Don't look now, but here come the Phillies!

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Don't look now, but here come the Phillies!

From Comcast SportsNetPHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Jimmy Rollins swigged champagne after winning a division title, went wild when the Phillies won the National League pennant, and took a ride on that unforgettable parade down the heart of Philadelphia after a World Series championship.The Phillies have done it all the last five years.Well, except win a wild card berth.Rollins connected on a two-run homer and Cliff Lee pitched seven strong innings to lead the streaking Phillies to their seventh straight win, 3-1 over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday.The second NL wild-card spot is firmly in sight for the Phillies with 19 games remaining."We're in it," manager Charlie Manuel said. "We're dead in it pretty good."Oh yes, they are. And they show no signs of slowing down.The Phillies continued their late push with a three-game sweep of the Marlins. Up next for the Phillies, four games in Houston against the NL-worst Astros. Then it's three games in New York against the going-nowhere Mets.Philadelphia pulled within three games of St. Louis for the second wild card after the Cardinals lost 3-2 in San Diego.The Phillies (72-71) are on a season-best winning streak and have won 15 of 19 to move over .500 for the first time since they were 28-27 on June 3."If we can continue to play the way we have since the All-Star break, we have a pretty good chance," Lee said.The clubhouse TVs had on a pair of games that will shape the NL wild-card race: St. Louis at San Diego and Pittsburgh at Cincinnati.The Phillies will have to at least get past the Cardinals and Pirates, two fading teams, to snag a postseason spot.This September has a familiar feel from 2007 when the Phillies trailed the Mets by seven games with 17 to play. The Mets collapsed and the Phillies would win their first division title since 1993.With Manuel calmly leading the way, the Phillies haven't skipped a postseason since, winning the World Series in 2008."We're in it pretty good," Manuel said.Phillippe Aumont worked a scoreless eighth and Jonathan Papelbon completed the four-hitter with his 34th save. Papelbon fanned Gorkys Hernandez with two runners on to end it.The five-time defending NL East champions have made an amazing run since they seemed out of contention at 37-51 on July 13. Fueled by a rotation that has found its groove, and unexpected contributions from role players, the Phillies have become one of the hottest teams in baseball.Their 15-4 record since Aug. 23 is the best in the National League and they are 21-8 in their last 29 home games.Josh Johnson (8-12) did his best to shut down the Phillies early, taking a no-hitter and a 1-0 lead into the sixth.Rollins led off the inning with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice and scored on John Mayberry Jr.'s two-out single to center.With Ryan Howard and Chase Utley slumping, the Phillies have relied on clutch hits from unheralded players like Mayberry during this recent streak. Mayberry beat Colorado on Sunday with the winning single in the ninth inning.But it's the stars like Rollins, who declined to talk to the media, who still need to shine during the stretch drive.Lee (5-7) seemed headed toward a tough luck no-decision until the offense came through with timely hits in the seventh.Pinch hitting for Lee, Pete Orr hit a two-out single. Rollins followed with his 19th homer, a two-run shot to right, that sent the late-afternoon crowd into a frenzy and gave the Phillies a 3-1 lead.With little expected at the start of September, the Phillies are playing loose and having fun."Nobody's saying we've got to win 20 in a row," Orr said.Lee struck out the side in the fourth inning and fanned Hernandez to open the fifth. He tossed four-hit ball and struck out six in seven innings to earn only his second home victory of the season.Lee has regained his Cy Young form after making 13 starts to open the season without a win. He also had a stint on the disabled list and even had a 10-inning scoreless outing wasted against San Francisco when the Giants won 1-0 in the 11th."It's their pitching, that's how they're back in it," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said.Lee allowed only an unearned run in the sixth after two straight Marlins batters reached on errors.Rollins, who leads all NL shortstops in fielding percentage, booted Donovan Solo's grounder. Jose Reyes hit a one-hopper that Lee snagged wide of the mound, whirled around and threw wide to second for an error. Carlos Lee followed two batters later with an RBI single to right for the 1-0 lead.That's the kind of sloppy play that might have done in the Phillies before the All-Star break.Not this month.Notes: The Phillies are on their longest winning streak since a nine-game run from July 29-Aug. 6, 2011. ... Philadelphia's starting pitchers are 15-5 over the last 28 games. ... The Marlins head home to start a three-game series with the Reds. ... Marlins RF Justin Ruggiano was ejected in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes.

