How much should the Phils care about ending with a bottom ten record?

How much should the Phils care about ending with a bottom ten record?

I was watching some of the Phils-Mets series ender last Sunday with some Met fan friends, rooting for the Phils to squeak one out and not have to suffer the indignity of a home sweep at the hand of their hated NL East rivals. To my mild surprise, though, some of the Met fans were rooting for the same outcome. When LaTroy Hawkins (seriously, Mets? LaTroy Hawkins??) closed the door on the Phils in the ninth, cementing the sweep, and knotting the two teams in the standings at 71-84, I'm not sure which of us was more disappointed.

The concept of rooting for losses, and the team tanking that occasionally accompanies it, is nothing new to the 21st century sports fan. Still, for the most part, it's been a practice confined to sports like basketball and football, where drafting is a slightly more reliable process, and where one player can (in theory, anyway) turn around an entire franchise. In baseball, no one player matters that much, and you might have a #1 overall pick who never even plays a single game for your major league squad (like the Yankees' Brien Taylor or the Padres' Matt Bush), so the incentive of piling up losses to secure a higher pick isn't nearly as high.

Since the new CBA, though, the rules with the MLB draft are a little different. You might have heard some whispering among writers and/or big fans of losing teams this year about the importance of finishing in the bottom ten of the league standings this year. The reason for this is that teams who finish in the bottom ten--and thus are awarded top ten picks in the upcoming draft--are then protected from losing their first-round picks as compensation for signing away big-name free agents in the off-season.

In years past, signing a Type A free agent--like, say, the Phils did in prying Jonathan Papelbon from the Red Sox in 2011-automatically resulted in the forfeiture of the team's first-round pick, which the Phils then lost in the 2012 draft. (The Phils received a pick in return for the Angels signing away Ryan Madson, but it was lower, in the supplemental first round, due to Madson having a "Modified Type A" status.)

That still happens for teams who sign Type A free agents after finishing with one of the top 20 records in baseball, but now if you're a bottom ten team, you get to hold on to your first-round pick after signing a Type A free agent (though FAs are no longer known by "type"s, and instead judged based on whether they have been tendered an offer of a salary commiserate with a top 125 player salary by their former team--confusing stuff for sure). Instead, the old team is now rewarded a supplemental round pick, while the new team is forced to forfeit their next available pick (either a second-rounder or a supplemental first-rounder if the Phils have one of heir own), which essentially just vanishes.

In plain language, this means that if the Phils finish with a bottom-ten record, then go out and sign a big-name free agent next year, they won't lose their top-ten pick in the process. This isn't as big a deal as it is in the NBA--especially since there's no lottery in baseball, and thus no chance of the Phils somehow sneaking in with a top three pick--but it's a pretty big deal, since the Phils have a relatively barren farm system at the moment, partly as a result of not having a pick in the top ten since 2001 (and no first-rounders at all three of the last five years).

So how close are the Phils at the moment to securing that kind of, um, security? Well, difficult as it was to watch, losing a combined six of their last seven to the Mets and Marlins certainly helped--thanks to the 'Politans just taking an improbable two of three from the Reds, they've climbed above the Phils in the standings, leaving the Phils in a tie with the Blue Jays for the ninth-worst record in baseball. Here's how the overall standings currently look, from the bottom up:

1. Houston Astros (51-108)
2. Miami Marlins (59-100)
3. Chicago White Sox (62-96)
4. Chicago Cubs (66-93)
(tie) Minnesota Twins (66-93)
6. Seattle Mariners (70-89)
7. Milwaukee Brewers (71-87)
8. Colorado Rockies (72-87)
9. Toronto Blue Jays (72-86)
(tie) Philadelphia Phillies (72-86)

---

11. San Francisco Giants (73-85)
(tie) New York Mets (73-85)
13. San Diego Padres (74-84)

As you can see, even with just four games left, the Phils are pretty far from secure in the standings from getting that bottom ten record. However, they do control their own destiny going into the start of tonight's four-game series against the Braves in Atlanta, who might care a little about securing home field advantage in the playoffs (they're currently one game back of the Cards for best overall in the NL, and two ahead of the West-best Dodgers), but generally won't have a ton to play for, having long since clinched the East title. (They start David Hale tonight, who's pitched a grand total of five innings in his major league career--though most Phils fans would probably still feel more comfortable with him than with our own starter, Tyler Cloyd.)

Of course, the question of how important it is to lock down a bottom-ten record in our last four games leans a great deal on what the team's plans are for next year's free agency. Ruben Amaro Jr. seems pretty unlikely to launch a full-scale rebuild in the off-season, but he's been pretty restrained with his big-money purchasing in the meantime, and it's unclear if that'll change before 2014.

What's more, it's a pretty weak crop of free agents hitting the market in the fall--the only real superstars up for grabs are Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano and Red Sox center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, and after that, it's a bunch of 2nd and 3rd starters (Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco) and good-not-great position players (Shin-Soo Choo, Brian McCann, our old friend Hunter Pence).

