Are the Phillies NL East contenders again?

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Are the Phillies NL East contenders again?

Charlie Manuel has a way about him. You’ve probably noticed. Things he does. Things he says. Things he believes.

One of his favorite talking points is as simple as it is true. You’ve heard him repeat some variation of the same thing almost every year for various reasons. The thought, distilled to its essence, goes like this: to be a good team, you have to beat good teams. Or, put in the parlance of his friend Ric Flair, to be the man, you have to beat the man.

These Phillies need to beat a lot of men and a lot of teams between now and the trade deadline if they hope to work their way into the playoff conversation (if not the actual race itself). You know it. The players know it. Manuel certainly knows it. On Thursday, the manager dusted off one of his favorite truisms, repurposed it for the here and now, and summed up the Phillies’ current situation nicely.

“There comes a time, if you’re going to be a playoff-contending team, you’re going to have to beat some good pitchers along the way,” Manuel said before the Phils faced excellent Nationals hurler Jordan Zimmermann. “And we’re supposed to beat some good pitchers at times. I know Zimmermann is a good pitcher. I like him. I like everything about him. But at the same time, I have seen us score runs on him. I think that we have enough left-handed hitting to score runs on him. Hopefully we can do it.”

They did it -- barely. The Phillies pushed two earned runs across the plate against Zimmermann in their 3-1 win over the Nationals at Citizens Bank Park (see game recap).

Kyle Kendrick pitched an excellent game and got the win. Jonathan Papelbon came on to get the save. But the Phillies had four errors, and it took yet another pinch-hit RBI by Kevin Frandsen to put them ahead late. It was a tense night. But the Phillies won -- the game and the series. Lately, they’ve made a habit of doing the latter. The Phils have won four of their last five series.

It has been a while since the Phillies played well enough to make you check the out-of-town scores each night. That is the fun part of baseball -- the standings and the race and the long slog toward the playoffs. It has been a while since the Phils were good enough to prompt that kind of behavior.

That’s what the Phils have done recently -- they’ve made themselves relevant again. They are 24-14 against the NL East, the best record of any club in the division. You can understand, then, why general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said “no one is running away” with the division and “no one is invincible," (see story).

Which leads us back to the buy or sell question that’s been asked repeatedly for the last few weeks. With the way the Phils are playing, it’s hard to imagine Amaro giving up on a team that just took a series from the Braves and another from the Nationals.

“I considered us less of a contender last year,” Amaro said. “We’re in a better spot this year.”


That’s a hard point to argue. But what might it take for the Phils to actually make the playoffs?

“That second wild card, if you look at it, you might stand a chance of getting in at a mid-80s win [total], something like that -- 84, 86, 87,” Manuel said. “There’s been teams that got in the playoffs before playing three or four over .500 or something like that. With the second wild card, that’s kind of the structure it adds -- mid-80s to high-80s might get you that second wild-card berth.

“I’ve always looked at winning the division. I thought if you win enough games, the other things, the wild card, would take care of themselves. I think it’s going to take, in this division here, probably 88 to 92 wins. Somewhere in that area. If some team wins 93 to 95, they’re definitely going to win this division.”

Forget 93 or 95 wins. Forget 92. Even with how well they’ve played, those numbers seem well out of reach. Let’s go with something more realistic. We’ll use the 88 wins Manuel referenced as a starting point.

The Phillies are 46-47. They have 69 games remaining. To reach 88 wins, they have to go 42-27 the rest of the way. That’s a .642 clip. For a team that’s still under .500, that seems like a big chore. But considering how the Phillies have played of late, it’s possible to imagine a future in which they’re among the teams pushing toward the playoffs.

But that’s for later. For now, the Phillies won another game and another series. They’re relevant again. That will do for the moment.

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick makes 4th rehab appearance in Lehigh Valley

Howie Kendrick on Saturday night made his fourth rehab appearance in Triple A during Lehigh Valley's 13-1 rout of the Louisville Bats in Allentown.

Kendrick went 1 for 5 with a run scored and three strikeouts. He also grounded into a double play and left two runners in scoring position.