Ron Hextall: Risky to move down in 1st round, but 'good move' for Flyers

Ron Hextall: Risky to move down in 1st round, but 'good move' for Flyers

BUFFALO, N.Y. – Ron Hextall said he was fielding calls asking if he wanted to move up and even down during the first round of NHL draft Friday night at First Niagara Center.
 
“We had a lot of calls on flipping picks,” he said. “If we were going to move up we were going to have to take a big jump. We weren’t doing that.”
 
At one point, he was shown on television looking and talking angrily into the phone.
 
“Not true,” Hextall said. “Whether I look mad or not, I assure you I wasn’t.”

In the end, he swapped his No. 18 pick plus No. 79 with Winnipeg for No. 22 and No. 36, one of three second-round picks the Flyers have during Saturday's drafts for Rounds 2-7.
  
In doing so, the Flyers bypassed a chance at several goal-scoring forwards, among them, Kieffer Bellows, who went to the Islanders at No. 19.
 
The Flyers chose 17-year-old Russian centerman German Rubtsov (see story). He had 26 points (12 goals) for the Russian junior team this past season.
 
“We had a really good backup plan that we were comfortable with,” Hextall said of the drop down move that seems rather curious given the club’s need for a big, scoring forward.
 
“So whenever you do that, you say, ‘OK, best case scenario we get this guy.' If we don’t get this guy, these guys are close and we’re OK with it. Otherwise, you don’t move back.”
 
Not everything went as planned through the first round.
 
Hextall predicted if someone was picked out of order, it might create chaos and players would fall. That’s exactly what happened when Columbus chose Pierre-Luc Dubois at No. 3.
 
That set off a chain reaction, which is why Sarnia’s Jakob Chychrun, considered to be a franchise defenseman, kept dropping and was there at No. 16 for Detroit.
 
The Red Wings ended up trading the pick to Arizona along with Pavel Datsyuk, who’s going to the KHL. The Coyotes plucked Chychrun.
 
“We felt like top three was locked in and we had our list,” Hextall said.
 
Hextall kept having stand-up discussions with his table and while the Detroit-Arizona trade was going down, he was talking with Nashville GM David Poile about his pick at No. 17 — a slot above the Flyers.
 
Poile kept his pick anyway and chose Penticton defenseman Dante Fabbro, leaving Bellows to fall right into the Flyers' hands at No. 18 if they wanted him.
 
Except Hextall moved down instead.
 
Bellows ended up going to the Islanders at No. 19, as the Flyers waited out to take Rubtsov.
 
“We wanted him,” Hextall said. “It’s always risky. In the end it was a good move.”
 
It could take a number of years to see whether Rubtsov was the better choice over Bellows.

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Madison Bumgarner looms as Phils seek to snap skid

Phillies-Giants 5 things: Madison Bumgarner looms as Phils seek to snap skid

Phillies (31-44) at Giants (48-27)
10:05 p.m. on CSN

After losing for the 10th time in 11 games, the Phillies face a tough a test as they may face all year Saturday night: Giants ace Madison Bumgarner.

One of baseball's premier pitchers, Bumgarner will take the hill against Jeremy Hellickson, with the Phils' looking to avoid another defeat.

Here are five things to know for tonight's matchup.

1. This is Mad-ness. No, this is Bumgarner!
Whether it is his lucious locks of hair, his 2014 World Series MVP award or his sterling ERA, Bumgarner seems to have everything going for him. 

Still just 26 years old, Bumgarner is in the midst of his best regular season ever. The lefty ace known as "Mad Bum" has the third best ERA in all of baseball (1.85) and has the fifth most strikeouts of any pitcher with 128 K's. 

Ever the workhorse, he's also sixth in baseball with 102 innings pitched in his 15 starts. He is easily on pace for his sixth straight year with at least 200 innings pitched and he has never had an ERA above 3.37. 

