10 big Phillies questions and answers ahead of opening day

10 big Phillies questions and answers ahead of opening day

Opening day is here, as are Jim Salisbury, Corey Seidman and Marshall Harris to answer 10 random but crucial questions about the 2017 Phillies.

Without further ado:

1. Who will be the first top prospect the Phillies call up?

Roman Quinn. If a starter breaks down in the outfield, he'll come -- and he might never leave. That's how electric he could be.

Jorge Alfaro. Catchers get banged up, catchers get hurt all the time. Alfaro is on the 40-man roster and the other catchers in the organization who aren't in the majors are not, so he's an easy, logical call-up if Cameron Rupp or Andrew Knapp require a trip to the DL.

Jake Thompson. While I'm not wishing it to be a starting pitcher, stints on the 15-day DL happen that alter a team's rotation. Zach Eflin may not be ready by the time someone hits the disabled list.

2. What advice would you give one Phillies player?

Brock Stassi should reach out to Greg Gross, Del Unser and Lenny Harris and pick their brains about what it takes to be a successful pinch-hitter in NL -- prep, mindset. If he develops that skill to go with a good glove, he could stick around a while.

Maikel Franco should be in Howie Kendrick's ear, asking questions about his approach as well as those of his former teammates like Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. Franco could learn a lot from Kendrick, a guy who's racked up almost 1,500 hits by thinking up the middle.

Cesar Hernandez needs to carry the confidence of his spring training into the regular season, specifically the baserunning. He was 6 for 6 in stolen bases during spring training. If he's figured out how to weaponize his speed, look out.

3. Who will be the first Phillie traded?

Jeremy Hellickson doesn't fit long term into the rebuild and the Phils have starting pitching depth. The Phils need him to pitch well, but will probably still have to eat some of $17 million.

Michael Saunders. The Phillies have Aaron Altherr with Nick Williams and Roman Quinn not far behind. Saunders has a contract will look quite team-friendly if he hits in the first half the way he did last season. He's due $8 million in 2017 and has a $10.5 million club option for 2018, so a team could get 1 1/2 seasons of him or just a half-season. If he has 16 homers at the All-Star break, someone will come calling.

Howie Kendrick is as good a candidate as anyone. The Phillies have other guys fighting for run on the major-league team. Don't be surprised if he's moved to make room for more Aaron Altherr at-bats or a Roman Quinn or Nick Williams promotion.

4. Who will be the next Phillie to sign an extension?

Does Manny Machado count? If not, I like Eick.

Agree, Jerad Eickhoff. He's been so solid so far, has shown no signs of wearing down and there's no type of health risk that sticks out. He's built like a 200-inning-per-year pitcher in the John Lackey mold. As long as he keeps it up, he'll be rewarded by the Phillies.

Clean sweep. It doesn't have to be Jerad Eickhoff. But let's be real ... it should be Eickhoff. 

5. Will Cesar Hernandez reach 30 steals?

He will go into the final day of the season with 29 and get caught leaning.

I'm going under. Vegas set it at 25.5 for Hernandez, and I think he finishes with just about 25. He went 17 for 30 last season, a very rare feat of inefficiency. You figure he'll be better this season as he gets more acclimated to pitchers' times to home plate and their pickoff move, but I don't see a 13-steal uptick.

I mean, he better. Hard to envision him having a successful season if he can't swipe 30. 

6. Which offseason addition will make the biggest impact?

Matt Stairs. Born to be a hitting coach. He will help some guys.

Howie Kendrick. I get the hesitancy from Phillies fans to believe he'll move the needle at all, but prior to last season, he was a mortal lock for a .290-plus batting average. He doesn't walk a ton, he doesn't hit a ton of extra-base hits, but he's a solid, Martin Prado-like bat.

Joaquin Benoit. The Phillies desperately need bullpen stability. He's there as a safety net in case Jeanmar Gomez isn't ready to save 37 games again or picks up where he left off at the end of last season.

7. Who is the prospect you're most eager to follow this season?

I already have Sixto Sanchez alerts on my phone. The Phils have quantity of prospects in minors. He's the one with real star power.

Mark Appel just because this is really make-or-break time for the 2013 first overall pick. Last year was basically a lost year for Appel, who made only eight starts before needing elbow surgery. There is no longer prospect luster on Appel. Now he needs to work his way up or work his way out.

Roman Quinn. If he can stay healthy, he's the guy I can see gaining the most fans quickly because of the way he plays the game. Yes, "the right way."

8. Who will be the Phillies' leader in saves?

Jeanmar Gomez will have another good run and lead the team in saves even though Hector Neris will take over the role at some point.

Hector Neris. I see Gomez keeping the job for about six weeks, then losing it Joaquin Benoit, who the Phillies showcase as a setup man-closer combo ahead of the trade deadline. Benoit pitches well, gets moved, Neris moves into the role and finishes with about 20 saves to lead the team.

