Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

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Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

Phillies at Braves
7:35 p.m. on CSN

The second half of the season is here. Following the four-day All-Star break, the Phillies resume their schedule with three games in Atlanta.

The Phils are 42-53 and 10 games behind the Braves (52-43), so even if they somehow sweep this series they'll still have a sizable deficit in the division.

That's not what the season is about anymore. The Phillies have a 0.1 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to Fangraphs, and Bovada gives them 50-to-1 odds of winning the NL East.

This next week is important, however, for a different reason. That is the first of five things you need to know:

Boost that value
The Phillies would love for Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett, Jonathan Papelbon, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and a few other players to have a strong 10 days leading up to the trade deadline.

It's still early in trade season and teams won't begin really ramping up their efforts to improve until around this time next week. If any injuries arise for contenders, that would help the Phillies, a team that may have the best bat and best arms on the market with Byrd, Lee and Hamels.

Lee pitches July 21 at home against the Giants. That will be a meaningful start for him to reestablish his trade value, although it's looking more and more likely that he will be a Phillie at least until the winter.

Burnett on a roll
Burnett (6-8, 3.83) has made seven consecutive quality starts. Over that span he's pitched at least seven innings six times.

Since June 10, Burnett has averaged 7.4 innings per start and posted a 2.94 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. The walks are down, the hits are down, and the strikeouts are down, but that's OK because Burnett is inducing plenty of ground balls and soft contact. His opponents have hit .209 over his last seven starts.

Burnett could likely fetch a mid-level prospect and some salary relief by the trade deadline. Contending teams are always in need of starting pitching, and Burnett is a solid fallback option for the teams that don't have enough to pursue Hamels, Lee or David Price.

Impatience with The Piece
How much longer do the Phillies give Ryan Howard to correct this?

He's hit one home run over his last 101 plate appearances and went 5 for 53 in his final 15 games before the All-Star break.

Howard has hit .220 this season with a .300 on-base percentage and just 26 extra-base hits. He's not getting on base, he's not driving the ball with consistency, and given his issues running and fielding, he's not providing the Phillies much of anything in the middle of their order.

Ruben Amaro Jr. said a few weeks ago that if the veterans can't get it done, he'll find players who will. That would seem to include Howard, who is halfway through his $125 million contract but already looking like dead weight on a team with a bloated payroll.

The options with Howard are to leave him where he is, to move him down to sixth or seventh in the order (where he probably belongs), or to platoon him.

His OPS is actually 40 points higher vs. lefties (.711) than his mark against righties (.671), but Howard has walked less and struck out way more against same-handed pitching.

Santana for Atlanta
Starting for the Braves in this first game after the break is right-hander Ervin Santana, who is 7-6 with a 4.01 ERA in 17 starts.

Santana was great through mid-May, then stumbled to a month's worth of poor starts, raising his ERA from 1.99 to 4.10 in just five outings.

He's been better of late, however, allowing 11 runs on 30 baserunners over his last 27 innings with 24 strikeouts.

Santana has already faced the Phillies three times this season and gone 1-1 with a 2.89 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings.

This and that
• Ben Revere was the hottest Phillie before the break, hitting .391 in his final 17 games with three extra-base hits, six steals and eight runs scored. He's hit exactly .300 with a .327 on-base percentage in 173 games as a Phillie.

• Byrd has eerily similar home and road splits.

At home, he's 48 for 181 (.265) with 25 runs, 10 doubles, 10 homers and 12 walks.

On the road, he's 47 for 180 (.261) with 24 runs, 10 doubles, eight homers and 12 walks.

• Domonic Brown has been slightly more productive in July, hitting .273 with a double, a homer and eight RBIs in 35 plate appearances. Still, his batting average hasn't been as high as .230 since all the way back on May 10.

• The only player in baseball with more strikeouts than Howard is Braves centerfielder B.J. Upton. With all of the mistakes and disastrous moves the Phillies have made the last three years, could you imagine if they signed Upton before 2013? The Phils reportedly offered Upton five years and $55 million, which was $20 million fewer than the Braves gave him. The Phils' front office should feel lucky Atlanta took that potential monstrosity of a contract away from them.

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

MLB Notes: Austin Jackson makes Indians' opening day roster

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Outfielder Austin Jackson took an opportunity with the Cleveland Indians and ran with it.

Jackson was informed on Sunday that he has made Cleveland's opening-day roster, giving the AL champions some outfield depth in case Lonnie Chisenhall and Michael Brantley aren't ready for the start of the season.

The 30-year-old Jackson signed a minor league deal with the Indians in January. He missed the early part of training camp as he recovered from left knee surgery, but Jackson has made up for lost time by batting .375 with one homer and five RBIs in Cactus League games.

Jackson played in only 54 games last year with the Chicago White Sox before undergoing knee surgery to repair torn meniscus. He's played in the postseason with Detroit and the Cubs.

Jackson had an out clause in his contract that had to be exercised by Sunday (see full story).

Rockies: Mark Reynolds' contract selected from Triple A
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Colorado Rockies have selected the contract of first baseman Mark Reynolds from Triple-A Albuquerque.

