No matter what happened Thursday night in Cincinnati, Ranger Suarez was never going to forget his major-league debut. But thanks to the Phillies offense, everyone else will remember it, too.
The Phillies tied a franchise record by slugging seven — count 'em, seven! — home runs in a 9-4 thumping of the Reds. Rhys Hoskins, Maikel Franco and Nick Williams each went deep twice to back Suarez, who earned his first career victory. The Phillies have won five of seven games since the all-star break and boosted their division lead to 2 1/2 games. They also have hit 20 homers, prompting this question with the trade deadline looming Tuesday: Hitters? Who said the Phillies need more hitters?
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It was June 22, and the Phillies were about to begin a pivotal three-game series in Washington. J.P. Crawford had broken his hand three nights earlier, seemingly giving Maikel Franco his next last chance to grab the third-base job and not let go.
But manager Gabe Kapler had other ideas.
Rookie utilityman Jesmuel Valentin made his fourth career start, only his second start at third base. Kapler told Franco to use the idle time for extra work in the batting cage with hitting coaches John Mallee and Pedro Guerrero. And while the tutoring session was ongoing, Kapler had some pointed words about Franco in his pregame conversation with reporters.
"It feels like what makes a major-league third baseman is a guy who gets on base and hits homers and plays good 'D,' " Kapler said. "If you have all three, you're a regular at third base for a really long time. If you have two of the three, it's a challenge. And right now, Maikel is dealing with working on his 'D' and making that better, and he's also dealing with adding one more offensive tool to the third-base mix. The home runs are going to be there. If you give him 500 plate appearances, he's going to hit you 25 homers. But that doesn't make a third baseman at the major-league level long term, just that in isolation."
A day later, Franco returned to the lineup, went 4-for-4 with an RBI double, made two defensive gems and even chugged home to score on a medium-depth sacrifice fly. It was the start of a month-long stretch in which Franco has been among the best third basemen in baseball.
Including his two-homer game Thursday night — his second two-homer game this week — Franco is 33-for-96 (.344) with seven doubles, eight homers and a .667 slugging percentage in his last 28 games. An extreme groundball hitter over the past few years, he has finally heeded the Phillies' urging to drive the ball in the air more consistently. He has cut down on his strikeouts (12 in his last 103 plate appearances) and reached base at a .388 clip.
Suddenly, there's no doubt who will play third base every day for the Phillies. It's Franco, of course.
The Phillies are still looking to add another hitter before Tuesday's trade deadline. But while they had been interested in Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas and Minnesota Twins infielder Eduardo Escobar, they must now consider that neither player represents an upgrade over Franco. Moustakas, in particular, is batting only .205 with eight homers and a .679 OPS since June 1. Franco during the same stretch: .293, nine homers, .913 OPS.
"My motivation has been what happened in the season. So much back and forth and not being in the lineup consistently," Franco said. "But, I just don't think about that. When I know I'm going to be in the lineup and help my team to win, that's what I think about. Just go out and have fun."
Gabe Kapler didn't need to see the Phillies smash seven home runs Thursday night in Cincinnati to know that their confidence is higher than ever. The manager said he hears it all the time from his young players.
Roman Quinn is healthy at last, and as Matt Breen reports, the speedy outfielder could join the Phillies' bench on Friday.
Do you enjoy podcasts? Well, we've got a whopper for you. Matt and I joined David Murphy for a discussion of what moves the Phillies might make at the trade deadline. Lots of free advice here for Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail.
Hector Neris (remember him?) is pitching well at triple-A Lehigh Valley, as Ben Pope found out when he caught up this week with the Phillies' deposed and demoted ex-closer.
We talk a lot about prospects, but the minor leagues are filled with players who bounce back and forth without sticking in the majors. Lehigh Valley shortstop Dean Anna is one of them. Here's a nice piece from Mitchell Gladstone on what keeps players like Anna going when they get caught up in the roster churn.
Jimmy Rollins and Ryan Howard headline a list of more than two dozen former players and coaches who are scheduled to attend the Phillies' 10th anniversary celebration of their 2008 World Series championship next weekend at Citizens Bank Park.
Tonight: Phillies and Reds continue their four-game series in Cincinnati, 7:10 p.m.
Tomorrow: Vince Velasquez vs. Mets castoff Matt Harvey, 6:10 p.m.
Sunday: Zach Eflin starts the series finale against the Reds, 1:10 p.m.
Monday: Aaron Nola Day! The Phillies ace faces the mighty Red Sox, 7:10 p.m.
Tuesday: Phils and Sox wrap a two-game series at Fenway Park, 7:10 p.m.
Rhys Hoskins went deep twice more Thursday night, giving him six homers in his last six games and hiking his season total to 20. The 25-year-old left fielder is the 22nd Phillies player to record a 20-homer season at age 25 or younger. The list: Don Hurst, Chuck Klein, Ron Northey, Del Ennis, Willie Jones, Gene Freese, Tony Gonzalez, Johnny Callison, Dick Allen, Larry Hisle, Willie Montanez, Greg Luzinski, Mike Schmidt, Scott Rolen, Mike Lieberthal, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Ryan Howard, Domonic Brown, Tommy Joseph, Maikel Franco and Hoskins.
So much for the theory that competing in the Home Run Derby would mess up Hoskins' swing. If anything, it aided it.
Against the Reds, Hoskins turned on two fastballs on the inner half of the plate and launched them over the left-field fence. He explained that he wasn't driving pitches in that location with much frequency earlier in the season. But in unleashing his biggest swings in the derby last week, he said he focused on pulling the ball to left field. And he has stuck to that approach since the all-star break.
Question: After watching the continuing lack of defensive skills of both Phillies catchers (Jorge Alfaro and Andrew Knapp), why not consider a trade for J.T. Realmuto? Right now he is the best all-around catcher in baseball. His offensive talents are great and his defense is steadily improving. His WAR is above Manny Machado, and he will not attain free agency for two years. Yes, the price in prospects will be high, but he is worth it. –Allan M., via e-mail
Answer: We love, love, love talking trades here at Extra Innings, so thank you for bringing up another potential deal! Sure, Realmuto would fit well for the Phillies. But a catcher of his caliber makes sense for 29 other teams, too, including, it seems, Derek Jeter's Marlins. Although they dumped Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Dee Gordon in their everything-must-go offseason, they seem to want to rebuild around Realmuto. According to MLB.com, Marlins president of business operations Chip Bowers hosted a Q&A Thursday with corporate partners and season-ticket holders and said, "It's going to take a lot to get J.T. out of this organization." That jibes with what we've heard around the league that the Marlins' asking price for Realmuto is exorbitant. Frankly, it should be.