We all know why any Phillies fan would care about this game. (And by that I mean anyone because we all know the Braves fans don't care about any game.) It's not because Kyle Kendrick might follow up the combined no-hitter with something even remotely compelling to watch. It's not because Ryan Howard is approaching 100 RBI for the season for the first time since 2011. It's not because Freddy Galvis is finally getting the well deserved opportunity to replace Chase Utley as the starting second baseman. And it's not because Doug Dascenzo (he of the -2.2 career fWAR over 7 seasons... and we think Mini Mart is a sin) is the Braves 3rd base coach. It's because Maikel Franco made his MLB debut. (That's Mai-KEL FRAN-co, according to T-Mac, by the way.)
We'll get to a review of Franco's debut in a bit. But, first, we must congratulate KK on pitching through the first inning without giving up a run. It's the 13th time he's done it this season. But it seems like the 2nd. And that's what really counts. Of course, Kendrick tried his best to let the Braves score in the first. He gave up a lead-off double to Jason Heyward, who moved to third on a weak ground out by Andrelton Simmons. KK then walked Freddie Freeman and hit Justin Upton, who later left the game because KK throws so damn hard that Upton couldn't tough it out anymore and was scared to face KK again. With the bases loaded and 1 out, everyone watching the game assumed KK would give up a grand slam and, after a combined no-hitter respite, we'd be back in the 2014 Phillies purgatory we've come to...ummm...embrace?
Instead, KK struck out Gattis and Johnson by hitting his spots and burying some deceptive breaking stuff in the dirt. Gattis and Johnson waved, wagged their heads in that distinctive cursing motion, and sauntered angrily back to the dugout. I'd like to think Gattis and Johnson were so upset because they were embarrassed that KK, a generally terrible pitcher, could fool them so badly, but I'm sure the Braves would never disrespect an opponent like that. All baseball events are equally exciting and should be responded to equally as well.
Strangely, KK then cruised until the 6th, when once again Heyward doubled to lead-off the inning. He limited walks and generated lots of grounders, allowing just one baserunner. In the midst of this T-Mac noted that Jimmy Rollins told KK, during his last start, that he was tipping his pitches. Has this nightmare season for KK really been a matter of breaking his hands too soon on breaking pitches? If his previous career is any indication, then no. Anyway, KK worked unscathed through the 6th as well. He moyered Doumit, who had entered the game for Jupton, and Gattis by making them think they could hit a go-ahead home run while subtly tapping the directional pad so that the ball slid just off the barrel. Why hasn't he used the D-pad all season? Oh well.
All in all, KK pitched 7 scoreless innings surrendering only 3 hits, striking out 4 and walking 2. That's good for a 73 gamescore, which is easily KK's best of the season. And thanks to a Carlos Ruiz home run in the 5th and a Darin Ruf single with Ben Revere on 3rd in the 6th, KK left in line for the win.
[Pause for dramatic effect, made less dramatic by the lack of mattering.]
After a little lead padding in the top of the 8th, the rest of the game was up to the bullpen. Strange to say, but that is a comforting thought these days. Only 3 months ago people were rightly comparing the bullpen to a tire fire.
Now the only fire is coming out the hands of Ken Giles and Jake Diekman. Now they are good and protect leads, just as Ken Giles and Antonio Bastardo did tonight (combined 2.0 IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 5 Ks). That is all.
The Braves have not scored a run in 24 straight innings, or so T-Mac said. 18 of those are due to Phillies pitchers. That's a good helping of spite. May it continue tomorrow afternoon!
Now that we have the silly game out of the way, let's talk about Maikel Franco. He lived up to almost all of the sober-headed scouting reports I've read about him. He showed soft hands, a good transition from glove to throwing hand, and a strong accurate arm. He turned his first groundball into a routine play and made a 5-4-3 double play look brisk and easy. His lateral and vertical movement at 3B was not tested. So, we have to wait to see how he reacts on balls not hit right at him.
At the plate Franco did what we all should have expected. He swung a lot. In 4 PAs he saw 9 pitches, 4 of which were in the 4th PA. Of those 9 pitches he swung at 6 (I think). In those 6 swings he produced three ground balls and a fly ball. The three ground balls were weakly hit balls that he turned over by starting his swing too early. I expect this will be an oft repeated refrain, but we should not let it frustrate us. He will always be an aggressive swinger and it will lead to weakly pulled grounders sometimes. If he manages to hit for some power alongside that weak contact, we should be able to live with it. In his 4th PA, Franco picked up his first career RBI by hitting a decently deep fly ball to CF. The sac fly demonstrates what is nice about Franco's contact skill: he'll put balls in play that make his outs less unproductive. (Of course, the downside will be all the DPs.) Franco's power was not much on display, although his sac fly traveled far given that it sounded like it came off the end of the bat. Let's hope in future games he squares some balls up and shows us in the Show the pop he's promised in the Understudy.
In sum, Phillies win, Braves continue to fail at scoring, and Maikel Franco has a ho-hum but I gotta see more debut.
Fangraph of Maikel Franco making the win% go towards Phillies!