It's time for the Phillies to start planning ahead

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It's time for the Phillies to start planning ahead

In nine years as manager of the Phillies, it’s rare that one will ever hear Charlie Manuel call out a player for a mistake by name.

Oh, Manuel will express disappointment with a player -- or tout great play -- behind the scenes. But the Phillies skipper is known for defending his guys. That’s just his style. Manuel is unfailingly positive, and it’s a trait that has endeared him to players across baseball.

However, after Sunday night’s 4-1 loss to the Braves at Citizens Bank Park, Manuel was at a loss for words to the point that he couldn’t come up with a positive spin for the way the fifth inning ended. After John Mayberry Jr. reached on an error to lead off the inning, followed by a five-pitch walk for Carlos Ruiz, it looked as if the Phillies were in business.

But pinch-hitter John McDonald couldn’t get a bunt down, Michael Young struck out and then, inexplicably, Mayberry was picked off second base with Chase Utley waiting for the 2-1 pitch.

Picked off second base with Utley at the plate in a hitter's count? How does that happen?

“You’ll have to talk to him about that because I can’t explain to you how the guy can be holding him on, how he can have a short lead that he doesn’t have what you call a lead at all, and he gets picked off,” Manuel offered. “I’m not throwing him under any bus or nothing like that. That’s what I saw.”

Truth is, Manuel has seen a lot of weirdness like Mayberry’s blunder. Phillies baserunners have been picked off second base five times this season. Two of those pickoffs came as the second out in the ninth inning and twice the pickoff ended innings. Even more odd is the fact that the Phillies have been picked off all the other bases just once this year.

Wonder why the Phillies are having trouble scoring runs this season? Look no further than the lack of focus and concentration. And no, it hasn’t been young players like Darin Ruf or Cody Asche that have been caught napping. Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, Kyle Kendrick, Delmon Young and Mayberry, all veterans, have had the lapses on the bases.

When the margin for error is so small, the Phillies have seemingly run toward trouble. It’s enough to make a manager go crazy.

“That becomes inexcusable,” Manuel said. “When you’re playing like we are now, you’ve got to really be concentrating on staying focused and playing the game right and cutting down and eliminating mistakes. But at the same time, the more that you see mistakes and the more you see somebody keep making mistakes over and over and over and over, that might tell you what kind of player that he is. If I’m going to be responsible, I think other people have to be responsible too, especially the ones that play the game.”

It’s enough to make one wonder how much longer Manuel can continue to watch the Phillies run themselves out of innings and swing at pitchers’ pitches to make outs at times when they are threatening to score. Moreover, how much more of Mayberry, McDonald, Michael Martinez and Delmon Young do we need to see?

With Ruf (left field) and Asche (third base) settled into their positions and All-Star Domonic Brown headed back to the lineup this week, perhaps Manuel will lobby for some wholesale changes to the roster. At Triple A Lehigh Valley, the team has been experimenting with prospect Cesar Hernandez in center field. Infielder Freddy Galvis has also spent some time in the outfield and veteran Josh Fields is an outfielder sporting a .297 batting average and .343 on-base percentage.

At Double A Reading, veteran minor leaguer Jim Murphy has 19 homers and 42 extra-base hits, while outfielder Albert Cartwright has 20 stolen bases, 24 extra-base hits and a .330 on-base percentage.

What’s the hold up? Why is the front office so attached to players like Mayberry, Martinez, McDonald and Delmon Young? Why not get the up-and-comers some experience until Brown, Ryan Howard, Ben Revere and Roy Halladay return?

When the veterans can’t get the job done and the team is going in the tank, maybe it’s time to make some changes. After Sunday’s game it sounded like Manuel was ready for the kids to get a chance.

With 13 losses in the last 14 games and a 17–game deficit in the standings, now is the time to start planning ahead.

“I wish I could sit here and tell you’re we’re way better than that, but that’s what I’m trying to see if they are better than that,” Manuel offered. “You’re looking to see how good players are, I know I am.”

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

Best of MLB: Josh Reddick's big day helps Astros sweep A's

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Josh Reddick homered and scored four runs, Jake Marisnick and Marwin Gonzalez each went deep and the Houston Astros beat the Oakland Athletics 12-9 on Thursday.

The major league-leading Astros completed a four-game sweep with their 10th straight victory in Oakland and their 15th win in 16 games against the A's overall. They've won 12 of their last 14 road games. Their 27-8 record away from home is the best in the majors.

Reddick also doubled, tripled and drew a walk, and Marisnick and Gonzalez each drove in three runs.

David Paulino (2-0) struck out six and gave up three runs, seven hits and two walks. The 23-year-old rookie right-hander struck out five of his first six batters in his sixth career start.

Astros center fielder George Springer left with a left hand contusion after being struck by a fastball from Jesse Hahn (3-5) leading off the game. The ball also grazed Springer's left shoulder. Springer is tied for second in the AL with 21 home runs. His status is day-to-day (see full recap).

Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks blast Rockies
DENVER -- Paul Goldschmidt and Chris Owings hit three-run homers, Zack Godley threw well into the eighth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Thursday.

Goldschmidt finished with three hits and four RBIs to increase his season total to 64, tops in the majors.

Arizona took two of three in the NL West matchup and is now tied with Colorado for second place in the division behind the Dodgers. The Diamondbacks have won 12 of 14 and are a season-high 19 games above .500.

Godley gave up a home run to Charlie Blackmon to lead off the first inning, but shut down the Rockies from there.

Blackmon drew a walk in the third, then Godley erased him with a double-play ball to end the inning. He didn't allow a hit after Nolan Arenado's one-out single in the first and retired 19 of the next 20 batters before Raimel Tapia and Pat Valaika singled and doubled to lead off the eighth.

Godley (3-1) allowed three runs on four hits and struck out eight in seven-plus innings. He also helped himself with an RBI single in the eighth.

The Diamondbacks hit a Colorado rookie pitcher hard for the second straight night. Wednesday they scored 10 runs in the fourth off Jeff Hoffman, and Thursday they battered right-hander Antonio Senzatela (9-3) for nine runs in five innings.

Owings' homer in the third, his ninth, made it 5-1, and Goldschmidt hit his 18th to cap a four-run fourth to make it 9-1 (see full recap).

Knebel sets strikeout mark as Brewers top Pirates
MILWAUKEE -- Corey Knebel broke Arodlis Chapman's modern-era record for most consecutive games by a reliever with a strikeout at a season's start, fanning a batter for the 38th straight game and closing out the Milwaukee Brewers' 4-2 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday.

Knebel struck out Josh Bell on a foul tip leading off the ninth. The 25-year-old right-hander retired Elias Diaz and Andrew McCutchen on popouts, finishing a four-hitter for his 12th save in 15 chances.

Chapman had set the mark since 1900 as part of a streak of 49 games for Cincinnati that began in August 2013 and ended the following August.

Travis Shaw drove in three runs with a homer and two doubles, and he came within inches of a second home run.

Chase Anderson (6-2) allowed two runs and two hits in six innings (see full recap).

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Pete Mackanin 'not pleased' with Odubel Herrera's base-running blunders

Odubel Herrera’s return to the dugout was so slow that home plate umpire Nic Lentz had to clap to speed him along. Herrera obliged, accelerating to an effortless jog until he left Lentz’s sight. Then he went back to a hung head and a crawling pace as he reached the steps. Boos met his ears through it all. 

Herrera was picked off third base by Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the second out of the fourth inning on Thursday. It didn’t matter much as the Phillies beat the Cardinals, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), guided by Aaron Nola’s the best outing in a long time (see story)

However, Herrera made a base-running blunder at the same spot Wednesday night, when he blew through a Juan Samuel stop sign and was out by a mile at home plate to make the final out in the ninth inning of a tie game. And later on Thursday, while on second during a running count and Maikel Franco behind him at first, Herrera didn’t run on the pitch.

These are mistakes any big-leaguer should avoid. And when he’s the only player a team has signed to a long-term deal, which is supposed to last into a new era that involves winning games, the mistakes sting a bit more. 

“I’m not pleased about it,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. 

Had Wednesday night’s gaffe been avoided, maybe the Phillies could have gone on to win. Thursday’s was more embarrassing than damaging. While displeased, Mackanin, who said he thought about giving Herrera Thursday off, understood what happened this time around.

“He was running contact. And when you’re running contact, you’re susceptible to getting picked off by a catcher, especially with a left-handed hitter up,” Mackanin said. “You have to be aware of that. They’re taught to be aware of that. He just didn’t take that first hard step back. And that deters the catcher from throwing to third base. It happened.” 

The Phillies have been picked off eight times this season. Entering Thursday, only four teams had been picked off more. 

The Phillies own a run scoring percentage (percentage of base runners that eventually score) of 28.0, which puts them in the bottom third of the league. While much of that can be attributed to bad bats, mistakes like Herrera’s are not helping the cause. 

At 25, Herrera is still figuring this whole thing out. But he was the Phillies’ only All-Star last year and is supposed to be a consistent presence in the lineup. 

Andres Blanco, on the opposite end of the spectrum, first saw major-league action in 2004, and should be providing a consistent presence in the Phillies’ clubhouse. Yet on Thursday, starting at second base instead of Howie Kendrick, Blanco made a veteran play on the base paths, which felt like the remedy to Herrera’s mental lapses.

In the bottom of the fifth, with two outs and Blanco on second base, Freddy Galvis grounded a ball up the middle. Cardinals shortstop Aledmys Diaz sent an errant flip to second to get the final out, and Blanco was smart enough to round third and score after the ball got loose in the infield. Mackanin called it a heads-up play. 

“That’s the kind of players you’re looking for, the guys that are going to look for those kinds of things to happen,” Mackanin said, “and they don't assume a play is going to be made and assume they might be able to take an extra base.

“He’s a veteran. I’m glad he paid attention.”