ben lively

Phillies-Athletics thoughts: Facing a poor man's Rhys Hoskins

Phillies-Athletics thoughts: Facing a poor man's Rhys Hoskins

Phillies (57-90) vs. Athletics (65-82)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' three-game winning streak came to an abrupt end on Friday night. Daniel Mengden and the Athletics took down the Phils in a 4-0 game as J.P. Crawford was the only hitter to reach base. 

Looking to get back in the win column, the Phillies toss out Ben Lively against Kendall Graveman on Saturday night. Here are some thoughts to ponder before first pitch:

• This isn't very revolutionary, but it usually helps to have more than two hits. After pulverizing the Marlins for three nights with hit after hit, coming up with just two hits against a team that came in with a 4.81 team ERA is embarrassing. The Phillies have been outscored plenty of times this year (90 times to be exact), but this type of game has been the exception and not the rule, especially since Rhys Hoskins came along.

• Speaking of Hoskins, there isn't too much to say about him that hasn't already been said about Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger this year and Mark McGwire 30 years ago. Guys just don't come into the league mashing like this. 

Perhaps the best stat to show Hoskins' ridiculous start is his line against left-handed pitching: In 37 plate appearances, he's gone 6 for 25 with 11 walks, 1 HBP and just five strikeouts. Oh yeah, all six hits are home runs. That means he's gone 0 for 14 on balls in play but still has an OPS of 1.446. That's ... unreal. 

• It gets lost in the Hoskins-mania but Nick Williams has been quite good as well. His walk and strikeout rates are both slightly better than his Triple-A numbers and he's hitting .296/.350/.496. He certainly strikes out more than Hoskins and hits fewer home runs, but he's still an exciting young player on this roster. 

He's had issues in the outfield, but that's mostly occurred when he's played out of position in centerfield. Put him in right and he should be fine moving forward. 

• Lively has been a throwback to pitchers of old this year. As strikeouts become the name of the game, a guy who fans only 14.4 percent of batters and relies on balls in play, particularly plenty of flyballs, tend to be phased out. But as he did at the minor league level, he's induced plenty of weak content, keeping a lot of pop-ups near the infield.

He's given the Phillies length in nearly every outing and has given them a chance to win outside of a poor start against the defending champion Cubs. His last time out, the 25-year-old righty held a potent Nationals lineup to just three runs in eight innings while striking out seven, one shy of his career-best. 

• Graveman joined the Athletics in the ill-conceived trade that sent Josh Donaldson to Toronto. He's been a fairly average starter for the Athletics. Like Lively, he allows a lot of balls in play but has still been fairly successful. How? The opposite way of Lively: Plenty of groundballs. 

He keeps the ball on the ground with a heavy dose of his 94-mph sinker while also turning to a cutter, curveball and changeup. He's never faced the Phillies before and only Hyun Soo Kim (1 for 3) has faced him before. The Phils have to hope they'll have more success against this unknown for them than they did with his rotation mate on Friday.

• While Mengden and his mustache were the story on Friday, Matt Olson also gave the Phillies a dose of what he's been doing in recent weeks. The rookie has essentially been a left-handed poor man's Rhys Hoskins, drilling 19 home runs in 184 PAs. 

His stance starts with his hands and bat essentially over home plate and somehow he makes it work with a non-absurd strikeout rate considering the amount of movement in his swing. He's gotten zero attention because he's in Oakland and comes after Hoskins, Bellinger and Judge already lit the majors on fire in their first taste. It's no longer that insane to see a player do this in their first sample of the majors.

• After Friday night, the A's have now won seven of nine and are playing some of their best baseball. They aren't a good team, as their record would suggest, but their offense is showing some life recently, particularly since Olson started to take off.  

• Their bullpen is still very beatable. Santiago Casilla was removed from the closer role for a reason. Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle were both traded to Washington. And new closer Blake Treinen throws an upper-90s sinker that makes teams fawn over his potential, but he still has blown three saves in 10 opportunities.

• Before this series, the Phillies last played the A's in 2014, losing two of three in Oakland that September. The Phils are 7-9 vs. the Athletics all-time. The two teams, of course, used to share Philadelphia before the A's moved to Kansas City in 1955. 

Today's Lineup: Maikel Franco moves to first base; Aaron Altherr back starting

Today's Lineup: Maikel Franco moves to first base; Aaron Altherr back starting

Sunday's Phillies lineup for the series finale in D.C. at Nationals Park is quite an interesting one, to say the least.

Could it be a glimpse into the plans for 2018?

Maikel Franco will make just his eighth career appearance at first base, J.P. Crawford is back at third base and Aaron Altherr makes his first start since coming off the disabled list this afternoon vs. the Nats.

Franco, who's batting fifth today, has not started at first base since June 24, 2015, when he started the second of two straight games there during interleague play against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin wants to get Crawford, batting eighth today, as many at bats as possible, but Franco did go 2 for 4 with a home run last night and has hit safely in 11 of his last 14 games. In that span, Franco has hit .275 with four doubles, three homers, 6 RBIs and 10 runs scored. Franco's average is still just .226 on the season, but there is a reason to keep his bat in the lineup with the way he's swung it over the last two weeks or so.

That means Crawford's playing time will come today at the expense of Tommy Joseph, who's just 6 for his last 34 at the plate, a .176 average in that span.

Altherr, who's hitting .285 on the season with 16 homers and 49 RBIs and been the Phillies' best hitter this season this side of Rhys Hoskins, starts in center today in place of Odubel Herrera. It marks Altherr's first start since Aug. 4 in Colorado when he reaggravated his hamstring injury. He appeared in a defensive replacement role in last night's win, but he didn't record an at-bat. He'll bat sixth today.

