Inside the Box Score: Life Without Utley and Howard

Inside the Box Score: Life Without Utley and Howard

Everybody was bracing for a reduction in run production with the Phillies this season. Four games in, it's even worse than many imagined.

The Fightins have managed to scrounge together a paltry eight runs in 37 innings this season. That total is good for dead last in scoring in the National League, and only half a run per game ahead of the Minnesota Twins for worst in all of Major League Baseball.

Some folks are preaching patience, because after all, it is only four games. That said, while the Phils likely can't keep up the current pace, which would set a record for offensive futility over a 162-game season, there is little reason to believe things are going to magically turn around at the plate.

Not until Chase Utley and Ryan Howard return anyway. Without their five-time All Star second baseman, or the 2006 NL Most Valuable Player at first, the Phillies are getting next to nothing out of the right side of the infield in the early goings.

Second base is one thing. Freddy Galvis has started all four games in place of Utley so far, going 1-for-13 with a walk in 14 plate appearances -- good for the lowest batting average and on-base percentage in the clubhouse. Additionally, they've had trouble turning the lineup over when Galvis bats eighth. The pitcher's spot led off an inning six times in the first two games against Pittsburgh.

At least he has an excuse though. Galvis is a rookie who had all of 33 Triple A appearances under his belt prior to making his big league debut on Opening Day. We were already dealing in lowered expectations until Utley gets back.

Simply put, first base is a mess.

Who's On First?
Charlie Manuel has already started four different players through four games. The combination of John Mayberry, Jim Thome, Laynce Nix, and Ty Wigginton has come up with four hits and two walks in 29 total plate appearances, wherever they happen to be playing that day.

Officially, the position is 2-for-16 with one run scored, no walks, and no RBIs. The first baseman had come up fifth in the order for the Pirates series, but was dropped down to six against the Marlins on Monday.

Plus, defensive lapses at the bag have cost Philly as well -- which, of course, has nothing to do with run production, but is quickly becoming a problem all the same.

On Sunday, Wigginton dropped a throw from Brian Schneider that would have made it two outs and none on in the seventh inning. Instead, the runner was safe, and Pittsburgh wound up scoring two in the frame, helping launch their eventual come-from-behind victory in the ninth.

Against Miami on Monday, Mayberry inexplicably backed up Cole Hamels on a bunt, then watched as the pitcher gunned the ball to the imaginary man at first base. The runner advanced to third on the error, and eventually came across for an insurance run in the sixth.

Howard may not be the greatest defensive first baseman ever, but he usually catches the ball, and at least knows where he's supposed to be.

Mainly they're missing his pop though, and not just the long ball. Without Howard and Utley in the lineup, the Phils have seemingly lost the ability to score quickly in any situation.

Extras Base Hits
The Phillies have four extra base hits this year, the lowest total in baseball. Hunter Pence has two. Mayberry has one. Galvis, as you probably heard, has the other -- it was arguably the biggest hit of the season so far, which is saying something.

By contrast, look at the top of the order. Shane Victornio has four hits, none for extra bases. Placido Polanco doesn't have any either, although that shouldn't come as much of a surprise -- he went the entire 2011 season with fewer than 20 XBHs. And Jimmy Rollins, who bats third now remember... you get the idea.

The only game in which the Phils scored more than two runs just happens to be the only game where they had multiple extra base knocks, which most likely is not a coincidence.

It's difficult to score runs when you're only ever advancing one base at a time. The Fightins can play small ball all they like, and if they do it right, they'll even win some games. Had they managed to manufacture one more run in either loss to the Pirates, they might have swept the series -- and the opportunities were there.

That was the Pirates though. The Marlins drove the ball on Monday. They found gaps, and yes, they even went yard a few times. They were able to strike quickly, producing runs out of one or two at bats, three at most.

In order to score by taking one base at a time, a chain of players have to do multiple things right, both at the plate and on the base paths. Even then, they're often giving away outs to score a run or two, which makes rallying unlikely.

Not that it wasn't already. Without Utley and Howard, the Phillies are severely lacking in big hits, and nobody has stepped up to replace them. Guys like Rollins and Victorino will get theirs, and Pence can really turn it on.

But as long as the right side of the infield continues to resemble a black hole, it doesn't seem that will be enough. Having two automatic outs in a lineup with no power is probably too much for any team to overcome more often than not, even with Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels in a rotation.