It's hard to see the Phils really breaking the bank for any of these guys--though a quality corner outfielder and a reliable third starter would certainly be a nice off-season get--so it's possible this will be irrelevant anyway. Meanwhile, the team already has nearly $120 mil committed in salary for next year, and that's before getting to all our arbitration-eligible players, whatever deal we might re-sign Carlos Ruiz to, and the money we already promised to Cuban signee Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. That's already a lot of cash for a sub-.500 team, and without any huge fixes obviously available, the team might be wise to show a little more prudence with their additional off-season spending.

Still, it's better to have the option than not, and with RAJ looking to bolster confidence in the team in advance of their big upcoming TV deal, he might be looking to add some more names to the roster--in which case, we'd certainly be much better off with a bottom ten record and a protected top-ten pick. It's definitely not the standings race we hoped we'd be monitoring with the Phils down the season's home stretch, but it's still one worth keeping an eye on this weekend, if you can avoid the urge to chug a bottle of lithium in the process.

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

Best of MLB: Indians rally off Papelbon, stun Nationals, 7-6

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor pushed an RBI single through Washington's drawn-in infield with one out in the ninth inning, and the Cleveland Indians rallied for three runs in their final at-bat to stun the Washington Nationals 7-6 on Tuesday night in a matchup of two first-place teams with sights on October.

Down two runs and three outs from their losing streak reaching a season-high four games, the Indians rallied against Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon (2-4), who did not get an out before he was pulled by manager Dusty Baker.

With the bases loaded, Lindor fisted his base hit into right field and danced his way up the first-base line as the Indians celebrated an improbable victory.

Bryan Shaw (2-4) got two outs in the ninth and picked up the win as Cleveland won its first home game since July 10 (see full recap).

Cardinals take first game of doubleheader with Mets, 3-2
NEW YORK -- Jedd Gyorko homered again, hitting a two-run drive off Noah Syndergaard that sent the St. Louis Cardinals over the New York Mets 3-2 Tuesday in the first game of a doubleheader.

Gyorko connected for the sixth time in eight games, giving him 13 this season. The Cardinals lead the NL in home runs with 137, matching last year's total.

The Mets played at home for the first time since the All-Star break and lost in a matchup of NL wild-card contenders. Citi Field was nearly empty at the start, a day after a rainout forced the twinbill.

Carlos Martinez (10-6) gave up a two-run homer to Rene Rivera and left after the fifth inning with a 3-2 lead. Three relievers finished, with Seung Hwan Oh getting his fifth save in six chances.

Syndergaard (9-5) has won only one of his last five starts (see full recap).

Colon, Mets top Cards, 3-1, for doubleheader split
NEW YORK -- Bartolo Colon pitched three-hit ball for seven sharp innings and the New York Mets overcame another home run by Jedd Gyorko to beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 Tuesday night for a doubleheader split.

Gyorko homered in both ends and has connected seven times in nine games. His two-run shot helped St. Louis win the opener 3-2.

Colon (9-5) struck out eight and walked none. After Gyorko homered in the second and Alberto Rosario doubled in the third, Colon set down 14 of his final 15 batters.

Addison Reed worked the eighth and Jeurys Familia closed for his 36th save this year and 52nd in a row during the regular season.

White Sox avoid Chapman, down Cubs 3-0 behind Shields
CHICAGO -- James Shields allowed four singles in 7 2/3 innings, Adam Eaton homered and the White Sox stayed unbeaten since Chris Sale's suspension by beating the Cubs 3-0 Tuesday night in Chicago's crosstown rivalry.

The Cubs lost their second straight and never got to use new closer Aroldis Chapman hours after he joined the team and struggled answering questions related to an altercation last year with his girlfriend.

Shields (5-12) struck out five and continued an impressive turnaround from a terrible first three starts after being acquired from San Diego last month. Nate Jones finished the eighth and David Robertson worked the ninth for his 24th save in the White Sox's fourth straight win since their ace was sent home for destroying throwback jerseys.

Jose Abreu had two hits, including an RBI single in the first off Kyle Hendricks (9-7) that ended his streak of 22 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

Jerad Eickhoff's 'outstanding' start wasted by Phillies in shutout loss to Marlins

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — The Phillies enjoyed a three-week stretch before the All-Star break when they were the best hitting team in baseball.

In the final 19 games before the break, they hit .308 with a .871 OPS. Both marks were tops in the majors over that span. They averaged 5.63 runs per game in that stretch.

The run of sturdy offense created some excitement and anticipation heading into the second half of the season. But that excitement and anticipation has now dissipated. Since coming back from the break, the Phillies’ offense has retreated back to invisibility.

The Phils were blanked, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night, wasting a terrific start from Jerad Eickhoff (see Instant Replay).

