By The Sports Xchange
PHILADELPHIA — What was the coldest offense in the majors through the first two months of the year has suddenly become one of the hottest.
Philadelphia’s run-scoring deluge continued on Monday, with Atlanta Braves rookie starter Joel De La Cruz taking the brunt of the damage in the Phillies’ 8-2 win at Citizens Bank Park on Independence Day.
It’s the sixth win in seven contests for Philadelphia (38-46), which moved 9 1/2 games ahead of Atlanta (28-55) for last place in the National League East but is still a dozen in back of first-place Washington (50-34.
The Braves, who lost for the eighth time in the last 11 games, have the second-worst record in the majors, ahead of only Minnesota (27-55).
Phillies starter Jerad Eickhoff picked up a win for the fourth time in his last five decisions, improving his record to 6-9 and dropping his ERA to 3.30. It was one of the strongest outings of the season for the 26-year-old, who gave up just two runs on five hits while striking out eight in 7 2/3 innings.
It certainly helped that the Phillies’ offense gave Eickhoff some breathing room for one of the few times this season. Prior to Monday’s offensive outburst, Eickhoff had only averaged 3.09 runs of support per nine innings, the fourth-lowest mark in the National League.
“Yeah it’s nice, but it comes with some responsibility too,” he said. “I was trying to attack hitters just like I would any other way and try to maintain that lead any way I can.”
The Phillies had scored seven runs in two Eickhoff starts in June, but both times they had four or fewer at the point he exited the game. This was the first time all season they had scored more than five runs with him still on the mound, and they did it all in the bottom of the second inning against a pitcher making just his second career major-league start.
“Over the first couple of months, even when we were winning games, we faced pitchers that I didn’t feel were pitching extremely well and we just couldn’t get anything going,” Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said. “So it was nice to see, and nice to see the guys continue to swing the bats well.”
Catcher Cameron Rupp and first baseman Tommy Joseph started it off with doubles to put men on second and third with nobody out. A groundout by Freddy Galvis scored Rupp to even the game at 1-1.
After a Cesar Hernandez triple scored Joseph, the Braves shot themselves in the foot when third baseman Brandon Snyder fielded a ground ball off the bat of Eickhoff and sailed the throw home, allowing Hernandez to score easily to make it 3-1.
“We had a tough inning,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “The whole inning got away from us.”
Center fielder Odubel Herrera and third baseman Maikel Franco made De La Cruz pay for his teammates’ mistake, each hitting two-run home runs — their 10th and 15th of the season, respectively – to put the Phillies up 7-1.
Herrera (2-for-4, two RBIs), Peter Bourjos (3-for-3, two runs scored), Joseph (2-for-4, RBI) and Hernandez (3-4, RBI) all had multi-hit games. Philadelphia has seven-or-more runs in five of its last eight contests and is averaging six runs/game in its last 13 after averaging 3.11 in its first 71.
“I can’t complain about the hitting anymore,” Mackanin said. “I think our first eight hits were extra-base hits; I don’t know if that’s record, (but) it’s got to be close.”
It’s not a record. The Phillies had eight extra-base hits to start a game on June 5, 1988 against St. Louis, but it’s the first time the club has had eight extra-base hits off an opposing starter since doing it against Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean and the Cardinals back on May 26, 1933.
De La Cruz blanked the Phillies for the next four innings, departing for a pinch hitter in the top of the seventh. He gave up nine hits and seven runs (four earned) as his record fell to 0-2 and ERA rose to 5.25.
“To his credit, (De La Cruz) didn’t quit pitching and he regrouped and got us through six innings,” Snitker said. “He started getting the ball down in the zone and it had a little life on it and some action. It’d have been easy to cash your chips in in that inning but he got us through six.”
The Phillies’ eighth run came off reliever Mauricio Cabrera on an RBI single by Joseph in the seventh inning.
Erick Aybar homered in the first inning off Eickhoff to give Atlanta its only lead of the game. The Braves tacked one on in the eighth when Nick Markakis singled in Freddie Freeman, who had previously doubled.
NOTES: This is the third series of the season between the two division rivals, with the teams splitting the first six games between two three-game series in Atlanta (May 10-12) and Philadelphia (May 20-22). Each team won two games on its opponents’ home field. … Before the game, the Phillies held a Salute to the Troops on their first July 4 home game since 2009, welcoming veterans from each of the major conflicts since World War II onto the field. … Bourjos leads all MLB hitters with more than 60 at-bats since June 1, hitting .403 (29-for-72) entering Monday. … Tuesday’s game, scheduled for a 7:05 p.m. first pitch, pits Braves RHP Mike Foltynewicz (2-2, 3.72 ERA) against Phillies’ rookie RHP Zach Eflin (0-2, 5.75).