Down the road in Reading, the R-Phils (and we can call them that, again, thanks to their cool Throwback Thursday outfits) are on the cusp of clinching a playoff bid, in the new split-season format that has come to the AA Eastern League. The split-season format–first and second-half champions play in the playoffs–was something I was really in favor of earlier in the year when it was announced. Seeing it in action? I’m not so sure. But, we’ll get back to that in a minute.
Following an off-day on Monday, Reading returns home to the friendly confines of FirstEnergy Stadium to host the Akron Rubberducks on Tuesday. The barely-in-first-place Thunder of Trenton likewise have the day off on Monday, and return to their home in New Jersey to face Richmond. It should be exciting, I’ll give you that. Let’s break it down a couple different ways.
What the R-Phils Need: The R-Phils can clinch the first half title with a win, coupled with a Trenton loss. Or, an R-Phils win, coupled with a Trenton rain-out. Or, an R-Phils rainout coupled with a Trenton loss. There’s no way a Trenton win or an R-Phils loss will result in the desired clinching.
Breaking Down the Reading Game: The R-Phils are 19-15 at home, facing the Rubberducks who have been eliminated in the Western Division, and sport a 16-16 road record. Reading comes in having won 6 of their last 10 games, while Akron is 4-6, and have lost three in a row. LHP Bailey Falter will get the ball for the R-Phils. He’s 4-4 with a 4.22 ERA, and lost a recent game versus Akron, in Akron, lasting only four innings and yielding 7 earned runs. He had a better start at home versus Erie since then, and hopefully he and catcher Austin Bossart can make some adjustments to try to get the needed victory. Reading’s bullpen has been pretty solid on the whole, with guys like Jakob Hernandez, Addison Russ, and Jeff Singer often taking the high-leverage innings. Akron sends LHP Sam Hentges, who, while 1-5, has a 3.40 ERA and has had two quality starts versus Reading this season, including his lone win. He took a ND in the game during the last meeting. He’s 6’6″ and was a fourth round pick by the Indians in 2014.
Breaking Down the Trenton Game: Trenton is a much better home club, sporting the 22-8 record at Arm and Hammer, which compensates for their losing record on the road. Richmond is the last-place team in the Western Division and has a 13-18 record on the road–actually better than their 10-25 home mark. Trenton sends 20yo RHP Deivi Garcia to the mound. In seven starts since getting promoted to AA, the young Dominican has a 2-2 record and a 3.50 ERA. Richmond will go with Oklahoma State lefty Garrett Carter Williams, who is 1-6 on the season with a 4.06 ERA.
Weather: I believe both game locations have about a 75% chance of thunderstorms at game time. The odds there don’t help Reading much, as they are at a disadvantage with the .002 standings deficit. As above, there are scenarios where it plays out right–and Trenton seems to have the clear advantage in their game, but overall we’ll not cheer for rain, only for Reading to play and win.
|Trenton Thunder (NYY)||37||27||.578||–||–||22-8||15-19||20-12||4-6|
|Reading Fightin Phils (PHI)||38||28||.576||–||–||19-15||19-13||13-9||6-4||W1|
|Hartford Yard Goats (COL)||37||29||.561||1.0||4||19-12||18-17||28-11||4-6||L1|
|Binghamton Rumble Ponies (NYM)||33||29||.532||3.0||5||10-17||23-12||14-21||3-7|
|New Hampshire Fisher Cats (TOR)||31||35||.470||7.0||E||17-15||14-20||20-25||5-5||W3|
|Portland Sea Dogs (BOS)||25||40||.385||12.5||E||12-19||13-21||16-33||5-5||W3|
So this is our first true look at how the split schedule works in real life. As I said, I came out strongly in favor of it before the season. However, right now looking at the uneven number of games played and the unevenness of the opponents and strength of schedule, I get the feeling that it’s certainly an unfair system. Not that they listen to me anyway, but for now I’ll reserve my judgement until after the entire season plays out.
You know, you can’t predict baseball. So, anything I might say about what to expect in the second half of the season could be completely and utterly wrong. But still. Consider that the R-Phils started very slowly this season, with the bats. They were able to win some games, but April was not kind to bats we expected to be good, to very-good, to excellent. Guys like Haseley (since promoted to the Major Leagues), Listi, Hall and Cornelius Randolph who finished strong in Reading last season, didn’t really pick up there to begin 2019. New promotions like Moniak (above), Williams and Gamboa didn’t get great starts either. Yet they were able to battle, played some sound ball most nights, got some decent pitching most nights, and remained competitive.
In the second half, I expect the combination of promotions to AAA Lehigh Valley, and from A+ Clearwater to yield a net improvement in the Reading talent level. Combine this with the bats and arms already present, starting to heat up, and this team should have a nice opportunity to win the second-half title and go into the playoffs on a roll.
I’m expecting the 21-year old Moniak to remain in Reading. Likewise for Listi and Hall, and an uneven Cornelius Randolph making his second tour of the Eastern League. All should be as-good or better than they have been in the first half. Ditto guys like Josh Stephen, Luke Williams and Arquimedes Gamboa–all on their first go at AA, they should improve in the second half. I expect the catchers, Bossart and Lartigue to remain, as the IronPigs have three catchers when McBride isn’t on the Injured List. RHP Ramon Rosso, perhaps the most consistent of starters in the first half, has been promoted to AAA and continued to deal, so he likely won’t return. RHP Jose Taveras, however, has. He got hit pretty well at AAA this season, and has since been returned to Reading. Coming back from an injury season and only throwing 88-89 is going to limit him, although he knows how to pitch and how to navigate a AA lineup. RHP Adonis Medina could find himself in AAA soon–or in another state should he be part of a trade package. That will hurt Reading, as he’s had five really strong starts in a row now that the weather has improved. Enter LHP Damon Jones. He arrived on the heels of an All Star first half in the Florida State League and picked up where he left off Sunday in Harrisburg. RHP Colton Eastman is a college pitcher who began in the “Sally” but could be a fast mover based on his seven starts with the Threshers. A couple more outings and he could be ready to come to Pennsylvania. LHP Ethan Evanko could be another guy the Phillies decide can move up quickly, as his numbers are excellent in Clearwater and he’s age-appropriate for AA. As far as bats, hitters shoving their way to AA is a list headlined by first round 3B Alec Bohm. He continues to rake in the FSL, and a trip to Baseballtown would put him roughly on the same schedule as Scott Kingery was on back in the day. 1B Matt Kroon is probably blocked by Hall and Listi. OF Simon Muzziotti might be a candidate, but the 20yo Venezuelan will likely complete the year at A+, but could help if Reading needs an outfielder.
So you see, second-half R-Phils could actually be better than first-half R-Phils. And, if we lose out on unfair first-half competition, we should be able to challenge for the second half as well as anyone. It should be a fun time, regardless.
See you in Baseballtown!