September 20, 2016
On May 3, a month into the season, the Chicago White Sox had the best record in the American League and the second-best record in baseball, behind only their National League East neighbors, the Chicago Cubs.
On June 3, the White Sox had come down to earth a bit, but were still just 1 1/2 games out in the American League Central. So they attempted to give their team a boost by trading for James Shields, formerly known as “Big Game James.”
We use “former” because Shields had a 4.28 ERA in 11 starts with the San Diego Padres prior to the trade. Moving from a pitcher-friendly ballpark in the pitching-friendly division in the N.L. to a hitter-friendly ballpark in the A.L. didn’t seem like it would solve Shields’ problems.
It did not. Following a forgettable outing at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night, Shields is 3-11 with a 7.11 ERA in 20 starts since joining the White Sox, a team that fell out of contention months ago.
Odubel Herrera greeted Shields with a two-run home run in the first inning as the middle of the Phillies batting order pounded the veteran right-hander in a 7-6 victory. The game became much closer in the ninth inning, when struggling closer Jeanmar Gomez was pulled after putting a three-run spot on the visiting half of the scoreboard.
The trio of Roman Quinn, Herrera, and Tommy Joseph, hitting second through fourth in Pete Mackanin’s lineup, were a combined 7-for-8 with a home run, a double, two walks, six RBI, and five runs scored against Shields.
It was the Phillies second win over Shields in the last month. The 34-year-old Shields, who beat the Phillies in Game 2 of the 2008 World Series, has a 5.57 ERA in seven career regular season starts against the Phils.
From the home run to the two singles (followed by stolen bases each time), Herrera led the assault against Shields. The Phils lone All-Star representative finished the night 3-for-4 with three RBI and two runs scored.
"Herrera is swinging the very bat well, that’s really nice to see," Mackanin said of Herrera, who is hitting .536 (15-for-28) on the current homestand. " We’ve needed him to do that. He looks like he’s gotten more selective. He’s not taking those wild swings. And it’s paying off for him."
"I'm working hard. I think I'm working really hard. Things are showing off," Herrera said.
Herrera's season slash line is up to .288/.363/.472, .which is surprisingly better than his output in 2015 as a rookie (297/.344/.418), with seven more home runs, too.
It's "surprising" only because much was made of Herrera's monthlong slump from July 7 to August 6, when he hit .202 in 26 games. But the reality is Herrera has been fine for nearly two months – he's hitting .303/.361/.459 in 52 games since July 22.
"I was a little disappointed because things were not working out the way I wanted them to work out," Herrera said of his post-All-Star game skid. "But thankfully now things are better for me. I'm putting the work in and the results are showing."
The win, the Phillies third in their last four games, gives the Phillies a 10-9 record in interleague play in 2016. With another win at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday, the Phils can clinch their first winning season in interleague play since 2011, when they finished 9-6 against American League teams.
But they won't get to face James Shields again. Instead they'll get left-hander Chris Sale, a Cy Young candidate who ranks in the top five in almost every relevant statistic in the American League: 3.03 ERA (2nd), 1.02 WHIP (3rd), 4.89 K/BB rate (5th), .626 opponents' OPS (1st), 210 2/3 innings (tied for 2nd).
• Jeanmar Gomez may be losing grip on the closer's job he's held since April. Gomez has a 10.12 ERA in his last 16 games.
"He seems to be sputtering along," Mackanin said. "He can’t seem to put hitters away. He’s making bad pitches."
Would Mackanin consider pulling him from the ninth inning job and giving someone like Hector Neris a shot? Last week Mackanin was against it. But now?
"I’d hate to do it, but I have to consider it," Mackanin said. "He hasn’t been himself lately."
• Jake Thompson didn't have his best stuff, but it was better than the last time he faced the White Sox and good enough to earn his second straight win. Thompson held the White Sox to three runs on four hits in five innings and benefited from some strong defense, particularly from shortstop Freddy Galvis, who made a nifty backhand stab to start an inning-ending double play on a hard-hit ball off the bat of Jose Abreu.
"It was huge," Thompson said. "I had to have one. That guy is the dangerous guy in their lineup. Good average guy, good pop guy. I was able to run a fastball in on him and got a ground ball when I absolutely had to have it."
Thompson has a 2.97 ERA in five starts since his forgettable night on the South Side of Chicago.
• With Odubel Herrera's home run, the Phillies now have six different players with at least 15 home runs this season (Ryan Howard, Maikel Franco, Tommy Joseph, Freddy Galvis, Cameron Rupp, Herrera). It's just the second time in franchise history, the other time coming in 2004 (Jim Thome, Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Mike Lieberthal, Placido Polanco, and David Bell).