Back on Track: Phils Top Astros, Climb to Three Back

Back on Track: Phils Top Astros, Climb to Three Back

After stumbling in the series opener against the lowly Houston Astros, last night the Phillies regained the form that saw them win their previous seven games. Whether the Phils are playoff-bound or not, the Astros are a team that will lose 100 games this season, so the blown-lead loss on Thursday was disappointing to say the least. We knew they weren't going to win out though, so the more important question was how they would respond. Fortunately, it didn't take long for them to get back on track. 
On Friday night, the Phillies' bats lit up the scoreboard before starter Cole Hamels even stepped into the diamond. Jimmy Rollins hit his fifth leadoff homer of the season (20th overall, 42nd career leadoff), and three more visiting runs would score before the top half of the inning was over. The Astros would hang a few runs on Hamels and the bullpen, but 16 hits powered the Phillies to a 12-6 win. 
Perhaps just as importantly, they got some help from the teams they trail in the wild card standings. 
After Jimmy slugged No. 20 on the season, Juan Pierre drew a walk and stole his 35th base of the season. Yep, 35 bags for the 35-year-old. It was a key swipe too, because Chase Utley slashed a single to center, and Pierre wheeled all the way in. The recipe turned out well enough the first time, so the Phils immediately used it again, with Utley stealing second. Ryan Howard followed it up with a ground rule double up the right field line, scoring Chase. Chooch and Dom Brown couldn't get Howard home from second, but John Mayberry Jr made the score 4-0 with a single that brought the big man in. 
Errors allowed the Astros to earn a respectable run total, with three of their six coming of the unearned variety, starting with a throwing error in the first by Rollins. Still, despite three costly throwing gaffes, the other two coming in the eighth and ninth innings, the Phils were able to outpace the Astros with some big swings. They finished the night 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position; Howard, Utley, and Mayberry each had a pair of hits with RISP, combining for eight RBI. Mayberry also scored from second on a Kevin Frandsen single after Mayberry doubled in the fourth. In the fifth, he made the Astros pay for walking Brown ahead of him to load the bases, singling in Utley and Chooch. Brown would get his pitch in the seventh though, sending a 407-footer to right with Ruiz on base after a walk. 
After Rollins and Pierre each got aboard with singles in the eighth, Utley and Howard combined to drive in three runs and put the lead at an unreachable distance despite the errors (and a Justin De Fratus wild pitch) that would allow the Astros to scratch out two more runs before the night was done. 
NotesDarin Ruf pinch hit for De Fratus in the top of the ninth, popping out to third. 
Hamels went seven innings, allowing four runs (three earned, two on HRs) while striking out eight and walking one.
Six Astros pitchers combined to throw 201 pitches (Phillies threw 139), walking five batters and striking out eight. 
Game 3 at Minute Maid Park will feature Kyle Kendrick vs lefty Dallas Keuchel, who carries a 5.35 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and just one win against seven losses.   
Wild Card WatchThe Cubs handed the Pirates their seventh straight loss, and the Bucs are now tied with the Phils at three games back. The Mets pitched in too, pulling the Brewers a half game off the pace with a 7-3 win over Milwaukee, and the NL West-leading Giants beat the Diamondbacks on the power of a Hunter Pence grand slam. 
The Cardinals and Dodgers are closest in the battle for the final wild card slot, and they squared off in the second of a four-game set on Friday. After winning the opener, the Cards lost last night. They currently hold a one-game lead over LA. 
It's still a crowded pack, but just three games separate the Phils from the second wild card slot.  

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

Phillies prospect Andrew Knapp is determined to win a job in the majors

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The dew on the infield grass had barely dried when Andrew Knapp was marched out to the firing squad at Phillies camp early Sunday morning.
 
He took his position at first base and looked across the diamond where Phillies instructors Doug Mansolino, Chris Truby and Larry Bowa were lined up at third base, shortstop and second base, respectively. Armed with fungo bats and a dozens baseballs each, the trio of sharpshooters proceeded to smash bullet one- and two-hoppers at Knapp, who was tasked with pulling them out of the dirt to complete the putout.
 
“Good job,” shouted Bowa, a tough grader when it comes to infield work, as Knapp finished up the hellacious early-morning drill.
 
Knapp is a catcher by trade, but he will continue these intense individual sessions at first base throughout the spring — in addition to his regular defensive work behind the plate.
 
A 25-year-old switch-hitter, Knapp was the Phillies’ second-round selection in the 2013 draft. He’s getting a lot attention in this camp because he has a shot to make the club as a reserve player. The Phils are in need of a backup catcher and a backup first baseman and Knapp, in big-league camp for the second time, is trying to show he can handle both assignments in one package.
 