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

Aaron Altherr provides major spark in season debut to lead Phillies past Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — The Phillies are still looking for the real Aaron Nola, but they may have found a useful bat Thursday night.

Aaron Altherr had the kind of season debut he’d dreamed about for the four months he was on the disabled list as he helped the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field (see Instant Replay).

Altherr was one of three Phillies to hit home runs on a night when the offense awakened after generating just one run the previous two days in Miami. Altherr, who came off the disabled list earlier in the day after missing four months with a wrist injury that required surgery (see story), drove a two-run homer to left in the fifth inning. Earlier in the game, Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph had back-to-back homers to headline a five-run first inning.

Franco leads the team with 19 homers and Joseph, hitting .375 with six homers in his last 17 games, has 14 in just 57 games with the club.

Altherr, who batted fifth behind Franco and Joseph, also had two hard singles in the game.

“He had a really good night in his debut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “He provided a spark for us. He added to the offense. So I'm happy for that. It's good to get a win. We scored some runs, finally.”

Altherr was projected to be a starter in the Phillies’ opening day outfield until he suffered the wrist injury in spring training. He spent the last four months in Clearwater, rehabbing and, well, dreaming of a night like this.

“Definitely, especially sitting around thinking about how that first game's going to be being back,” he said. “For it to be like this, it was definitely special and I have to thank the Lord above for getting me back here as fast as He could.

“I was hoping to get a home run in the first game, but I definitely wasn't expecting it. Just hopeful. To have it happen like that was definitely awesome.

“It definitely surprised me a little bit because I hadn't really been driving the ball like I had wanted to down in my rehab stints. I'm just glad to know I've got [the power] in there somewhere.”

The Phillies hit all three of their home runs and scored all their runs against Atlanta right-hander Matt Wisler. He received a ticket to Triple A after the game.

The Phillies batted around against Wisler and scored five runs in the first inning. That was a welcome cushion for Nola, who desperately needed a win after failing to get one in his previous seven starts. The right-hander did manage to earn his first win since June 5, but it wasn’t exactly pretty. He lasted just five innings and threw a whopping 95 pitches as he continued to experience command issues that have been plaguing him in recent weeks.

Nola gave up eight hits and three runs. He walked three and hit a batter. That’s not Aaron Nola’s game. At least it wasn’t in his first 12 starts this season. He recorded a 2.65 ERA over that span and walked just 15 while striking out 85. He has walked 14 in his last eight starts.

“He's not the same guy,” Mackanin said. “He's just struggling with command once again. He's not dotting his fastball like he normally does. His curveball is erratic. He needs to get back on track.

“Sometimes it's harder to pitch when you have a big lead. You know you don't want to blow it. That can affect a pitcher as well. You have to have that mental toughness either way, whether it's a one-run game or an 8-0 game. You don't want to pitch poorly. There's a tendency, well, you have a five-run lead, should I throw more fastballs and challenge? But it was good to see he got a win. I'm happy for that. That should help him. He just needs to get to where he was. He's not there yet.”

Nola described his outing as “fairly OK,” which was probably right on. He got the win, but overall was not sharp. He allowed three runs in the fifth inning.

“I ran into some jams there,” he said. “I left some balls over the plate for them to hit. They took them the other way. The plan was to try to hit the outside part of the plate and they took it away.

“I feel like I have the command for the most part, but there’s some areas I still need to get better at and work to get better at.”

The Phillies used four relievers to close out the game. Edubray Ramos and Hector Neris pitched well. David Hernandez and Jeanmar Gomez did not. Gomez allowed three base runners and a run, but still managed to get the save. Hernandez allowed a hit and a pair of two-out walks before giving up an RBI double. A number of scouts from teams looking for bullpen help were on hand. Hernandez and Gomez probably did not help their trade value. Four days before the deadline, starter Jeremy Hellickson is still the Phillie most likely to be dealt.

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

Best of MLB: Sale loses in White Sox return, Chapman saves Cubs' 3-1 win

CHICAGO -- Chris Sale returned from his jersey-trashing suspension and threw six effective innings, but John Lackey outpitched him and Aroldis Chapman got the final four outs to save the Cubs' 3-1 victory over the White Sox in Chicago's rivalry series Thursday night.

