Cole Hamels hits on the issues: Team chemistry

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Cole Hamels hits on the issues: Team chemistry

Cole Hamels sat down Monday with CSNPhilly.com for an extensive interview covering a wide range of topics. Here is the first part of our week-long series:

In five of his first six major league seasons, Cole Hamels experienced the thrill of postseason baseball.

But he and his Phillies teammates have spent the last two Octobers at home.

“It’s been miserable,” Hamels said Monday. “I don’t even want to watch the postseason. I want to be part of it.”

In two weeks, Hamels and his teammates will assemble in Clearwater, Fla., to begin their quest to return to the playoffs after two disappointing seasons, the last of which resulted in just 73 wins (the team’s fewest since 2000) and the firing of manager Charlie Manuel.

Want to feel old? Hamels turned 30 last month. And though he’s still younger than many of his teammates, he knows his baseball clock is ticking. He also knows the clock is ticking on this team and that management could concede to a rebuilding effort by midseason 2014 if the club is not in contention.

Hamels says he wants no part of that.

“It will probably be reiterated early in spring training and during the season that we really do have to make it because we don’t want to break it,” Hamels said.

In his first interview of the New Year, Hamels spoke with CSNPhilly.com about a number of topics Monday, including the team’s performance in 2013, clubhouse chemistry and the possibility of rebuilding.

Of course, this wasn’t the first time Hamels commented on these topics. He spoke about all three -- and not in positive tones -- in the December issue of Philadelphia magazine.

Hamels took on the issues again Monday.

In fact, he raised the issue of clubhouse chemistry.

The last two seasons “definitely caused some frustrations in the whole team morale,” Hamels said.

He mentioned the firing of Manuel, the number of injuries, and the losing as leading to frustrations and morale problems.

“You have a lot of guys coming in and out and we didn’t know how to handle it,” Hamels said. “I think that was kind of the case. A lot of us had been winning, a lot of us were new, and all we knew was winning, so it was a different sort of perspective for a lot of us that we had to deal with.”

Hamels was asked whether the chemistry issues were a matter of the players not liking each other or the players not liking losing.

“It was not liking losing,” he said. “I think we all get along very well and we’ve done it for numerous years, so I think it was just the losing and not knowing how to handle losing.

“I know that definitely shows a lot about your character when you get a bunch of guys together that aren’t used to losing. Things didn’t go well. So I think that’s something where we know what we have to do in taking the right steps in the right direction.

“I think spring training is going to be a lot more about us functioning as a group together and kind of bringing that camaraderie.”

Hamels was asked whether he believed addressing chemistry would be manager Ryne Sandberg’s first order of business this spring.

“I think so,” Hamels said. “He probably has a laundry list, which I think any guy would, but I think chemistry and getting everybody to get back [together] because we’ve been far apart because we haven’t been on the field. Now that we’re all on the same field, it’s almost like a reunion. We need to almost relearn how guys function and the cliques and what guys are talking about.

“We’re showing signs of it this offseason. Guys are staying more in touch this offseason and that will help.”

The Phillies finished third from the bottom in the NL with just 610 runs (3.77 per game) in 2013. That had some impact on Hamels as poor run support contributed to his career-high 14 losses.

Hamels was quoted in Philadelphia magazine as saying the team’s hitting “sucked.” It’s difficult to argue with that assessment, but still, one has to wonder whether Hamels might have to do some smoothing over with the hitters in spring training.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think a lot of the hitters understood that was not the only quote that was misinterpreted.

“I didn’t pitch well. The relievers weren’t doing a good job. I think we made the most errors we’ve made in a long time. So it was a whole team idea. I think we all understand what our job is and how we need to focus on making it better.

“So I think [teammates] know me pretty well that when things are talked about, they know the whole picture or what was said as opposed to just one thing. I’ve seen a lot of them recently -- they all didn’t think anything about it.”

Hamels seemed to second-guess management in the magazine article when he said you have to know when to start over. That was a reference to rebuilding, a concept the Phillies have stiff-armed.

In Monday’s interview, Hamels was asked if he believed it was time for the Phillies to rebuild.

“I don’t necessarily think so because we have our guys,” he said. “It’s kind of our last leg with a lot of us, so I think it’s a matter of having guys realize that this is the last couple moments of greatness that we have.

“We need to keep it going for as long as we possibly can. There is going to be a point where it does end, but make it on our time, not on somebody else’s time. Make it harder for their decision as opposed to us letting them make that decision a no-brain sort of idea.

“I think that’s where we are. We’re starting to come together to really understand that baseball doesn’t last forever for us individually, but it lasts forever for the city of Philadelphia and it lasts forever for these fans, so we have to make it that we’re something special for these fans.”

If the Phillies are playing poorly at midseason 2014, management could look to begin a rebuilding effort. That could mean several core players will be made available in trades. Could Hamels be one of them? Anything is possible, but management identified him as a player it wanted to build around when it signed him to a $144 million contract extension in July 2012. That could mean Hamels stays as a foundation piece of future clubs.

Cliff Lee, on the other hand, could be dealt if the Phillies falter in the first half of 2014.

