Happy Memorial Day weekend. We have arrived at the unofficial start to summer with the Phillies nine games over .500, a half-game out of first place in the National League East, and leading the NL wild-card pack by 1 1/2 games. They have the sixth-best record in baseball and the third-best mark in the National League. In other words, we appear to be in for plenty of meaningful baseball when the actual summer begins next month.
A year ago on Memorial Day, the Phillies were already 15 games under .500, 13 1/2 games out of first place, and in the middle of a stretch during which they lost 39 of 50 games as the pitching staff posted a 5.35 ERA. Through 47 games this season, the staff ERA is 3.36. Enjoy your burgers, doggies and baseball.
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The Phillies have started 4-0 in interleague play this season, having swept the Rays in Tampa Bay and beaten the Orioles in a rain-soaked game last week in Baltimore. Win two of three this weekend at home against the Toronto Blue Jays and the Phillies will surpass their interleague-play win total of five from last season.
Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays have a potential free agent who should attract plenty of attention after this season, although not nearly as much as Manny Machado. Third baseman Josh Donaldson was the American League MVP three years ago when he led the Blue Jays to the postseason by hitting 41 doubles and 41 home runs. He led the league that year with 123 RBIs and 122 runs scored. He has averaged 32 doubles and 33 home runs over his last five seasons, but he is also 32 years old and has dealt with injuries the last two seasons.
A calf injury sidelined Donaldson for six weeks last season, and a shoulder injury cost him nearly a month earlier this season. Still, the former University of Auburn star will be the top free-agent consolation prize after this season for the teams that covet but do not get Machado or Washington's Bryce Harper.
Former Phillies lefthander J.A. Happ will pitch for the Blue Jays against Nick Pivetta in the series finale Sunday at Citizens Bank Park. Happ, now 35, was a member of the Phillies' two World Series teams, pitching in the postseason in 2008 and 2009. He was traded to Houston in 2010 as part of the Roy Oswalt deal. Since leaving the Phillies, he is 84-74 with a 4.08 ERA. Happ is 6-3 with a 3.97 ERA this season. Pivetta, meanwhile, is 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA in his last three starts, allowing just 10 hits and striking out 25 over 19 innings.
Rhys Hoskins was the talk of the town when he slugged his way onto the Philadelphia baseball scene with 18 home runs in his first 34 games. Now, he's the talk of the town because he is in the first prolonged slump of his still very young career. Scott Lauber talked to Hoskins and Phillies hitting instructor John Mallee to find out if there's an explanation for the recent slide. Both Hoskins and Mallee concluded that everything will be all right.
If you're looking for a really fun read about some Philadelphia baseball history, Ed Barkowitz provided one with his look at Dick Fowler's Sept. 9, 1945 no-hitter for the Philadelphia Athletics against the St. Louis Browns at Shibe Park. It was Fowler's first start since he returned from his service in the Canadian Army during World War II, and it would remain the only no-hitter by a Canadian-born pitcher until James Paxton's no-no for Seattle in Toronto earlier this month.
The Phillies did not sign minor-league free agent Joey Meneses until the last day of January, and they did not add him to the roster at triple-A Lehigh Valley until the very last minute out of spring training. Now the 26-year-old first baseman is leading the International League in hitting and OPS.
Ben Lively had another strong start at Lehigh Valley, albeit in a losing effort, Reading ended its four-game losing streak, Mickey Moniak struck out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning as a Clearwater rally fell short, and Lakewood swept a doubleheader. Here's the minor-league recap from Thursday's games.
Tonight: Zach Eflin (1-0, 1.56) vs. Toronto's Sam Gaviglio (1-0, 0.93), 7:05 p.m.
Tomorrow: Aaron Nola (6-2, 2.37) vs. Joe Biagini (0-3, 7.71), 4:05 p.m.
Sunday: Pivetta (4-2, 3.23) vs. Happ, 1:35 p.m.
Monday: Vince Velasquez pitches series opener at Dodger Stadium, 8:10 p.m.
Happy anniversary to Wilson Valdez. It was seven years ago today that Valdez, a utility infielder, went to the mound in the 19th inning of a 4-4 game between the Phillies and Cincinnati Reds at Citizens Bank Park. He had to face the heart of one of the best batting orders in baseball at the time, but he worked a hitless inning by retiring Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and pitcher Carlos Fisher. His only blemish was when he hit Scott Rolen with a pitch. Catcher Carlos Ruiz played third base in the top of the 19th inning, and the Phillies won the game in the bottom of the 19th on a sacrifice fly by Raul Ibanez.
Roman Quinn has tremendous skills but he is always hurt. What is his future with the club? A speedy leadoff hitter? A fifth outfielder and pinch-runner? Or trade bait?