All of this is to say that the Phillies are going to have a lot of trouble scoring Saturday. 

Bumgarner's bat has even made news this year. He has two home runs this year (one off Clayton Kershaw) and has created headlines with his desire to join the home run derby in July. He has 13 career homers, including five last season.

To make matters worse for the Phils, Bumgarner has had their number. He is 4-2 with a 3.14 ERA in seven starts against the Phillies, striking out 51 batters in 48⅔ innings. He also had a .353 average in 19 plate appearances against the Phils, picking up six singles. 

2. What to make of Hellickson
Phillies fans now have a solid sample size with which to judge Hellickson. Acquired from the Diamondbacks in the offseason, the veteran righty was supposed to fill a role atop the Phillies' rotation, providing steady innings. Furthermore, many wondered whether he could be used as a trade chip to bring back a prospect come July.

As we near July, it's time to take stock in what Hellickson has actually provided the Phillies and what they can expect from him moving forward. 

A. Innings: He's been solid on this account. In his 15 starts this season, he's completed at least five innings in all but two games (one of which the Phillies won). In his last eight starts, he has thrown at least six innings seven times and has done so 10 times. 

B. Quality: It was tough to expect high quality innings from Hellickson a few years removed from arm injuries. He hadn't produced an ERA below 4.50 since 2012. So far in 2016, he's been about as expected, sporting a 4.41 ERA in 87⅔ innings. He has seven quality starts, a good but certainly not great mark.

C. Trade value: This is still tough to gauge. When he had a 3.68 ERA at the end of May, it seemed like he may get something back in a trade, but a few below average starts brought him back to his post-2012 levels. Still, his penchant for pitching deep into games paired with few high quality pitchers set to be free agents this offseason make him a useful chip for general manager Matt Klentak.

3. Wait, where is Hunter Pence?
There is only one former Phillies player on the Giants and it's a fan favorite: Hunter Pence. Pence patrolled the outfield in Philadelphia for 155 games during the 2011 and '12 seasons before he was traded to San Francisco mid-year. Pence hit 28 home runs in a Phillies uniform to go with 94 RBIs and a .289 batting average

But Pence won't be on the field this weekend for the Giants. He tore his hamstring in early June and underwent surgery, which was supposed to keep him out for 6-8 weeks. 

The Giants come to Citizens Bank Park to begin August, which would be right around the time Pence rejoins the roster. 

With Pence out, rookies Mac Williamson and Jarrett Parker alongside veteran Gregor Blanco have been taking turns filling in the spacious right field at AT&T Park.  

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Cop out here with two people. I'm going with the catching duo of Cameron Rupp and Carlos Ruiz. Rupp has been solid in his first year as a starting catcher while Ruiz has success against Bumgarner in his career, collecting seven hits and a home run.

Giants: Underrated at shortstop, Brandon Crawford is well on his way to earning his contract extension with the Giants. Crawford made a lot of that money off of his defensive prowess, but he can handle the bat, currently with a career-high on-base percentage in his age 29 season.

5. This and that 
• Another Phillies hitter with a home run off Bumgarner is Andres Blanco, who is 1 for 4 off the lefty with just the dinger to show for it. 

• Unsurprisingly, Ryan Howard struggles against the lefty ace. He is 2 for 11 with a walk and six strikeouts. It'd be tough for Pete Mackanin to go with him at first, even with Tommy Joseph in the midst of a slump.

• Buster Posey is 0 for 7 with a walk against Hellickson. Crawford is 4 for 7 with a walk in eight plate appearances against the righty.

• Before this recent stretch, the Phillies hadn't had a stretch of 11 losses in 12 games since June 8-20, 2015. 

Union-Whitecaps 5 things: Looking to make history at home

Union-Whitecaps 5 things: Looking to make history at home

Union vs. Whitecaps
7 p.m. on CSN (Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.)

Fresh off a wild win over the Chicago Fire on Wednesday, the Roland Alberg-led Union (7-4-5) look to continue their winning run at home against the Western Conference Vancouver Whitecaps (6-7-3) Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know for the matchup:

1. Alberg’s explosion
For much of the 2016 season to date, Alberg appeared to be the odd man out in the Union’s lineup. While Alberg worked on his defensive posturing, Union manager Jim Curtin stuck the Dutch midfielder behind Tranquillo Barnetta and Chris Pontius on the offensive depth chart.

