Phillies finish sweep of Brewers with crazy win

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Phillies finish sweep of Brewers with crazy win

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MILWAUKEE -- The Phillies are still buried in last place in the National League East and they need a high-powered telescope to see the top of the division.

So, nobody of sane mind, or at least nobody who has seen this team play for the past year, will be fooled into thinking that a four-game sweep of the reeling Milwaukee Brewers is about to vault the Phils back into contention. Frankly, it could be a while before this team contends again.

But the road to nowhere can occasionally provide some interesting scenery, and that’s exactly what happened these four days in the land of brats, beer, Bud Selig, Harley-Davidson and Laverne and Shirley.

“Baseball is a funny game,” said Jimmy Rollins, stealing one of Charlie Manuel’s favorite lines. “You hear it a lot and it’s very cliche, but it is. It’s weird. It’s weird.”

The Phillies completed a 10-game trip with a 9-1 win over the Brewers on Thursday (see Instant Replay).

It was what led up to that final outcome that was so weird.

The Phils opened the trip with five losses in the first six games at Miami and Pittsburgh. That dropped them to a season-high 14 games under .500 heading into four games against a Milwaukee club that sported the best record in the National League.

The best against one of the worst.

So, of course, the Phillies swept the Brewers.

The fourth win was indicative of just of how funny a game baseball can be.

The Phils were no-hit for six innings by Milwaukee starter Matt Garza. The right-hander took a two-hit shutout into the eighth inning, and it looked like an almost certain loss for the Phils. That’s how strong Garza’s stranglehold was.

But Phillies starter David Buchanan pitched pretty darn well himself. He kept the game close, and in the eighth inning the Phils improbably rallied for seven runs to take the lead.

The rally was as sudden and strong as a pop-up storm -- a double by Cameron Rupp, a walk by Cesar Hernandez, a groundout. Garza exited for lefty Will Smith as the Brewers turned Rollins from the left side to the right side. Rollins singled in two runs and the Phils never looked back.

The sweep turned a terrible road trip into a .500 road trip.

Yes, the Phillies caught the Brewers at a good time. They are a dreadful 1-8 in July and about to lose their grip on first place in the NL Central.

But the Phils also did a few good things in the series.

Cole Hamels, Roberto Hernandez and Buchanan all pitched gems. The bullpen racked up 8 2/3 scoreless innings in the four games. The bats produced some timely hits as evidenced in that 11-for-29 mark with runners in scoring position during the series.

“These last four games are something we can build on,” manager Ryne Sandberg said. “To see the offense come alive in a four-game series against good pitching is a step in the right direction. These guys have good starting pitching and bullpen. That's a good sign for the group.”

Buchanan allowed just one run over seven innings. Hernandez allowed one run in eight innings the night before. One of these guys is likely to be dropped from the rotation when Cliff Lee comes off the disabled list next week. Both pitchers gave team officials something to think about.

“I just try to go out there every time I can and pitch the best game I can, try to give the team a chance to win,” said Buchanan, who is 5-5 with a 4.40 ERA in 10 starts. “When Cliff comes back, whatever happens, happens. I’ve enjoyed my time here. It’s been a great experience for me. Whatever happens, happens. It’s out of my control.”

“Those are just discussions we’ll have to have,” Sandberg said of the rotation puzzle. “It was a good outing for (Buchanan). It looked like they were having a hard time catching up to him. He had a real good fastball. It was live. He had quality pitches and mixed them well. I thought he was real confident and aggressive.”

Now comes the big question for the Phillies: Can they maintain this level of quality play in their final homestand before the all-star break? The three-game series begins Friday night against Washington.

The Phils are 18-27 at home.

That’s not good.

“At all,” Rollins said.

Sandberg hopes four days of pleasant scenery in Milwaukee, even if it was on the road to nowhere, will carry over at home.

“This series should help with that, with some momentum and the guys swinging the bats,” he said. “The bullpen continues to be solid. There were good components through these four games.”

Rollins at first had no answer for why the Phillies struggle so badly at home.

Then he did.

“Baseball’s a crazy game,” he said. “You just hope it’s good-crazy and not bad-crazy. We’ve had a lot of bad-crazy.”

Thursday was good-crazy.

Today's lineup: Odubel Herrera returns vs. King Felix

Today's lineup: Odubel Herrera returns vs. King Felix

With Mark Leiter, Jr. going for his second straight win as a starter (see today's game notes), Pete Mackanin has kept his batting order pretty much the same from Tuesday's night's win.

But there is one change that will stand out. Odubel Herrera will return to the lineup today for the Phils after getting a breather last night. Prior to the game, Herrera talked about how he needs to play a smarter brand of baseball. But he'll get back in today against Seattle star Felix Hernandez.

Daniel Nava will lead off again and play left field with Freddy Galvis right behind him. The Phils' shortstop went 3 for 5 last night and is hitting over .300 for the month of June.