It was his second rehab game playing third base. He played third during his appearance in the IronPigs' 8-4 loss Thursday to the Indianapolis Indians. He was 0 for 1 in three plate appearances with a run scored and was hit by a pitch twice (see story).

The Phillies' plan for Kendrick was to have him play a minimum four games at Lehigh Valley. He played left field in two games and third base twice. Pete Mackanin said Wednesday that Kendrick would also get a game at first base but he hasn't gotten a game at first yet.

There is a chance Kendrick could be recalled Sunday before the Phillies’ series finale against the Cincinnati Reds depending on how he feels.

Kendrick has been sidelined since April 15 with an oblique strain. In 10 games before the injury, Kendrick went 13 for 39 (.333) with five extra-base hits and four walks while exclusively playing left field.

Best of MLB: Trout's 16th home run guides Angels past Marlins

Best of MLB: Trout's 16th home run guides Angels past Marlins

MIAMI -- Mike Trout hit his major league-leading 16th homer, and the Los Angeles Angels reached the .500 mark for the 12th time this season by beating Miami 5-2 Saturday.

Trout's first-inning homer into the beer garden in left field was estimated at 443 feet, which pleased a fair portion of the crowd at Marlins Park.

"Hate Fish Love Trout," read a sign held by an Angels fans.

J.C. Ramirez (5-3) limited Miami to an unearned run in seven innings and benefited from excellent defense. Bud Norris, who tweaked his right knee and left Friday's game after throwing only three pitches, gave up a homer to Marcell Ozuna in the ninth (see full recap).

Strasburg K's career-high 15, Nats down Padres 3-0
WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg dominated San Diego with a career-high 15 strikeouts while allowing three hits over seven innings as the Washington Nationals beat the Padres 3-0 on Saturday.

Strasburg (6-1) singled and scored Washington's first run on Bryce Harper's RBI grounder in the third inning. Michael A. Taylor hit a two-run homer for the second consecutive game.

San Diego's lineup offered little resistance against Strasburg the day after Max Scherzer dominated the Padres with 13 strikeouts in Washington's 5-1 win.

Strasburg struck out the side in the third and sixth and had at least two in the first six innings.

The right-hander previously struck out 14 batters twice including his Major League debut on June 8, 2010. He set a personal best by setting down Franchy Cordero in the seventh (see full recap).

Yankees held hitless into 6th by Cotton, but beat A's 3-2
NEW YORK -- Oakland rookie Jharel Cotton held the Yankees hitless until Matt Holliday launched a two-run homer with two outs in the sixth inning that sent resurgent CC Sabathia and New York to a 3-2 victory Saturday.

Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge was in the right spot for a pair of key catches to boost the AL East leaders, who won with just two hits.

Sabathia (5-2) has won three straight starts for the first time since April 2013. The 36-year-old lefty pitched into the seventh and struck out nine.

Dellin Betances escaped a second-and-third, one-out jam in the eighth, an inning that included the ejections of A's hitter Jed Lowrie and manager Bob Melvin for arguing strike three calls. Betances closed for his fifth save.

Cotton (3-5) was promoted from Triple-A Nashville before the game. He began the season in the Athletics' rotation but was sent down to the minors May 11 to refine his game (see full recap).

Bautista hits 3-run HR, Blue Jays beat Rangers 3-1
TORONTO -- Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer that backed Marco Estrada, and the Toronto Blue Bays beat the Texas Rangers 3-1 Saturday and matched their longest winning streak this season at five.

Shin-soo Choo homered into the center-field party deck on the first pitch of the game from Marco Estrada, but Bautista hit a two-out drive in the fifth, his eighth home run in May after one in April.

Estrada (4-2) allowed four hits in six innings to win for the third time in four starts. Aaron Loup got one out in the seventh, Ryan Tepera finished the inning and Joe Smith worked the eighth. Roberto Osuna threw a perfect ninth for his ninth save, completing a six-hitter.

Darvish (5-3) gave up three runs and five hits in six innings. He had been 4-0 with a 2.54 ERA in six starts since losing April 18 at Oakland. Texas has lost five in a row for the first time this year (see full recap).