“Last year it was more of a happy-to-be-here thing,” he said. “I was just trying to pick as many brains as I could and take in as much knowledge as I could.
 
“But this year it’s more of a let’s-go-win-a-job kind of deal.”
 
General manager Matt Klentak and manager Pete Mackanin first floated the idea of carrying Knapp as a two-position reserve at the winter meetings.
 
Of course, it came with a lot of qualifiers. Knapp is still considered a developing player and team decision-makers would have to consider what impact a reserve role would have on his development. Also, the prototypical backup catcher in the majors is a plus defender who has experience handling a big-league pitching staff. Knapp has never played in the majors and his defense is considered a work in progress. Later in the winter, the Phillies signed two big-league veteran catchers (Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan) to minor-league deals and they are very much in the mix for the job.
 
“I kind of understand there’s a definite value in having a veteran guy as a backup, but I think I can do the job on the field,” Knapp said.
 
A potential separator for Knapp could be his bat and his versatility if he can continue to develop it. He is not a novice at first base. He played there as a sophomore at the University of California. Knapp also has this going for him: He’s on the 40-man roster and with so many young prospects on it and the probable need to add an outfielder like Chris Coughlan later in camp, that could work in Knapp’s favor.
 
Another factor that could held Knapp’s chances: The Phillies’ development blueprint calls for Rhys Hoskins and Jorge Alfaro to get the bulk of the playing time at first base and catcher, respectively, at Triple A.
 
“You’d like to see him get 500 at-bats, but it’s not a perfect world,” Bowa said. “Our Triple A team is loaded. He might find himself in the same role at Triple A. if that’s the case, it might be best if he came here if he swings the bat like he can and he can provide versatility.
 
“A guy like him can give you some options and flexibility. When you face the Mets and they have three stud right-handers throwing 95, it might be nice to have a guy like that to give (first baseman) Tommy Joseph a blow.”
 
Knapp had a brilliant season with the bat at Double A in 2015. He hit .360 with 11 homers, 56 RBIs and a 1.050 OPS in 55 games, earning him the franchise’s Paul Owens Award as minor-league player of the year.
 
Knapp tapered off at Triple A last season. He hit .266 with eight homers, 46 RBIs and a .719 OPS over a full season. Knapp’s day last summer typically started with defensive work at 1:30 in the afternoon.
 
“I would get my hitting in, but I don’t think there was as much of a focus on it as there was the year before,” he said. “I do think last year I took a real step forward defensively, especially in the second half of the year. I kind of had a tough first half, but the second half I really honed in on the defensive part, blocking and throwing mostly, just kind of keeping everything in front and shutting down the running game.”

A lot of eyes will be on Knapp when the exhibition games start next week.
 
“We need to find out if he’s capable of doing it,” Mackanin said. “Catching is a defensive-oriented position. We need good defense. We need good game calling, a catcher who can handle pitchers, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at from a guy like Knapp as well as the other guys. We’re going to take a good long look at that.
 
“He’s definitely in the mix. I want to play him a lot to see him. We all want to see what he can do offensively and defensively. From what I’ve been told he’s shown a lot of improvement and we’re going to look for that. We’re looking for the 25 best men. There’s a good chance he might be one of them.”
 
Knapp is determined to show that he is.
 
“It’s open for someone to go take it and I want to be that guy,” he said.

Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

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Penn beats Yale for 4th straight win, moves into Ivy League Tournament picture

BOX SCORE

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Darnell Foreman scored 15 points with four assists, Matt Howard added 14 points, including three 3-pointers, and Penn used a big second-half run to beat Yale 71-55 on Sunday for its fourth straight win.

AJ Brodeur had 12 points with nine rebounds, Ryan Betley also scored 12, and Devon Goodman had 11 for the Quakers (11-12, 4-6 Ivy League), who won their fourth straight game and moved into a fourth-place tie with Columbia in the conference standings. The top four teams will play in the inaugural Ivy League Tournament, March 11-12, at The Palestra.

Goodman's layup off a steal capped a 17-3 run as Penn extended a 31-30 halftime lead to 48-33 at 14:39 in the second half. Howard hit two 3s in the run and Foreman added a third. Goodman hit a 3, Foreman followed with a layup and the Quakers led by 20, 62-42, with 6:17 left and held on.

Penn shot 50.9 percent from the field to Yale's 32.8 percent and made 9 of 23 from behind the arc to the Bulldogs' 6 of 28.

Miye Oni scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds for Yale (14-9, 6-4), which entered the game in third place behind Harvard and Princeton.