Coveted Lee wants to stay and win with Phillies

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Coveted Lee wants to stay and win with Phillies

NEW YORK – Cliff Lee was a very popular interview subject at All-Star festivities Monday.

Lee knew he would be. It’s July. He has a history as a hired gun. Teams want him. One of those teams is his current one, the Phillies. If that changes, contenders will pounce like wild dogs on red-pinstriped meat.

“It’s the nature of the business,” Lee said of the trade speculation that has followed him for the last year. “Until you have a full no-trade clause, you have no choice. It’s a business and each team has the prerogative to do what it wants.”

For the record, Lee has a partial no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to 20 teams.

“My job is to perform and give a team a chance to win -- for whatever team I’m with,” he said. “Right now it’s the Phillies and I hope it’s the Phillies for the rest of my career.

“You can sit here and what-if all kinds of things. I just know I’m a Phillie right now and that’s where my allegiance is, and I’ll continue to try to help them win. That’s where my focus is.”

Phils GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is on record as saying he wants to hang on to Lee for a possible second-half surge. Beyond that, Amaro says the Phillies are in business to win, and if they don’t make the postseason this year, they will look to rebound in 2014, and the best way to rebound is having Lee and Cole Hamels at the top of the rotation.

But here’s the thing about Amaro and the rest of the people that run the Phillies: They are human beings. Sometimes human beings change their minds. You can bet that Amaro’s ears are open to callers who ask about Lee and Chase Utley. If he’s blown away by the return -- and considers the Phillies a long shot to make the playoffs -- he could consider dealing those players. If he’s not blown away, no one will ever know he took the call in the first place.

There’s one sure way for Lee not be traded:

Keep on winning.

The Phils won seven of 10 on their last homestand to get to .500. They are 6 1/2 back in the NL East and 5 1/2 back in the wild card.

They aren’t trading Lee as long as they have a chance to overtake second-place Washington and catch Atlanta. The Phils must continue to run down both clubs when play resumes Friday. The Phils play three at the Mets, three at the Cardinals and three at the Tigers before an off day on July 29. By that time, Phils management will either be in the game all the way or looking to ship out players.

“We’ve actually played very well lately,” Lee said. “We’re winning series and that’s what you want. Lucky for us the Braves haven’t run away with it. As bad as we’ve played we’re within striking distance.

“As far as trades, you’ll have to talk to Ruben about that, but I think we’re in it. I have no other option but to look at it like we’re in it, and we’re going to catch up with the Braves, and we’re going to win the division and win the World Series. There’s no other way to look at it.”

Lee gets credit for thinking positively.

The Phillies in some ways control their own destiny as they have 13 games remaining with Atlanta and nine remaining with Washington. They also have 16 games left with the Mets and Marlins.

But these next nine games are crucial. They can’t afford a slow start to the second half in this weekend’s trip to Citi Field to face the Mets, and they have to play well against St. Louis and Detroit, two first-place clubs, next week.

“Hopefully we can continue what we’ve been doing last few weeks and make up some ground,” Lee said.

The Phillies have needs in the bullpen and in center field, where Ben Revere is out for up to two months with a broken foot (see story).

Amaro has said he’s looking to add to those areas, but there’s a feeling around baseball that he wants to see how his team reacts over the next week or so before he does.

Becoming buyers would show the team that management believes in it.

“I guess it would be bad to say I don’t care what management thinks about that but that’s kind of true,” Lee said. “It really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about our team. It’s more about what we think amongst ourselves and us coming together as a team, competing hard and pulling for each other and picking each other up. And if we do that nothing else matters because we’ll win.

“It’s the front office’s job to field the best possible team they can. I’m pretty certain they’re trying to do that. My job is to pitch. I’m going to do that. If they trade guys or add guys I’m going to have to deal with that and we’re going to have to make the best of that no matter which direction they go.”

Lee, who turns 35 next month, is having a brilliant season. He is 10-3 with a 2.86 ERA in 19 starts. His WHIP is 0.995, the fifth-best in the NL. He has pitched 138 2/3 innings, third-most in the league and has 125 strikeouts and just 21 walks.