Last season, I said Jeanmar Gomez and was correct. This year, I will say Hector Neris and probably be wrong. But I'm not afraid to be wrong, clearly.

9. What will the Phillies' average game time be?

2:55, but I hope I'm heavy.

3:02. I think the league average is around 2:56.

3:10 but I'm praying for Ricky Bo's sake they're all under 2:45.

10. How many wins?

75-87. They will be better, but runs are still a concern and division is better.

76-86. They won 71 games last year and should unquestionably be better this season -- better lineup, better bullpen, a lot of prospects on the cusp. But I can't give them a 10-win upgrade to get to .500 because they were a bit lucky last season. The 2016 Phillies were 28-23 in one-run games, one of only two teams in the majors to finish under .500 overall but over .500 in one-run contests. (The D-backs were the other.)

79-83. I'm being optimistic the starting pitching keeps them in games and a couple of hitters take huge steps forward.

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Phils aim for first sweep of the season

Phillies (8-9) vs. Braves (6-11)
1:35 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies and Braves played quite the game Saturday night. 

The teams went back and forth in the final two innings, culminating in Maikel Franco's walk-off single. What do the they have in store for Sunday? Zach Eflin will take the hill for the Phillies opposite Mike Foltynewicz, a matchup of developing right-handers in their 20s.

Here are five things to know for Sunday's game.

1. Eflin back to form
Promoted to the majors at the beginning of the week, Eflin looked back to form in his first MLB start of 2017.

Eflin had the unfortunate problem of needing to rehab two knee surgeries this offseason, but clearly has not lost much in terms of his stuff. He looked a lot like the Eflin who produced five quality starts in a stretch of six appearances last summer, not the one who gave up 20 runs in his last 13 innings.

While he threw just five innings against the Mets, he limited New York to just two runs while working around six baserunners. Both runs came in the first inning and he retired 13 of his last 15 batters faced. 

The 23-year-old righty lives off his low-90s fastball and sinker while mixing in a slider and curveball. He was sinker heavy in his first start of 2017 and it was effective at Citi Field.

One of his best starts last season came against the Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Eflin needed just 92 pitches to throw a six-hit complete game with just one earned run allowed, a solo homer by Ender Inciarte. He didn't walk any Braves batters and struck out six in a quick game (2:08 in duration). Atlanta slugger Freddie Freeman went 0 for 3 with a strikeout and no batter got more than one hit.

2. Foltynewicz vs. the Phils
Foltynewicz hasn't had an ideal start to the season. His first start came in inclement weather vs. the Pirates, then he had to come out of the bullpen with a series of off days, which allowed the Braves to skip their fifth starter.

His most recent appearance came back in the rotation on Tuesday and he held his own against the Nationals, who were without a few key veterans but still had Max Scherzer on the hill. Foltynewicz held the Nats the just two runs over seven innings, scattering nine baserunners while striking out three batters. He walked four batters and has a paltry 8/7 K-BB ratio this year. 

In his three seasons with the Braves, the 25-year-old righty has a sub-optimal 4.85 ERA over 222 2/3 innings. However, his ERA got much better from 2015 to 16 (5.71 to 4.31) and his 4.26 ERA thus far in 2017 isn't half bad. 

Foltynewicz lives off his mid-90s fastball that has touched 97 this season. He mixes in a slider that draws a lot of groundballs, a sinker and a changeup. His velocity is down a little this season, which could explain his poor strikeout rate.

Folynewicz is 2-1 in four appearances against the Phillies in his career but has a 6.00 ERA, allowing five homers and 12 runs in 18 innings. Franco and Tommy Joseph each have one of those home runs while Odubel Herrera has three hits off the right-hander.

3. Ryan Howard: Braves minor leaguer
Believe it or not, Ryan Howard could be playing for another NL East team this year. The former Phillies slugger made his debut Saturday night for the Gwinnett Braves, Atlanta's Triple A affiliate. 

Howard had himself quite a night, going 2 for 2 with two singles, an RBI, a hit-by-pitch and a walk, which was intentional. For someone signed so recently to a minor-league pact, it was an encouraging showing, although it's unlikely he'll be called up anytime soon.

There are two major obstacles to Howard making it back to the show with the Braves. The first is Freddie Freeman. With Freeman, the Braves already have a lefty slugger at first base for the foreseeable future. The other issue is Howard isn't on the Braves' 40-man roster. Atlanta has little incentive to add Howard to its 40-man because they're in full rebuild mode and need to prioritize their prospects.

Still, there may be something left in the tank for Howard. He still hit 20 home runs last season and was quite effective in the second half, particularly as a platoon bat. Even if the Braves ultimately don't need Howard, his opportunity in Gwinnett is a chance to audition for other teams as well. Veterans on minor-league deals often have opt-outs or could be granted their release if another team shows interest. 