Sale (14-4) was greeted with smiles and hugs from his teammates following a five-day ban for tearing up 1976-style uniforms he didn't want to wear before his previous scheduled start. He had command issues, but worked out of trouble while allowing two runs and six hits.

Lackey (8-7) allowed one run in six innings for his first win since June 8. Chapman, in his second appearance since being acquired from the Yankees, struck out two and consistently hit 102 mph in his first save for his new team.

Kris Bryant, who homered against Sale in the All-Star Game, hit an RBI double off the center field wall in the first inning (see full recap). 

Diaz's homer helps Cardinals beat Marlins and Fernandez, 5-4
MIAMI -- Aledmys Diaz homered, doubled and drove in three runs against childhood pal Jose Fernandez, helping the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Miami Marlins 5-4 Thursday.

Fernandez gave up five runs in five innings and fell to 26-2 at Marlins Park.

Miami's Dee Gordon, the 2015 NL batting and stolen bases champion, returned from an 80-game suspension for failing a drug test and went 0 for 4. Ichiro Suzuki doubled as a pinch hitter in the seventh for Miami and needs two hits for 3,000.

Diaz and Matt Holliday homered in the third inning against Fernandez (12-5), who had never previously given up more than one homer in a home game. His only other loss at Marlins Park came on opening day this year against Detroit.

Michael Wacha (6-7) allowed three runs in six innings, and three relievers completed an eight-hitter. Seung Hwan Oh pitched around a one-out single in the ninth for his seventh save (see full recap). 

Familia falters again, Rockies rally for 2-1 win over Mets
NEW YORK -- Mets steady closer Jeurys Familia stumbled for a second straight game, allowing two runs in the ninth inning as the Colorado Rockies beat New York 2-1 Thursday for their seventh win in eight games.

Less than 24 hours after Familia's streak of 52 consecutive regular-season saves was snapped, the right-hander entered in the top of the ninth with a 1-0 lead, and couldn't hold it.

Trevor Story had a leadoff single and stole second. After fellow rookie David Dahl walked, Daniel Descalso bunted up the first base line. Mets catcher Rene Rivera watched as the ball spun toward foul territory but it stopped fair, loading the bases with no out.

With one out, Familia (2-3) got pinch-hitter Cristhian Adames to hit a slow grounder to the right side. First baseman James Loney booted the ball and Story scored to make it 1-all. Familia then threw a wild pitch, allowing Dahl to cross the plate with the go-ahead run (see full recap).

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

Instant Replay: Phillies 7, Braves 5

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Aaron Nola picked up his first win since June 5 as the Phillies beat the Atlanta Braves, 7-5, at Turner Field on Thursday night.

Nola was supported by some strong offense. After scoring just one run in losing the previous two games in Miami, the Phils erupted for five runs in the first inning. They hit three homers in the game.

The Phillies had been winless in Nola’s previous seven starts.

The Phillies are 47-57.

The Braves have the worst record in the majors at 35-67.

Starting pitching report
Despite leaving with a 7-3 lead after five innings, Nola was not particularly sharp. He gave up eight hits (one was a fly ball that was lost in the twilight sky), walked three and hit a batter. He needed 95 pitches to get through the five innings.

Nola is 6-9 with a 4.78 ERA in 20 starts.

Atlanta’s Matt Wisler gave up seven hits and seven runs in five innings. Five of the runs came in the first inning when the Phillies batted around. Wisler allowed two homers, two singles and walked two in the inning.

Bullpen report
David Hernandez was the first Phillies reliever out of the bullpen. He struggled. But Edubray Ramos, Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez combined to close it out.

Gomez allowed two hits, a walk and a run in the ninth, but earned his 27th save.

At the plate
Aaron Altherr, activated off the disabled list earlier in the day (see story), had a big night in his first game of the season with the big club. He hit the ball hard all night and had three hits, including a two-run homer in the fifth.

Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph hit back-to-back homers in the first inning. Franco’s was a three-run shot. He leads the club with 19 homers. Joseph has 14 homers in 57 games.

Adonis Garcia had two hits and two RBIs for the Braves.

Transaction 
Peter Bourjos was placed on the disabled list and Altherr was activated (see story).

Up next
The series continues Friday night. Vince Velasquez (8-2, 3.34) pitches against Atlanta right-hander Tyrell Jenkins (0-2, 6.17).