After the game, manager Pete Mackanin was peeved.

“The only thing positive I can say about this game is Eickhoff,” Mackanin said. “He was outstanding. He had a great curveball, hit his spots, pitched well. It was a pitchers' duel up until the end. I’m real happy about that. 

"But that’s about all I’m happy about.”

Marlins starter Tom Koehler and a trio of relievers held the Phillies to just four singles.

Phillies hitters struck out 10 times. They have averaged 9.5 strikeouts in 12 games since coming back from the break and hit just .208. They are averaging just 2.75 runs in the 12 games since the break and carrying a 4-8 record.

“Poor plate discipline,” Mackanin said. “Poor plate discipline. Swinging at too many bad pitches. We get ourselves out too often. That’s about all I can think of.

“Koehler pitched well. But we helped him out a lot. We didn’t give him a chance to walk us. We swung at too many bad pitches. That’s our problem. We just get ourselves out too often. That’s what it boils down to.

“If you’re a free swinger who’s going to hit 30-plus home runs and drive in 100 runs, that’s acceptable to me. But if you’re not a power hitter, it’s unacceptable. You’ve got to make adjustments. You’ve got improve on it. You’ve got to work on it.”

Peter Bourjos offered his thoughts on the Phillies’ offensive struggles since the All-Star break.

“It's almost like it was probably bad timing for that break,” he said. “Everything was rolling. We were swinging the bats really well. Everyone looked comfortable in the box and feeling good and it's tough right now. You can see what there was with the offense. I think it's going to come back. We just need to get back into the rhythm that we had and everything's going to be all right.”

Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight, a big improvement over his previous start when these same Marlins tagged him for nine hits and six runs in five innings.

“I was more aggressive,” Eickhoff said. “It’s amazing what being aggressive will do for your game and how hitters will react. I threw my fastball inside and that set up my curveball so much more.”

The poor run support was nothing new for Eickhoff. He entered the game receiving an average of just 3.53 runs per game, 10th worst in the majors.

It was a scoreless game until there were two outs in the sixth. That’s when Giancarlo Stanton swatted a two-out RBI single to right, scoring Martin Prado from second. Stanton’s hit rolled untouched through the second base area because the Phillies’ defense was shifted to the pull side.

“We’ve got to play a shift on him,” Mackanin said of baseball's most fearsome power bat.

The game got out of hand when the bullpen was tagged for four runs in the eighth. Ichiro Suzuki stroked career hit No. 2,997 to get the Marlins’ late rally started.

In the first inning, Suzuki launched a long drive to the gap in right-center. Rightfielder Bourjos ran the ball down and made a terrific catch while crashing into the wall. He left the game with a jammed right shoulder and could miss some time (see story).

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

Instant Replay: Marlins 5, Phillies 0

BOX SCORE

MIAMI — Jerad Eickhoff pitched seven innings of one-run ball, but still came away with a loss as the Phillies were shut out, 5-0, by the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.

Giancarlo Stanton drove in the Marlins’ first two runs with a single and a double.

Stanton gave the Marlins a 1-0 lead with a two-out base hit to right field against Eickhoff in the sixth inning. Stanton’s groundball hit rolled through the second base area, which had been vacated by the shift.

The Marlins blew the game open with four runs against the Phillies’ bullpen in the eighth.

The Phillies are 4-8 since the All-Star break and 46-56 overall.

Starting pithing report
Eickhoff scattered five hits and a run over seven innings. He walked one and struck out eight.

Miami manager Don Mattingly pulled Tom Koehler after the right-hander pitched six shutout innings and had allowed just three hits. Koehler walked one, struck out five and threw just 73 pitches. He exited with a 1-0 lead.

Koehler pitched eight innings of two-run ball in a win over the Phillies last week.

Bullpen report 
Andrew Bailey was charged with three runs in the eighth.

Mike Dunn, David Phelps and Nick Wittgren completed the shutout for the Marlins. 

At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits, all singles, and struck out 10 times. They were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and are 1 for 13 the last two nights.

Stanton had been just 3 for 35 against the Phils this season before his shift-beating RBI hit in the sixth. He hit the ball much harder in the eighth inning when he clouted an RBI double to right-center against Bailey.

Adeiny Hechavarria padded the Marlins’ lead with a two-run single in their four-run eighth inning.

Ichiro Suzuki’s eighth-inning single left him three hits shy of 3,000 in his big-league career.

Health check
Rightfielder Peter Bourjos injured his right shoulder making a catch against the wall in the first inning and left the game (see story).

Minor matters
Ranger Suarez, a 20-year-old left-hander from Venezuela, pitched a seven-inning no-hitter for the Phillies’ Single A Williamsport club on Tuesday night.

Up next
The series concludes on Wednesday afternoon. Zach Eflin (3-3, 3.40) pitches against Miami lefty Adam Conley (6-5, 3.58).