Opposite dugout: Surprising Phillies remain in contention in NL East

PhilliesLogo.jpgManager: Gabe Kapler (1st season)

Record: 45-37

Last 10 games: 6-4

Who to watch: CF Odúbel Herrera (.283 with 14 HR, 47 RBIs), LF Rhys Hoskins (14 HR, 51 RBIs), 1B Carlos Santana (14 HR, 48 RBIs), 3B Maikel Franco (10 HR, 38 RBIs), RHP Zach Eflin (6-2, 3.02 ERA), RHP Aaron Nola (10-2, 2.48 ERA), RHP Seranthony Dominguez (7 saves, 1.98 ERA)

Season series vs. Orioles: 0-1

Pitching probables:

July 3: RHP Alex Cobb (2-9 ) vs. RHP Zach Eflin (6-2), 7:05p.m., MASN2
July 4: TBA vs. RHP Aaron Nola (10-2), 4:05 p.m., MASN2

Inside the Phillies:

This was supposed to be a bridge season in the land of the Liberty Bell. First-year manager Gabe Kapler was supposed to learn on the job, put a sabremetric bent on the Phillies and prepare them to contend in 2019. Well, save for a brutal first week of the season when Kapler learned how little he knew about managing a bullpen, things have gone swimmingly in Philadelphia. The crowds have yet to return to Citizens Bank Park in droves, but the Phillies are playing well and have been surprise contenders for the National League East lead, trailing only the first-place Braves by 3 1/2 games after winning four of their last five.

For a middling offensive team - one that's 29th in the majors in hits (641) and 26th in both average (.235) and total bases (1,078) - the Phillies are making what offense they can muster count. Center fielder Odúbel Herrera and left fielder Rhys Hoskins have been doing most of the damage, the former slashing .283/.337/.475 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs and the latter producing 14 homers and a team-high 51 RBIs. First baseman Carlos Santana, a free agent signing late of the Indians, started slow but has picked up the pace and how has 14 homers and 48 RBIs. Second baseman César Hernández gets on base at a .377 clip and offers some speed, with 13 stolen bases, and third baseman Maikel Franco has hit 10 homers.

The Orioles will face the top two Phillies pitchers, and with balls routinely flying out of Citizens Bank Park in hot, humid conditions, both teams will be challenged to prevent the longball. Righty Zach Eflin gets the start in Tuesday's opener and his six victories this season are two more than he had in 22 career starts entering 2018. He went 5-0 with a 1.76 ERA in five June outings and didn't give up a home run in 30 2/3 innings last month. He's never faced the Orioles and is 1-3 with an 8.51 ERA in five career interleague starts. Right-hander Aaron Nola gets the call on Independence Day and has unquestionably been the Phillies' ace. He's 4-0 with a 2.64 ERA in his last seven starts. Only once in his last 15 starts has he failed to work at least six innings. Nola will be making his first career start against the Orioles and is 3-5 with a 4.86 ERA in 10 career interleague starts.

After Hector Neris struggled in the ninth inning and was twice demoted to Triple-A, the Phillies turned to rookie right-hander Seranthony Dominguez as their closer. Dominguez has converted seven of eight games with a 1.98 ERA and a stingy 0.66 WHIP.

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