Buy or sell? Amaro deep in preparations

060213-amaro-slideshow-ap.jpg

Buy or sell? Amaro deep in preparations

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. has spent the week consulting with his major-league staff and top advisers -- Pat Gillick was in town for meetings on Thursday -- as he plots strategy for the nearly three weeks that remain before the non-waiver trade deadline.

As he stood on the field during batting practice before Thursday night’s game, Amaro was neither a buyer nor a seller. He could go either way, depending on how his club plays in the 12-game stretch from Friday’s series opener against the White Sox to the July 28 series finale at Detroit.

“If tomorrow was July 31, we’d be buying,” Amaro said. “We’re 6½ out of the wild card. No one is running away with it. No one is invincible.”

Amaro straddled a similar line last July and ultimately traded away Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence.

Four days before the all-star break, the Phillies are in better shape this year than last. Last year, they were 13 games under .500, 14 back in the division and 10 back in the wild-card race at the all-star break. Entering play Thursday, they were two under .500, 7½ back in the division and 6½ back in the wild-card race.

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

Even as they plot strategy for the next few weeks, Phillies officials are planning multiple scenarios based on whether they add or subtract, stay in the race or wave the white flag and plan for the future. That means communication with other teams.

“Tons of calls,” Amaro said. “It’s all I do is take calls. Things are very active. It’s that time of year, man. Nothing different than any other July.”

There is plenty of interest in Phillies players. You know the names -- Jonathan Papelbon, Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Michael Young. It’s possible that one or all could go if the Phillies sell.

Young, the Phillies’ third baseman, could go either way. According to sources, the Phils have heard from a handful of teams that have interest in the versatile infielder. Some of those teams like the fact that Young can play some second base. The Toronto Blue Jays have scouted the Phillies this week. The Jays like Utley, but it’s believed his contract allows him to block a deal to Toronto. The Jays are talking about moving Brett Lawrie from third to second. That could add up to them taking a peek at Young for third base. Young, however, has a full no-trade clause and would probably only approve a deal to more of a legitimate contender. Baltimore might be an interesting fit for Young as a utility man and bat. Young has a good history with Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who values the type of winning veteran intangibles that Young can bring.

Young would be expendable because the Phillies have some options at third base, including Freddy Galvis, Kevin Frandsen and possibly Cody Asche. He’s also 36 and on an expiring contract. Amaro is reluctant to trade away young talent.

“I don’t really want to move young talent,” Amaro said. “If we have to [make a trade] we’ll figure something out. With the way our club is and with our age -- it’s a young man’s game. We want to try to keep as many young guys as we can.”

Amaro continues to list bullpen help as the Phils’ No. 1 need. He was asked how much financial flexibility he has to take on talent.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “But my boss has always allowed the sensible thing.”

If the Phils get in the race in the second half, Amaro hopes to have Roy Halladay back in the rotation in September.

“It’s possible,” Amaro said. “We have to see how he feels. If he’s pitching by September, I’ll be ecstatic.”

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

Phillies can exhale after bullpen nearly blows 10-0 lead

BOX SCORE

The moment when the ball struck first baseman Tommy Joseph’s glove for the final out of the Phillies 10-8 win over the Mets — dealing a major blow to their rival’s wild card hopes in the process — felt more like a collective exhalation than a moment of celebration (see Instant Replay).
 
Two days earlier, the bullpen faltered suddenly. A game-tying two-run homer by Jose Reyes in the ninth was the first body blow. The game-winning three-run homer by Asdrubal Cabrera was the knockout.
 
Saturday, the collapse occurred over the course of five innings as the Phillies let a lead that was once 10-0 slip away, one drawn-out at-bat after another.
 
Missing, of course, was the moment of impact in the proverbial slow-motion car crash, thanks to well-placed sinkers and four-seamers from Michael Mariot.
 
“The bullpen’s been sputtering,” manager Pete Mackanin said in an understatement.
 
Joely Rodriguez entered in the sixth inning with a 10-4 lead to face a string of lefties and it quickly became apparent that he did not have his fastball. A middle-in four-seamer that caught too much of the plate was slapped for a double by Mets shortstop Gavin Cecchini, his first major-league hit and a run. A second run scored when a little dribbler by third baseman T.J. Rivera died on the third base line, leaving Rodriguez with no play.
 
“He just didn’t throw quality strikes,” Mackanin said.
 
Even the normally-reliable Hector Neris struggled on Saturday. In his 77th outing of the season, Neris walked two straight batters and then surrendered an RBI double to Cecchini of his own which narrowed the lead to 10-7 and thrust the uncertainty of a save situation onto Mackanin.
 
