Sloppy Phillies crushed in loss to Cardinals

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Sloppy Phillies crushed in loss to Cardinals

BOX SCORE

ST. LOUIS -- In what is becoming an all-too-familiar pose, Charlie Manuel sat behind the desk in the visiting manager’s office at Busch Stadium late Wednesday night with a grim look on his face.

He had just watched his team suffer its fourth straight defeat, an unsightly 11-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in which the Phillies, despite not making an error, kicked the ball over the field (see Instant Replay). After the game, the door to Manuel’s office remained closed for a while as the skipper spoke with general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.

Amaro declined comment after his closed-door chat, leaving Manuel to sum things up.

“It was kind of an ugly game,” he said dejectedly. “It seemed like everything we did wasn’t good. We’d drop a ball, the next guy would get a hit. All kinds of stuff happened.

“We were definitely trying, but things just started snowballing and going bad for us. We played a bad game.”

A week before the trade deadline, the Phillies need to be racking up wins if they are to dissuade management from raising the white flag and selling off pieces. It might already be too late. The Phils are back to three games under .500 and have fallen eight games behind first-place Atlanta in the NL East. Even if the Phils were to add talent, it would just be a player or two, probably a reliever and a backup outfielder. That probably wouldn’t be enough to rescue this flawed team.

In the meantime, the Phils have another game to play against St. Louis, the majors’ best club, on Thursday night before moving on to play a strong Detroit team on Friday.

The Phils will play at least Thursday night’s game without their top power bat, Domonic Brown (see story).

After winning eight of 11 games to head into the all-star break at .500, the Phils have come back from the break and lost four of five.

Manuel was asked if he was concerned about his ballclub getting down.

“I’m concerned about everything,” he said. “We’ve got some veterans who’ve been around, but at the same time when you play that sloppy, it’s definitely not good. But that’s part of being a major league ballplayer. You don’t get down. You’ve got to play. That’s what it’s all about it.”

The Phils’ sloppy play started early when third baseman Michael Young couldn’t handle a ball toward the line in the second inning. It went for a hit and set up a run. Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both had hits clang off their gloves.

The miscue that hurt most was John Mayberry Jr.’s misplay in the fifth inning. He unwisely dove for a bases-loaded base hit by Shane Robinson. It got by him and went for a three-run triple. Those runs were charged to rookie reliever J.C. Ramirez. It was a tough night for the Phils' young bullpen as Ramirez and Jake Diekman combined to allow seven runs.

Starter John Lannan failed to build on two straight strong starts. He allowed four runs in four innings before leaving for a pinch-hitter.

Lannan allowed 10 base runners. He walked the opposing pitcher, Jake Westbrook, with two outs in the fourth. Westbrook then took advantage of first baseman Darin Ruf’s loose hold and stole second, setting up a run.

“Darin backed up too far and Westbrook got a jump and took off,” Manuel said.

Lannan fell to 2-4 with a 4.13 ERA.

“I didn’t execute the way I needed to,” he said. “You try to limit damage, but I didn’t do that.”

The Cardinals had 16 hits and were 9 for 20 with runners in scoring position.

The Phillies had nine hits, but only one for extra bases and they were 2 for 10 with runners in scoring position.

At a time when the Phils desperately need wins, they have scored just four runs in the last three games.

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

Phillies officially sign outfielder Michael Saunders, DFA Severino Gonzalez

The Phillies on Thursday officially announced the signing of outfielder Michael Saunders to a one-year deal with a club option for 2018. 

According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, is the left-handed hitting outfield bat the Phils were seeking. He hit 24 home runs for the Blue Jays last season in his walk year, making the AL All-Star team before slumping in the second half.

Saunders hit .298/.372/.551 with 16 homers in 82 games for the Blue Jays before the All-Star break, then hit .178/.282/.357 with eight homers in 58 games after.

He had a good year against same-handed pitching, hitting .275 with a .927 OPS and eight homers against lefties. 

He'll likely start in right field for the Phillies, with Odubel Herrera in center and Howie Kendrick in left (see Phils' projected lineup).

It was important to Phillies GM Matt Klentak that the player he signed to fill the spot in the outfield was not going to block young outfielders like Roman Quinn, Nick Williams and others.

