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July 24, 2023

Phillies stock watch: Yeah, Bryce Harper can play first base

Harper finally debuted at first and held up well, but the Phillies struggled through the week, dropping four of six as the postseason race heats up.

Following up a massive win in a four-game set against the Padres coming back from the All-Star break, the Phillies had a rough week against Milwaukee and then Cleveland, dropping four of six, though managing to salvage a win in each series. 

They're 53-46 entering Monday and the home series against Baltimore, but sit a half-game out from San Francisco and Arizona for a Wild Card spot. 

But it's only half a game, they're still in it, and they've still been playing mostly solid baseball since the summer started. 

Granted, stretches like this never help, and the stock fluctuates because of it. 

Here's a look at where a few players stand right now after this past week...

Stock up 📈

Bryce Harper finally made his debut at first base out in Cleveland over the weekend and looked right at home, flashing the glove a fair share of times, including on this catch of a pop fly in foul territory that gave everyone a bit of a scare. But hey, that elbow sure seems okay now. 

Two games in with no errors, the early returns on the Harper at first experiment are looking good, though obviously, the Phillies are going to want to see more. Still, this does make the lineup a lot more flexible with a week left to the August 1 trade deadline, which in turn, gives the Phillies a much narrower focus of what they're going to need. 

Offensively, definitely not one of Harper's stronger weeks (he batted .182 combined against Milwaukee and then Cleveland), but he did drive in the go-ahead run in the 10th on Sunday and knocked in another earlier on one of the weirder groundouts you'll see. 

Bryson Stott continues on as the most consistent bat in the Phillies' lineup, hitting .316 across six games through the week with a .985 OPS. The Phils dropped the series opener to the Guardians on Friday night, but back-to-back homers in the seventh from J.T. Realmuto and then Stott did at least keep them in it late. And on Sunday, Stott walked a total of four times, with the last in the 10th being intentional and going on to allow the Phillies to blow it open to salvage a victory. He also stole three bases through the week and is up to 19 total on the season, making him someone opposing defenses are always needing to worry about on the basepaths.

Zack Wheeler threw a gem on Saturday – 7.0 innings pitched, five hits, one run, a walk, and eight strikeouts – but it was rendered null and void with a 1-0 Phillies defeat. He's gone seven innings in back-to-back starts though, so here's hoping he's really rounding into form as the Phillies enter the late stretch of the season for the playoff push. They're going to need him to with as spotty as their starting pitching has been all year. 

• Once Harper was ready to play first and talk of moving Kyle Schwarber to DH full-time picked up, here he is now out in left playing like a Gold Glover. 

Stock neutral 😑

Aaron Nola remains an eternally odd pitcher to get a read on, always swinging back and forth between being lights out and getting the lights knocked out of him. The spectrum didn't swing too wildly this week, as the Phillies (eventually) won both of his starts while he kept things mostly in check, but here are his lines against the Brewers and Guardians:

– Tuesday, July 18 vs. MIL (W, 4-3): 7.1 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 6 Ks, 0 HR (W, 9-6).

– Sunday, July 23 at CLE (W, 8-5 F/10): 7.0 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 0 BB, 7 Ks, 2 HR (ND).

Both are pretty solid, and again, both went on to be Phillies wins, but it's always just the way they happen that can make you uneasy anytime you're watching.

Those homers given up on Sunday, though both solo shots with minimal damage, are too often a precursor to that one bad inning where everything just falls apart. It didn't happen this week, but the threat of it is always there with him.

But maybe there's reassurance in the numbers that he's also rounding into form too, as he's pitched at least seven innings with no more than three earned runs allowed in three of his last four starts. 

Fingers crossed, because like Wheeler, the Phillies are going to need Nola's A-game just as much.

Stock down 📉

Nick Castellanos has cooled off coming back from the All-Star break, batting .122 with a .338 OPS and just a single homer in the 10 games since. Cold streaks happen, and he can pick it back up quick, but for now, this is something to keep an eye on heading into the Baltimore series this week. 

Realmuto did homer Friday night, but he's been cold at the plate too, batting .244 with a .675 OPS and seven strikeouts across five games against Milwaukee and Cleveland. July was where Realmuto's season really picked up last summer, but so far in this one, he hasn't been able to do the same. 

The overall cohesion of the lineup this past week is something to make note of too before closing out. With the exception of maybe the 4-0 shutout from Corbin Burnes and the Brewers on Thursday, the Phillies were in every one of the games they lost this past week and just couldn't capitalize, still struggling to take advantage when runners are in scoring position. 

Look, the Phillies are still playing some solid baseball and have been since the start of June, but stretches like this where they lose four of six after taking a huge series against the Padres the week before are only going to hurt more as the season wears on and the playoff race tightens up – not to mention make everyone that much more anxious. 

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