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.

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Royals storm back in 9th inning for win over Blue Jays

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Whit Merrifield hit a two-run, two-out double that capped a four-run rally in the ninth inning, and the Kansas City Royals beat the Toronto Blue Jays 5-4 on Friday night to reach .500 for the first time since April.

With their 10th win in 12 games, the Royals improved to 36-36. They were 6-6 before play on April 20, then went on a nine-game losing streak that night and dropped as low as 10-20, seven games out of first place. They trail AL Central-leading Cleveland by three games.

Toronto took a 2-1 lead into the ninth and extended it when Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak hit RBI singles off Joakim Soria (4-2) (see full recap).

Dodgers cruise past Rockies for 8th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Yasiel Puig homered and left-hander Alex Wood kept his record perfect as the streaking Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the NL West rival Colorado Rockies 6-1 on Friday night for their eighth consecutive victory.

The Dodgers have won 14 of their last 15 games. They have scored at least six runs in seven consecutive games.

Wood (8-0) allowed one run in six innings. He gave up only three hits and walked two, retiring his last 10 batters.

The Dodgers have homered in 15 consecutive games, tied for fourth-longest streak in club history. The last time they managed it was in 1977. Their record is 24 consecutive games with a home run.

Rookie left-hander Kyle Freeman (8-4) allowed five runs and a career-high 10 hits and three walks in six innings (see full recap).

Torreyes hits walk-off single to lift Yanks over Rangers
NEW YORK -- Ronald Torreyes hit a game-winning single with two outs in the 10th inning after midnight, and the New York Yankees edged the Texas Rangers 2-1 on a rainy Friday night for just their second win in 10 games.

Brett Gardner lined a tying home run with one out in the New York ninth off closer Matt Bush. After Chasen Shreve (2-1) escaped a bases-loaded jam in the top of the 10th, Torreyes kept the Yankees atop the AL East.

Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka kept it scoreless into the late innings in the first major league meeting between the Japanese stars (see full recap).

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

Mark Leiter Jr. picks up 1st big-league win as Phillies cool off Diamondbacks

BOX SCORE

PHOENIX -- The clubhouse was beginning to clear and still the star of the game had not yet emerged from the shower.

"He's in there cleaning the guacamole and mayo out of his hair," Cameron Rupp said with a laugh.

Eventually Mark Leiter Jr. made it out of the shower and over to his locker where equipment man Phil Sheridan presented him with three game balls, souvenirs from not only his first big-league start but his first big-league win, as well.

"It's something I'll never forget," the 26-year-old right-hander from Toms River, N.J., said pitching six shutout innings to backbone the Phillies' 6-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on Friday night (see Instant Replay).

"I’ll be honest, I was probably more excited for this than I was for my major-league debut. To go out there and contribute to a win is what I was hoping to do."

Leiter, a 22nd-round draft pick by the Phillies in 2013, had never made it onto the 40-man roster until the Phils needed a reliever in mid-April and gave him a shot after he'd gotten off to a good start at Triple A. He spent six weeks in the majors and made 12 relief appearances before being sent back to Triple A the first weekend of June.

Leiter worked as a starter during his time back at Triple A. He pitched six shutout innings against Syracuse in his last start and got the call to come back up when Jerad Eickhoff went on the disabled list with a back strain earlier this week.

Leiter's return assignment was not easy: The Diamondbacks are one of the best hitting clubs in the majors and the best on their home turf. They entered the game scoring 6.48 runs per game at home and with an .886 OPS, both major-league bests.

None of that fazed Leiter.

"In my opinion, this is the big leagues and it doesn’t matter who the lineup is," he said. "They all have the ability to hit and hit well. They’re all big-leaguers and they've earned their right to be big-leaguers. I was just trying to pitch to the team you're facing that day."

Leiter trusted his low-90s fastball and commanded it well. He mixed in his secondary stuff and kept the D-backs off-balance with his splitter. He scattered three hits, walked one and struck out five. He showed no fear.

"Great performance," manager Pete Mackanin said. "He made it look easy. He made a lot of good hitters look bad with his split. For him to come up and do that to a real good hitting team was outstanding."

Leiter's dad, Mark Sr., pitched for the Phillies in 1997 and 1998. He made the trip in from New Jersey to watch his son's first big-league start.

"I guess they found him on TV," Leiter said. "That's what they were telling me. I'm sure he wasn't too pleased they found him because he was probably stressed out. But I think it was probably worth him coming out here. He's probably happy."

How could he not be?

Leiter's teammates were definitely happy.

They treated Leiter to a raucous postgame dousing that included as many different condiments as could be found in the clubhouse dining room. One laughing player had a bottle of ketchup in his hands. Another had a squeeze bottle of honey.

And then there was the guacamole and mayo that Rupp mentioned.

"In his first major-league start, to come up here and do that in what is known as a good hitters’ park - that proves Mark is pretty strong between the ears," Tommy Joseph said. "He's been one of those under-the-radar guys that people have doubted, but his mentality and ability to prepare are second to none."

Joseph played a big role in the win, smacking a two-run homer in the ninth inning to give the Phillies some breathing room. Maikel Franco also had a big home run and Freddy Galvis contributed an important triple that led to a Phillies' run in the first inning.

The Phils still have the worst record in the majors at 24-48, but they've won two in a row, both on the back of good starting pitching performances. Aaron Nola pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball on Thursday.

And Leiter delivered on Friday.

"It's good to see those back-to-back," Mackanin said.