On a one-year deal, Saunders came relatively cheap to the Phils, lingering in free agency as other hitters found contracts. In the middle of last summer, Saunders seemed poised for a multi-year contract like the four-year, $52 million deal Josh Reddick signed with the Astros. His second half cost him some money.

To make room on the 40-man roster for Saunders, the Phillies designated right-hander Severino Gonzalez for assignment.

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

Tommy Joseph focused on earning first base job, taking more walks

There was no better story of personal triumph on the Phillies' roster than Tommy Joseph in 2016.

Dumped from the 40-man roster and passed over by 29 other teams on the waiver wire and in the Rule 5 draft in 2015, he reported to minor-league camp with his career on the line last spring.

Two months later, thanks to good health and a molten bat, Joseph's career began to spike upward.

But 4½ months in the big leagues and the promise of a starting job in the majors in 2017 hasn't changed Joseph's outlook or the mindset he will take into spring training camp next month.

He's still going to scrap and claw for everything, just like he did a year ago when he was fighting for his baseball life after a series of concussions put his career in jeopardy.

"I'm preparing the same way I did last winter," Joseph said during an offseason stop at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday.

"The job is not given to me. I still have to win it. I'm not going to walk in and have it. Obviously, it's mine to take and I plan on going in and winning the job."

Joseph, 25, earned a significant slice of the starting first base job last year. But with Ryan Howard, the last piece of the 2008 World Series team, gone, Joseph has a chance to stake an even greater claim to the position in 2017 and establish himself as a serious building block in the Phillies' rebuild.

"Tommy came out of nowhere last year," manager Pete Mackanin said. "There's something to be excited about there. He was off the map and he did enough to warrant a real strong look this year. And hopefully, he can improve and take baby steps toward being a final product."

Joseph pushed himself to the majors and cut into Howard's playing time last season by hitting .347 with six homers, 17 RBIs and a .981 OPS in 27 games at Triple A. He came to the majors in mid-May and hit .257 with 21 homers and 47 RBIs in 107 games. In the fall, Joseph briefly played winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but right wrist tendinitis, now fully healed, cut the stint short.

Joseph's good showing at the plate in 2016 was partly the result of his finding good health. As he recovered from a fifth concussion in the summer of 2015, it was discovered that he had a series of ocular problems. They were addressed through therapy and ... well, it's amazing what a hitter can do when he can see the ball.

This year, Joseph will look to improve in the field. The converted catcher is looking to add quickness around the first base bag and that starts with better footwork. At the urging of bench coach/infield instructor Larry Bowa, Joseph has been jumping rope and doing box drills all winter.

Joseph also wants to improve his approach and mindset at the plate. Though he wants to drive the ball like his size — 235 pounds — and position dictate, he wants to improve his on-base percentage and thus his OPS, on-base plus slugging percentage.

Joseph struck out 75 times and walked just 22 times in 347 plate appearances in 2016 and his on-base percentage was just .308. But over the final month of the season, he made an effort to be more selective at the plate and he recorded a .327 batting average and .406 on-base percentage (while slugging .618) over the final 23 games of the season. He struck out 10 times but walked seven over that span.

"My whole career has been a battle when it comes to walking," Joseph said. "I started to listen and read more what veterans around the league were saying about on-base percentage and OPS. Slugging is important on the corners, but there are times you have to take your walks. It's relevant because the best players in the game have a high OPS."

Joseph needs to improve in this area for a couple of reasons. First, the front office is intent on building a long-term lineup around players who control the strike zone, i.e., those who don't chase bad pitches. And second, the Phils have a legitimate run-producing first base prospect in Rhys Hoskins set to take his game to Triple A in 2017.

Joseph knows all of this and takes nothing for granted.

"The only difference this year will be I'm on the big-league side in spring training, but everything still has to be earned," he said.

The Phillies ranked last in the majors — or "last in the world," as Mackanin said — with just 610 runs scored in 2016. The offseason additions of Howie Kendrick and Michael Saunders should help run production. So, too, should expected improvements from Maikel Franco and Joseph, two players who have the chance to be long-term building blocks.

"We've got guys at the big-league level that I choose to think are going to get better," Mackanin said. "Tommy Joseph is a perfect example."