If you're curious, Howard doesn't play Lehigh Valley, the Phillies' Triple A affiliate, until July 17-19 and doesn't play in Lehigh Valley until a week later.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis struck out twice on Saturday, but he also extended his hitting streak to six games with a double. It was just his second extra-base hit since April 7.

Braves: Freddie Freeman has raised his average to .400 on the season. His .400/.507/.850 batting line won't last, but he looks to have brought his game to another level this year.

5. This and that
• The Phillies are on a three-game winning streak, including two straight over the Braves. Despite finishing ahead of Atlanta in the standings in 2016, the Phillies lost their last seven games vs. the Braves last season.

• The Phils have won two extra-inning games in the last five days. They haven't done that since April 17 and 20 of last season.

• Aaron Altherr has a six-game hitting streak going and has raised his average to .379. He has doubled in consecutive games and has two hits in three straight games. For good measure, he's added stolen bases in two of Phillies' last three games.

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff

Hurts so good: Phillies win third straight with a wacky walkoff


Brock Stassi's toe hurt.
Maikel Franco's ribs and head hurt.
Pain never felt so good.
The Phillies pulled off their most dramatic win of the young season when they rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to beat the Atlanta Braves, 4-3, at chilly Citizens Bank Park on Saturday night (see Instant Replay).
Franco completed a three-RBI night when he smacked a two-out, two-run, bases-loaded single to right to give the Phillies the walk-off win. It was the Phillies' third straight win and fifth in the last seven games as they improved to 8-9 with a chance to sweep a series and even their record at .500 on Sunday afternoon.
Franco will be in the lineup.
But he might need a couple of Advil to get going.
After his game-winning hit, Franco was hilariously chased into right field by his euphoric teammates. The Phillies third baseman absorbed a beat down with Andres Blanco delivering a blow to the top of Franco's head.
"You see that -- boom!" Blanco said in the happy clubhouse after that game.  
Franco did more than see it.

He felt it.
"Whitey got me," he said, laughing and pointing to his head and ribs. "My body is screaming right now."
Across the clubhouse, Stassi was feeling Franco's pain. His foot got stepped on during the happy scrum.
"My toe is killing me," he said with a laugh.
Stassi, too, might need an Advil before Sunday's game. He has a good chance to be in the lineup at first base because Tommy Joseph seems like a candidate for a day off after a tough night. Joseph made a costly throwing error in the top of the 10th inning that helped the Braves take a 3-2 lead.
Stassi helped rescue the Phillies from that deficit. His 10th inning single was the first of three one-out hits that the Phils collected against Braves' closer Jim Johnson. With the bases loaded, Johnson made Odubel Herrera look bad with a swinging strikeout for the second out. That brought up Franco. New hitting coach Matt Stairs is constantly encouraging Franco to use the whole field and that's just what the cleanup man did in lacing a liner to the warning track in right.

"To right field! How 'bout that," manager Pete Mackanin said.
It was Franco's second single of the night. He would have been awarded a game-winning double if he had reached second base. But, alas, he was chased into right field.
In the clubhouse after the game, Franco was told by a club official that he could have had a double had he touched second.
Franco's eyes widened in disbelief.
"Ah, Mikey!" he said, scolding himself.
Then he laughed.
Across the clubhouse, Joseph could laugh about the miscue that saw him throw to an empty third base after a sacrifice bunt in the 10th. With everything moving fast, he mistook shortstop Freddy Galvis for a baserunner as Galvis streaked to cover third.
Joseph's error put a man on third and the Braves scored the go-ahead run on an infield hit.
The ironic part about Joseph's error was the Phillies played excellent defense -- Herrera and Aaron Altherr made great catches in the outfield and Galvis was Galvis at short -- until the 10th.
They pitched well, too, from starter Jerad Eickhoff's five innings of one-run ball to the stingy relief work of Joely Rodriguez, Luis Garcia and Pat Neshek. They teamed on three shutout innings.
With his top late-game tandem of Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris in need of a night off, Mackanin asked Edubray Ramos to close it out. Ramos struck out the first two batters in the ninth and was one out away from his first big-league save when Brandon Phillips unloaded on a hanging slider to tie the game at 2-2.
Ramos rebounded and got the final out of the inning. As he walked off the field, he covered his mouth with his glove and shouted. Best guess: He said a naughty word. But ultimately his teammates got him off the hook. Parts of it were pretty. Parts of it were ugly. But when the night was over, the Phillies had a win.
"It was really a wacky game," manager Pete Mackanin said. "We played well overall, then there was a flurry of activity at the end."
Mackanin reached for a bottle of water.
"I'm going to drink more of this Smart Water," he said. "It's a happy day."