Howie Kendrick sits this afternoon for the Phillies as Tommy Joseph gets the start as designated hitter. That means that Brock Stassi will play first base instead.

Perhaps Maikel Franco can continue to stay hot from the sixth spot. He's hitting .303 as the team's No. 6 batter and will be there again Wednesday.

Here are both teams' full lineups for today's matinee in the Pacific Northwest:

Phillies
1. Daniel Nava, LF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Aaron Altherr, RF
4. Tommy Joseph, DH
5. Odubel Herrera, CF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Ty Kelly, 2B

Mariners
1. Jean Segura SS
2. Ben Gamel, LF
3. Robinson Cano, 2B
4. Nelson Cruz, DH
5. Kyle Seager, 3B
6. Mitch Haniger, RF
7. Danny Valencia, 1B
8. Jarrod Dyson, CF
9. Mike Zunino, C

Phillies-Mariners 5 Things: Can Mark Leiter, Jr. make it two straight?

Phillies-Mariners 5 Things: Can Mark Leiter, Jr. make it two straight?

Phillies (25-51) at Mariners (39-40)
3:40 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App. Pregame Live begins at 3 p.m.

After a brutal weekend in Arizona, Tuesday night's late rally was something for Phillies fans to smile about — even if it all happened past midnight Eastern time. It was a second straight strong start for Aaron Nola and his third in the month of June, plus the Phils' bats doubled their entire output from the final games against the D-backs.

Now, the question is: can the Phillies win their first interleague series of the season and their first series overall since the first weekend of June?

1. Fool me once...
Through 12 appearances and 19.0 innings of relief work, Mark Leiter, Jr. showed very little. The 2013 22nd-round pick had tallied just a 4.74 ERA, with 14 walks versus only 12 strikeouts.

So last Friday's starting debut in Phoenix came as somewhat of a surprise — Leiter earned a quality start, tossing six shutout innings of three-hit ball with 5 Ks and only one walk against one of the best teams in all of baseball.

Wednesday afternoon, the nephew of two-time All-Star Al Leiter will have a chance to follow up on that performance against another top-10 offense. When Leiter faced Seattle last month in relief duty in Philadelphia, he went 1.1 innings and surrendered just one hit but put a pair of runners on base that eventually came around to score.

Although Leiter's fastball has sat around only about 91mph this season, he's got a pretty decent repertoire of pitches including a plus curveball — a similar style to Nola, who gave the Mariners trouble last night. If Leiter can have another good outing, he might be able to hang around in the rotation longer than initially expected.

2. Bowing down — or not
Félix Hernández has been one of baseball's better hurlers in the last few seasons. He's racked up double-digit wins every season since 2009, had a career-best 2.14 ERA in 2014 en route to Cy Young honors and is still probably Seattle's best starter stuff-wise.

But this season, King Felix has not entirely been himself, going to the DL in late April before returning just last week. And after a sluggish start to the year, he bounced back with one of his better outings — the Astros mustered only three runs on eight hits against Hernández in six innings of work.

What can we expect against the Phils? Well, the only other time he's faced the Phillies was in 2011, when he also gave up three runs in seven frames. 

But want to guess how many players in that lineup are on this team? Right, exactly zero.

3. Franco's big night
Tuesday was only the second time in his last 13 games that Maikel Franco chipped in a multi-hit performance. His .242 batting average this month is well above those of April and May, but obviously it's nowhere near where the Phillies probably hoped he'd be at this point in the season. Last year at this juncture, he was still only hitting .246.

Still, his HR and RBI numbers aren't that far off, and his solo shot sparked the Phils' crucial surge. He's also cutting down on his strikeouts — although he did last night, it was his first since June 17 and only his 12th this month.

Franco has had better success at the plate since moving down in the lineup. Pete Mackanin had the third baseman hitting sixth last night, where he's gone 20 for 66 with a .303 batting average and .803 OPS.

4. Multi-hit madman
You want to know who is the hottest hitter in the Phillies lineup? Yep, it's Freddy Galvis.

He has 15 hits in his last 40 at-bats and is currently batting .301 for the month. This comes after a month of May when the shortstop hit .188 with 17 strikeouts in 96 at-bats.

Tuesday night, Galvis went 3 for 5 with 2 RBI and a run out of the two-hole, and there's no reason to think he's coming down in the order anytime soon.

5. This and that
• Other than Jean Segura's two-run bomb in the third inning, it was an extremely quiet offensive night Tuesday for a Seattle lineup that brings a ton of pop in the heart of its order. The Mariners' top six batters went a combined 2 for 22 with nine strikeouts against Nola, Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris.

• Speaking of Neris, last night's perfect ninth inning was part of what's actually been a pretty solid six-week stretch. Sure, he hasn't been lights out but since May 14, Neris has only given up five earned runs on 13 hits in a total of 15.2 innings of work.

• If you're looking for a glimmer of hope, look no further than Allentown. Scott Kingery's second game with IronPigs might've been better than his first as the second base prospect slugged two home runs for the Triple A club.