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June 03, 2019

Kevin Cooney: Phillies must change it up to beat the Dodgers of the world

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Phillies-Bryce-Harper-sad-060319_USAT Gary A. Vasquez /USA Today Sports

The Phillies were swept by the Dodgers.

By the time Joc Pederson’s 18th homer of the season had rattled off the hands and front railing in the left-center pavilion at Dodger Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Phillies were in search of Snake Plisskan, Kurt Russell’s character in “Escape From LA” who has to run for his life to attain his freedom.

After two “measuring stick tests” on the road last week against the Cubs and Brewers that gave the Phillies some hope about their status in the National League’s hierarchy, the two-time defending National League champions reminded everyone that the road to the World Series in the Senior Circuit goes through the freeways of Chavez Ravine.

But honestly, that’s OK. The Phillies got their answers. At the conclusion of a tough week — one that saw a four-game losing streak, another set of bullpen arms head to the Injured List and Odubel Herrera’s arrest on an alleged domestic violence incident on Memorial Day night in Atlantic City — there was an indication that the club is going to not wait to see how fate goes for the 2019 Fightins.

It’s pretty clear what the overall weaknesses are for the Phillies. And it is pretty clear that Matt Klentak is going to be aggressive to fill those – even if it means moving parts at the trade deadline that could come with a heavy price.

The bullpen will get some pieces back when Tommy Hunter returns and Adam Morgan gets back as a lefty weapon in the middle innings. But the idea of getting Craig Kimbrel isn’t a pipe dream now that the closer is no longer tied to a draft pick. There’s also Will Smith from the Giants who could step in. But after watching the Phillies makeshift bullpen get ripped apart by Dodgers pitching, an upgrade will undoubtedly be on the July shopping list.

That also could likely include a left-handed starter. When you look at the three lineups that the Phillies just went through, the clear common thread was left-handed power in Anthony Rizzo (Cubs) Christian Yelich (Brewers) and Pederson/Cody Bellinger/Max Muncy trio for the Dodgers. Against the Braves, there’s also Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis to worry about as well.

In other words, the Phillies need a left-handed starter. They have struggled since Cole Hamels left to fill that role. (Cole Irvin and Ranger Suarez have taken that spot.) If you believe that Philadelphia should be in the discussion for Madison Bumgarner at the deadline, that is the best argument.

If the Phillies are going to win the division and make noise in October, they have to find a way to give a different look. Right now, the rotation gives the same look every night — right-handers nibbling on corners primarily. Just having a different arm angle once a series can be a big wild card in an offensive attack.

If there’s any doubt about Herrera’s status moving forward — no matter what Major League Baseball’s eventual verdict on the Monday incident — it came on Sunday morning when the Phillies traded Single-A third baseman Jake Scheiner and cash considerations to the Mariners for Bruce, who would be the main left-handed power bat off the bench that was a glaring red light for this team since spring training.

You may ask what Bruce’s arrival may mean on Herrera and this answer is simple: it had become pretty clear that the Phillies had tired of the centerfielder’s inconsistency long before the Atlantic City incident. Scott Kingery was getting sprinkled into the mix more than you would have expected even when Herrera was active. Having Andrew McCutchen there to potentially fill some spots in the lineup also was designed to push Herrera to finally learn the mechanics that were needed to make him a more consistent player.

Beyond all the legal things, there’s another way already in the house for the Phillies to upgrade. You don’t make a move like this unless you believe you are either losing Herrera for a long time for a suspension or wanting to jettison him permanently.

Now, having Bruce in the mix means that the Phillies can plug him in left when McCutchen moves to center and have more pop than Nick Williams would give them in that spot. They paid literally nothing for him. And it is perfect insurance for Herrera. The move can’t hurt.

This weekend was an ugly look for a team wanting to contend. There’s going to be a lot of teams that go into Los Angeles and get swamped, however. The key is learning from it.

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