But since being let loose in the first game of the U.S. Open Cup, Alberg has proven he belongs.

“He’s great around the goal, that is for certain,” Curtin said. “He hits a heavy ball, great left foot, makes great decisions around the goal, can pass. It’s good to get him going in terms of defensive running, he has really worked hard on that, he’s worked his tail off.”

The work is paying off for the first-year Union attacker, as he scored twice against the Harrisburg City Islanders, notched a goal against New York City FC and then buried the Chicago Fire with a hat trick.

It was a lucrative week and a promising development for the Union heading into Saturday. 

“He give us a calmness on the ball, and we were very happy for him,” Curtin said. “He’s put in a lot. He did a great job getting the goals for us, he’s carrying us to be honest.”

2. Sloppy defense
Though the Union found an offensive answer in Alberg, they haven’t found one recently on defense. The once defensively-stout Union have relaxed a bit, allowing three goals in two consecutive games.

“Three goals given up is not something that we want each game,” Union fullback Keegan Rosenberry said. “Jim talks about it game in, game out, the one goal per game average. We can do better. We can do better in possession, we can do better in limiting counterattacks.”

But if the Union have a surprise characteristic this season, it’s the ability to fight through defensive adversity and fight back in games. Despite going down 3-0 against NYCFC, the Union nearly fought back to tie the game, eventually losing, 3-2. Against the Fire, they gave up the opening goal to David Accam just two minutes into the game before scoring four unanswered. 

“No one hangs their head here,” Pontius said. “We all get back to work. That’s been the mentality of the group. Even 3-0 down at NYC. No one gave in. We kept working at it and ended up tying that game. The resilience of this group is good.”

3. Skillful but inconsistent
Consistency, or lack thereof, has been the theme of the season for the Whitecaps. After ripping off three straight wins in early May, Carl Robinson’s club went 0-2-1, or 1-4-1, if you count the Amway Canadian Championship (Canada’s Open Cup).

But despite their record, the Union are wary of the Whitecaps’ skill.

“They find ways to get points,” Curtin said. “They’re a team that has individual guys who can beat you off the dribble. They have crafty, clever, dynamic individuals. But they’ve conceded some goals this year, so we’ll be looking to attack on our home field.”

Making matters worse, the Whitecaps, who are sitting sixth in the Western Conference, haven't defended well of late, giving up 15 goals in their last seven MLS games.

“You always try to get better,” Whitecaps midfielder Andrew Jacobson said. “I think we just expected to be great defensively, but I think it’ll come. As the team starts playing better and gets rhythm in the attack, it’ll help our defense as well.”

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Although Fabian Herbers has done a commendable job filling in for injured C.J. Sapong, the Union could use their physical leading scorer back. Lucky for them, that could happen this Saturday in a minor role, according to Curtin. “C.J. has been working out on the field, he’s able to cut and he’s running hard,” the coach said. "We’re optimistic that he’ll play a role [on Saturday].”

Whitecaps: On a team full of skillful talent, Pedro Morales, a midfielder, leads the Whitecaps in goals with six and assists with three. “The key is Pedro Morales," Curtin said. “He draws a lot of penalty kicks, so you have to be smart with one-on-one defending in the box.”

5. This and that
• The Union are 2-2-2 against the Whitecaps all-time and 1-0-2 against them at Talen Energy Stadium. 

• With a 6-0-2 record at home this season, the Union are riding a 10-game unbeaten streak at Talen Energy Stadium, tying a franchise record. “That’s a credit to our fans, our players, we’ve made it a tough place to play,” Curtin said. “We’ve been good at home and want to keep that going.”

• The Union are looking for a set back line. But that hasn’t been an easy task with Ken Tribbett and Josh Yaro competing admirably for the spot. “We have four good center backs,” said Curtin, who wouldn’t reveal who will play next to Richie Marquez on Saturday. “Ken brings a different skill set, he has the aerial presence and size. Josh brings a little more speed.”