And, yes, of course, Hoskins will be back in the lineup after going yard last night for the 14th time this season. He'll be in left and bat clean-up.

Rookie Ben Lively gets the start for the Phils. The 25-year-old is 3-5 on the season with a 3.92 ERA and is coming off a stellar performance last week in New York vs. the Mets. He hurled seven innings of one-run ball and even drilled his first career homer in a 9-1 victory.

He'll be opposed by Nats star fireballer Stephen Strasburg, who enters today's contest with a 12-4 record and a 2.78 ERA. He's just been exceptional this season and has proved it against the Phils in three starts. He ended up with a no-decision while giving up three runs over seven innings in a 4-3 Phils win on April 9. He ended up with another no-decision after seven innings of two-run ball in an eventual Nats win on April 14. He wasn't his sharpest on May 5 but earned a win after 5 2/3 innings of shutout ball.

Both teams' full lineups for today's series finale can be found below:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Maikel Franco, 1B
6. Aaron Altherr, CF
7. Jorge Alfaro, C
8. J.P. Crawford, 3B
9. Ben Lively, SP

Nationals
1. Trea Turner, SS
2. Adrian Sanchez, 3B
3. Wilmer Difo, 2B
4. Adam Lind, 1B
5. Victor Robles, CF
6. Andrew Stevenson, LF
7. Pedro Severino, C
8. Rafael Bautista, RF
9. Stephen Strasburg, SP

Youngsters help Phillies steamroll Jacob deGrom, Mets at Citi Field

Youngsters help Phillies steamroll Jacob deGrom, Mets at Citi Field

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK — Ben Lively crashed J.P. Crawford's coming-out party Tuesday night and no one had a problem with it.

Lively pitched seven innings of one-run ball and drove in four runs with a two-run single and a swing-hard-and-something-good-might-happen, two-run home run to lead the Phillies to a 9-1 victory over the New York Mets at Citi Field (see observations).

Both of Lively's big hits came against Jacob deGrom, who has been an absolute beast against the Phillies for much of his career. The hard-throwing, floppy-haired right-hander entered the game with a 6-0 record and a 2.10 ERA in 10 career starts against the Phillies, including 2-0 with a 1.37 ERA in three starts this year.

It all changed Tuesday night. DeGrom gave up 10 hits and a career-high nine runs (three were unearned) in 3 2/3 innings, the second-shortest outing of his career. And this was after striking out the side in the first inning.

"It's nice to beat deGrom," manager Pete Mackanin said. "If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best."

Though the Phillies entered the game with the worst record in the majors — watch out, the San Francisco Giants are gaining in the race for the No. 1 draft pick — this was still a satisfying win.

"This was a unique game in that every player on the team, including the pitcher, scored at least one run and had a hit," Mackanin said. "That was kind of neat."

The game also offered a potential glimpse of the future. With the highly touted Crawford having arrived earlier in the day (see story), the Phillies' starting lineup featured five players, Lively included, who opened the season at Triple A and are considered building blocks for the future. They all contributed:

Lively, of course, did it with his arm and his bat.

Rhys Hoskins had a single, a double and two walks to run his on-base percentage to .436 in 26 games.

Nick Williams had a three-run double, giving him 38 RBIs since coming up on June 30.

Catcher Jorge Alfaro had three hits to raise his batting average to .362 in 58 at-bats.

And, on his first night in the majors, the 22-year-old Crawford contributed, as well. He had his first big-league hit, scored a run and made a couple of nice plays at third base.

"These guys, great teammates, made me feel welcome from the get-go," Crawford said. "Right when I got here they made me feel at home and I can't thank them enough to kind of settle down the nerves before the game and just have fun out there.

"It was a dream come true. Stepping onto the field, looking around, I thought to myself, like, man, I'm really here. I've been working on it for so long. Just to finally live the dream. I can't wait to get started."

Crawford is a shortstop by trade and likely is the Phillies' shortstop of the future. But for now, he is getting reps at third base as Maikel Franco and his .223 batting average and .278 on-base percentage take a seat. Mackanin said Crawford would likely be back at third base on Wednesday night as the Phillies look for players that will make them better in the future.

The players involved in Tuesday night's win thought they provided a little peek at the future.

"Definitely," Crawford said. "We've been talking about that since Double A. Just to be here in this moment with everyone together, back together and hopefully sooner or later everyone comes back and stays healthy and we can do some damage later on."

Surrounded by players he'd been with in the minors, Lively was overwhelmed by a feeling of what might be down the road.

"Absolutely," he said. "You can't deny that. Having J.P. up here, I told him it fired me up having him hand me the ball from third base. It's awesome."

"It's nice to see a lot of young guys in the lineup," Mackanin said. "Every little bit helps. It gives everybody a little spurt of energy going down the stretch. It's nice to see. The guys swung the bats well. They played a good game."

Ironically, no one swung the bat better than Lively. He had zero hits in 16 Triple A at-bats this season and last and now has six hits, including two homers, in 21 big-league at-bats this season.

"I still laugh about not having a hit in Triple A," he said. "It's pretty funny. I hit pretty good in high school and had a couple of schools look at me as a third baseman, but the pitching route has worked out pretty well."

Lively's two-run homer in the fourth came against a deGrom slider and cleared the wall in right-center.

"I hit it pretty good," the rookie pitcher said with a laugh. "Right when I hit it I was like, 'Ooh, that's hit pretty good.'"

As much as Mackanin liked the home run, he liked this more: Lively delivered his eighth quality start (six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs) in 11 outings.

"He's just a battler," Mackanin said. "He's a true competitor. He wants to win. He wants to be good. He goes right after hitters. He doesn't screw around with them. He gives it his best shot. He takes his chances. That's what I like."