Reynolds figures to be the starter at first in the absence of Ian Desmond, who is out with a broken left hand.

The 33-year-old Reynolds hit a career-best .282 last season with 14 home runs and 53 RBIs. He was limited to 32 at-bats after Aug. 11. He broke a bone in his left hand while swinging a bat, had surgery on Aug. 15, was activated Aug. 31 and broke his left wrist when he was hit by a pitch on Sept. 18.

He re-signed with Colorado in February on a minor-league deal.

Also Sunday, Colorado placed right-hander Chad Bettis on the 60-day disabled list as he deals with testicular cancer. There is no timetable for Bettis' return.

Tigers: Lowe released; Jimenez to minor-league camp
LAKELAND, Fla. -- The Detroit Tigers have released right-handed reliever Mark Lowe, one of several cuts before Sunday's spring training game against Toronto.

Detroit also optioned catcher John Hicks to Triple-A Toledo, and the Tigers reassigned right-handers Joe Jimenez, Ruben Alaniz, Logan Kensing, Arcenio Leon and Edward Mujica, infielder Dominic Ficociello and outfielders Anthony Gose and Juan Perez to minor league camp.

The Tigers signed Lowe to an $11 million, two-year contract before last season, but he was ineffective in 2016, going 1-3 with a 7.11 ERA in 54 appearances. He had a 5.19 ERA in nine appearances this spring.

In 2015, Lowe went 1-3 with a 1.96 ERA in 57 games with Seattle and Toronto.

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

Phillies 6, Pirates 3: Andrew Knapp's big day comes at the right time

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Ever since Andrew Knapp earned his way onto the Phillies' 40-man roster back in November, it seemed to be a fait accompli that he would end up as the team's backup catcher on opening day.

But that's not to say he didn't have to shine just a little bit in spring training to validate his standing.

Knapp got off to a slow start in Grapefruit League play -- one hit in his first 22 at-bats -- but he began the final week of camp with his best game on Sunday. He went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run and threw out two runners on the bases.

"It's been nice to get some games back-to-back," Knapp said. "I struggled a little bit early just taking a lot of time off in between at-bats and behind the plate. But this past week, I've been able to get in there a lot and start to get in the flow of the game a little bit. I think I was trying to do too much early on."

The increased playing time is likely a sign that Knapp will end up on the 25-man roster. The Phils have two non-roster veteran catchers -- Bryan Holaday and Ryan Hanigan -- in camp. Both can opt out of their minor-league contracts in the coming days if they aren't going to make the club.

Phillies officials are looking to make as few subtractions from the 40-man roster as they can in constructing their bench and bullpen (see story). That's why things are looking good for Knapp.

But he's taking nothing for granted. Though Phillies officials were scheduled to meet Sunday evening "to try to get as close to the finalization as we can," in manager Pete Mackanin's words, opening day rosters don't have to be officially submitted until next Sunday, a day before the season opener.

"I'm just trying to keep my head down and not think about it that much," Knapp said. "The playing helps a lot. When you're just sitting on the bench, you're thinking about a million things. But when you're in the game, you get away from that a little bit. Just go out there, play, and enjoy the game. It's helped a lot."

The rest of the bench
Andres Blanco and Aaron Altherr are both set on the bench. Knapp looks good. That leaves two open spots, presuming the Phillies go with a five-man bench.

Chris Coghlan and Daniel Nava, both non-roster veterans, have played extensively in recent days. That suggests they could be the lead candidates. If that's the case, Brock Stassi, who has not played the last two days, could be on the outside. Infielder Jesmuel Valentin is also still in camp and he has played well. He's also on the 40-man roster and that would play in his favor. However, at 22, he might be better served to get regular playing time in Triple A.

Neither Coghlan nor Nava is on the 40-man roster so the Phils would have to clear spots to carry them.

Coghlan made an excellent running catch against the wall in left field Sunday.

The game
The Phillies had 15 hits and six of them were for extra bases, including homers by Knapp and Maikel Franco, in their 6-3 win over the Pirates.

Clay Buchholz, who had not pitched in 10 days after traveling home for the birth of his son, was rusty. He gave up five hits and three runs in 3 1/3 innings. He walked four and struck out four.

"Four walks is definitely subpar, but, you know, it's still spring training," Buchholz said.

The right-hander has allowed 11 runs over his last 14 2/3 innings.

"You can't honestly say he's had a good spring, but he was up close to 90 pitches today so pitch-count-wise he's doing fine," Mackanin said. "He hadn't pitched in 10 days so I can understand his lack of command. Once he's into a rhythm I think he'll be fine."

Venditte shines
Ambidextrous reliever Pat Venditte pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

"It's fun to watch Venditte pitch," Mackanin said. "If I'm up in the stands and I see him throw four pitches from the right side and I reach over to get my Coke or beer and I look back up and he's throwing from the left side I will start wondering how many beers I had. He's fun to watch."

Up next
The Phillies play the Blue Jays in Dunedin on Monday night. Vince Velasquez will start against Toronto's Aaron Sanchez.

The Phils could have several roster moves during the day as the 25-man roster continues to come into focus.