Hamels doesn’t want to see that happen.

That’s why a quick start is important for this club.

“I know we’re very good at finishing strong, but at the same time you don’t want to be chasing,” Hamels said. “So we do [have to play well early] because I don’t want to be playing against Cliff Lee. He’s a tremendous pitcher. And I’d hate to be playing against some of the other guys on our team.

“It’s ultimately up to us to make it happen.”

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies (70-86) at Braves (63-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After losing by three possessions on Sunday and getting an off day Monday to think about it, the Phillies are back in action Tuesday night to begin their final road series of 2016.

Let's take a look:

1. The finish line nears
Forty-nine down, two to go. The Phillies have just two series left this season, a three-gamer in Atlanta and then a set with the Mets at home to close it out. 

The Phils have a series record of 18-25-6. They have just six series wins in 21 tries since the All-Star break (6-12-3). 

The Phillies and Braves have played seven times in the second half and the Phils are 2-5 — they split a four-game series July 28-31 in Atlanta and were swept at home Sept. 2-4.

With 70 wins, the Phillies have already beaten their over-under by four victories. If they manage to split these final six games, they'll finish 10 games better than they did in 2015.

The Braves, meanwhile, will avoid 100 losses. That didn't look possible when they were 33-66 and on pace for 109 losses. But Atlanta has been much better the last six weeks, especially offensively.

2. Freeman's monstrous year
Whether it was the addition of Matt Kemp or just regression to his true talent level, Freddie Freeman has been a force of nature this summer.

Freeman started slowly. Through June 12, he was hitting .242 with a .750 OPS in 61 games. Since then? He's hit .347/.445/.673 with 33 doubles, five triples, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 91 games. The Braves are just three games under .500 over that span at 44-47.

It's pretty amazing that Freeman has had an MVP-caliber season in a lineup that offers so little protection. This has been the best year of his seven-year career. In 669 plate appearances, he's hit .305/.402/.570 with 43 doubles, six triples, 32 homers and 87 RBIs. He's also walked 86 times. 

Freeman's best work this year has come against the Phillies. In 16 games, he's gone 22 for 60 (.367) with a .449 OBP, five doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs.

3. The push toward 200
Jerad Eickhoff makes his 32nd start of the season tonight and will likely have one more on the final day. He enters tonight's game with 187⅓ innings pitched, 12⅔ shy of the 200-inning benchmark every pitcher seeks.

Eickhoff said early in the summer that 200 innings would be meaningful to him and acknowledged it just sounds different than 195. It's taken health, stamina and consistency for Eickhoff to get to this point at age 26 in his first full big-league season.

Eickhoff (11-14, 3.75 ERA) has made six consecutive quality starts. He's steadied the Phillies' rotation for four months now. Since May 22, Eickhoff is 10-8 with a 3.52 ERA, but if you remove the one dreadful outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, his ERA over that span is 3.13. He very well could be the opening day starter in 2017.

Eickhoff has faced the Braves five times in his career and gone 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. 

Freeman is 5 for 14 against him with a double and a homer, but all other active Braves have hit a combined .209 with no extra-base hits in more than 75 plate appearances.

Eickhoff won't have to deal with Kemp, who has been hot lately but is out of Tuesday's lineup.

4. Last look at Teheran
The Phillies take on talented Braves right-hander Julio Teheran for the third time this season and 15th time in his six-year career.

Could it be their last time seeing him in an Atlanta uniform? That's always a possibility for the rebuilding Braves with Teheran, who has long been an intriguing trade candidate. A 25-year-old with a 3.37 career ERA and one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball, Teheran figures to have immense trade value this offseason. He's due $31 million over the next three seasons in a sport where pitchers half as talented now earn similar average annual salaries.

If Teheran is eventually dealt for a package of prospects, the Phillies won't be sad to see him go. He's 7-4 with a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just five home runs to them in 89⅔ career innings. His starts against the Phillies the last three years have been even better: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 13 walks, one homer allowed in 71 innings.

His last time out, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings to the Mets but struck out only one batter. He hasn't missed many bats lately, generating just three swings-and-misses in his last start and six two outings before that.

Teheran has five pitches but mostly uses a four-seam fastball/slider combination. When he last faced the Phillies on Sept. 4, 90 of his 119 pitches were four-seamers or sliders.

Current Phillies have hit .219 collectively against Teheran in 169 at-bats. Freddy Galvis has seen him the best, going 7 for 18 (all singles) with three walks. Ryan Howard has two doubles and two solo homers off Teheran in 26 ABs.

5. This and that
• File this one under stats nobody would have predicted: The Braves have the highest on-base percentage in the majors since the All-Star break at .346. The Phillies are fifth-worst at .306.

• In 50 games with Atlanta, Kemp has hit .287/.341/.508 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. He had 16 walks in 100 games with the Padres and has 18 in half as many games with the Braves. His poor defense has still made him a net negative player this season (if you believe in WAR), but the Braves are 26-24 since acquiring him.

• If the season ended today, the Phillies would have the ninth pick in next June's draft. Based on the records of the teams around them, they are a near lock to pick either 8th, 9th or 10th.

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