoyed by 100 walks, and 20-25 home runs look much better out of those spots than, say, the cleanup spot, where he has spent most of this season.