These are the reasons he is at his fourth All-Star Game, answering questions about possibly being a hired gun and saying he wants to remain a Phillie and make a run with that team.

“I’d rather not be here and be in first place by eight or 10 games and playing better baseball, but I can’t control that,” Lee said. “But it is gratifying knowing I’ve done my job at a high level and given the team a chance to win every time I’ve taken the mound, and I feel honored to be here.”

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tonight's lineup: Struggling Tommy Joseph, Cameron Rupp sit

Tommy Joseph and Cameron Rupp, both struggling mightily through the first month of the season, will get Saturday night off when the Phillies take on the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Joseph is hitting .190 with one homer and 18 strikeouts in 18 games, while Rupp is batting .180 with one homer and 20 strikeouts through 15 games. Last season, Joseph had 21 home runs and Rupp 16.

Brock Stassi will spell Joseph at first base and bat seventh. Andrew Knapp takes over for Rupp behind the plate and will bat eighth.

Daniel Nava also receives a start, playing left field. The first-year Phillie is hitting .346 with a pair of homers and as many walks as strikeouts (seven).

Zach Eflin takes the mound in a meaningful start for the right-hander (see story). He opposes resurgent Dodgers righty Brandon McCarthy (see game notes).

Here are tonight's lineups:

Phillies
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Michael Saunders, RF
6. Daniel Nava, LF
7. Brock Stassi, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Zach Eflin, P

Dodgers
1. Andrew Toles, CF
2. Corey Seager, SS
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
4. Yasmani Grandal, C
5. Yasiel Puig, RF
6. Cody Bellinger, LF
7. Chase Utley, 2B
8. Chris Taylor, 3B
9. Brandon McCarthy, P

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies-Dodgers 5 things: Phils face resurgent Brandon McCarthy

Phillies (11-10) at Dodgers (12-12)
9:10 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies' six-game winning streak came to an abrupt end out west Friday night. The beauty of baseball is that you have a chance to start a new streak a day later. Zach Eflin looks to avenge a poor performance from last season while the Dodgers send out veteran righty Brandon McCarthy at home.

Here are five things to know for Saturday evening's game.

1. Two strong starts for Eflin
In his second season as a big-league starter, Eflin is off to a lot better start than last year. 

If you remember his MLB debut, he gave up eight runs and retired just eight batters against a Blue Jays team that could hit the snot out of the ball … and did. Through two starts, Eflin had a 10.80 ERA and two losses to his résumé before coming into his own over the next two months.

This year has been just about the opposite. Eflin clearly looks comfortable on a major-league mound. He's turned Clay Buchholz's spot in the rotation into a positive. He's allowed just three runs and one home run in 12 innings, good for a 2.25 ERA.

The modern thinking is that an ideal pitcher strikes out a lot of batters, avoids walks and home runs, and induces weak contact. Eflin has done all but the strikeouts. His sinker has been marvelous and the Mets/Braves had little chance to do damage against it. Pete Mackanin described the sinker as a bowling ball. That just about says it all. The sinker won't induce that many swings and misses — thus the lack of strikeouts — but he can throw it in the zone and keep hitters off balance.

The Dodgers kind of ended Eflin's season last year. In reality, it was dueling knee injuries that did Eflin in (see story), but the Dodgers were the last team to take advantage of an ailing Eflin, hitting three home runs and scoring seven runs in just three innings Aug. 8. Even the outs in that game were generally line drives. Chase Utley, Yasmani Grandal and Corey Seager — all of whom could be in the lineup Saturday — took the now-23-year-old righty deep.

Being a righty against the Dodgers isn't all that advantageous as the team boasts those three hitters and Adrian Gonzalez, Andrew Toles and Cody Bellinger as lefties who can put up disruptive plate appearances. Unfortunately for the Phillies, they have a rotation full of righties and are unable to take advantage of the Dodgers' platoon issues.

2. Dodgers send out resurgent righty
The first two seasons of Brandon McCarthy's deal with the Dodgers essentially went by the wayside. Now, the 33-year-old starter is picking up where he left off in 2014.