Mariot was given first crack at the ninth inning one day after Mackanin said he would give Jeanmar Gomez a break from closing duties.
 
Mariot’s audition got off to a rough start. He gave up a pinch-hit solo home run to Jay Bruce — who had been mired in an 0-15 slump — with one out in the ninth and then walked Eric Campbell and Michael Conforto after a pair of grueling at-bats that lasted a combined 18 pitches.
 
The two hitters fouled off eight of Mariot’s pitches and took several four-seamers that just missed the plate.
 
“I was pretty upset about that,” Mariot said of the four-seamers that missed. “I was hoping to get at least a swing or maybe a call on those. Talking to [catcher] A.J. [Ellis], I think he said that they missed but I was hoping at least one of them to get called a strike.”
 
Gomez was up in the Phillies’ bullpen but Mariot ensured that Mackanin wouldn’t need to throw the recently-struggling closer back into the fire in a high-stress situation.
 
Mariot was able to locate his fastball when he needed to most. He fooled Lucas Duda with a two-seamer that the slugger popped out to Freddy Galvis and got Travis D’Arnaud to ground a four-seamer outside right back to him.
 
“I just told myself: ‘keep throwing strikes and good things will happen,’” Mariot said.
 
He threw just enough strikes to ensure that the Phillies didn’t end up on the wrong end of what would have been the Mets’ biggest comeback in team history.

Find great deals on Philadelphia Phillies tickets with TicketIQ. Buy cheap Phillies tickets with no hidden fees for all games on their 2016 schedule. 

Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

Best of MLB: Nationals clinch NL East with win over Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The Washington Nationals clinched their third National League East title in five years, beating the Pittsburgh Pirates 6-1 Saturday night behind 5 1/3 scoreless innings from rookie reliever Reynaldo Lopez.

Stephen Drew's two-run single capped a three-run first inning for the Nationals, who return to the postseason after a one-year absence. Their win ensured a playoff berth, and they won the division about 20 minutes later when the second-place New York Mets lost to Philadelphia.

Lopez (4-3) came on to the start the bottom of the fourth inning with a 6-1 lead and allowed three hits while striking out five and walking one. He was removed a runner on first and one out in the ninth inning.

Marc Rzepczynski and Blake Treinen got one out each to end the game, and a pocket of Nationals' fans behind the visiting dugout cheered (see full recap).

Cardinals solve Wrigley again, crush Hammel, Cubs 10-4
CHICAGO -- The St. Louis Cardinals have a lot to accomplish if they want to return to Chicago in two weeks for a rematch of last year's NL Division Series. They would have to qualify for one of the wild-card spots, then win the single-elimination playoff game.

If they do, the Cardinals may be the one club that won't be fazed by Wrigley Field and the Cubs.

Yadier Molina drove in four runs, Stephen Piscotty homered and the Cardinals boosted their playoff hopes by getting to Jason Hammel early in a 10-4 rout of Chicago on Saturday.

Randal Grichuk added three RBIs and Jhonny Peralta had three hits and scored three runs for the Cardinals, who stopped a two-game skid and moved into a tie with San Francisco for the final NL wild-card spot pending the Giants' game at San Diego (see full recap).

Yanks shut out for 3rd straight game in 3-0 loss to Jays
TORONTO -- The New York Yankees' offense has disappeared, and their playoffs chances have pretty much vanished, too.

Jose Bautista hit a three-run homer off Tyler Clippard in the eighth inning, and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Yankees 3-0 Saturday.

New York has been shut out in three straight games for the first time July 27-28, 1975.

"Whatever we're doing right now, it's not working," first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "We just seem to have lost it the last few days."

The Yankees have lost 10 of 13 following a seven-game winning streak and dropped 4 1/2 games back for the AL's second wild card with eight games left. They likely will miss the playoffs for the third time in four years (see full recap).

Dietrich homers, Marlins end Braves' streak at 7 win
MIAMI -- Derek Dietrich hit a two-run homer to help the Miami Marlins end the Atlanta Braves' winning streak at seven games, winning 6-4 on Saturday night.

Dee Gordon had two hits, two walks and three stolen bases - one shy of tying the Marlins' single-game franchise high, which he has done on two separate occasions.

Atlanta's Freddie Freeman extended his hitting streak to 28 games in the first inning and has reached base in 44 straight. He also hit a solo home run in the sixth, his 32nd.

Brian Ellington (4-2) earned the win in relief and A.J. Ramos recorded his 39th save in 42 chances.

The Braves pulled within 5-4 on a wild pitch by Fernando Rodney in the seventh inning (see full recap).