McCarthy has long been one of the more entertaining and thoughtful players in baseball, as evidenced by his Twitter account. The veteran righty has also been a steadily average to occasionally above-average pitcher in 12 MLB seasons, bouncing around teams mostly on the west coast. He posted career-worst numbers with the Diamondbacks in the first half of 2014, but he rebounded in the second half with the Yankees, pitching to a 2.89 ERA in 90 innings despite the hitter-friendly confines of Yankee Stadium.

He parlayed that second half into a four-year, $48 million deal with the Dodgers and that was almost immediately derailed by Tommy John surgery. Going into 2017, he had thrown just 63 innings and made only 13 starts in the first half of his contract. McCarthy was one of many Dodgers pitchers on the disabled list during a 2016 with a record-setting number of injuries for the club.

But now he's apparently back to form and, perhaps most importantly, he's healthy. He's made it through four starts unscathed this year and is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA to boot. He's allowed just 18 hits in 24 innings. Similar to Eflin, he relies primarily on a dynamic sinker that sits in the low-to-mid 90s. He also features a low 90s cutter and an 80 mph curveball, both of which grade out well this season.

Only three current Phillies have any history vs. McCarthy. With his history in the AL West with the Mariners, Michael Saunders has faced McCarthy plenty with sub-par results, going 2 for 13 with five strikeouts. Freddy Galvis is 3 for 3 off the righty while Andres Blanco is 0 for 1.

3. How does the Dodgers' bullpen stack up?
Going into Friday's action, the Dodgers' bullpen had a 3.15 collective ERA, good for eighth in all of baseball and second-best in the National League. As a whole, the crew strikes out 10.29 batters per nine innings and has the highest wins above replacement of any bullpen in baseball.

Any conversation about the Dodgers' 'pen starts with Kenley Jansen, one of the premier closers in the game today. He overwhelms hitters with a cutter many consider reminiscent of Mariano Rivera. It isn't quite up to Rivera's level, but it is still wildly effective. He has a 2.16 ERA and 16 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings this season, locking down six saves in six chances. He dominated the Phillies on Friday night.

Setting up for him primarily is righty flamethrower Pedro Baez. Baez pitches with a dreadfully slow pace but great results, striking out batters at a similar clip and takes a 1.08 ERA into the weekend. Righty Josh Fields and lefty Grant Dayton each hadn't allowed a run this year before Fields let one up in the eighth inning Friday while lefty Luis Avilan has been effective primarily vs. lefties. 

While Chris Hatcher and Ross Stripling, both righties, each has a loss this season, they've still achieved OK results pitching often in low leverage situations. The biggest disappointment for Los Angeles has been the offseason signing of former Giants closer Sergio Romo. The 34-year-old has a 10.57 ERA through 10 appearances and has walked as many batters as he's struck out. If the Phillies get to face Romo in a big situation this weekend, it'll be a tremendous opportunity to do some damage.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Freddy Galvis takes a 10-game hitting streak into action on Saturday night. Not only does he have good numbers off McCarthy, he's also simply off to the best start to his career. The Phillies' shortstop has traditionally been a better second half hitter but he has a career-best .269 average and .487 slugging percentage thus far.

Dodgers: While he is currently playing corner outfield, rookie Cody Bellinger is the Dodgers' first baseman of the future. Currently the No. 10 prospect in baseball, he had five home runs in Triple A Oklahoma City and is projected to have legitimate in-game power at the major league level. 

5. This and that
• The Phillies went 2-4 vs. the Dodgers last season and haven't won a series at Dodger Stadium since April 21-24, 2014, when they took three of four.

• Frequent trade partners in recent history, the Phillies and Dodgers have teamed up for eight trades since the 2012 trade deadline. Eflin himself came to the Phillies in the 2014 Jimmy Rollins trade.

• McCarthy is typically at his worst in April. He has a 5.01 ERA for March/April in his career, his worst for any month. However, he pitched well the two times he faced the Phillies. He threw eight shutout innings in 2013 and gave up two runs while striking out 12 in seven innings during the 2014 season.