Phillies' Papelbon eager to be traded to contender

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Phillies' Papelbon eager to be traded to contender

MILWAUKEE – If a contending team wants Jonathan Papelbon, he’s ready to go.

His limited no-trade clause will not be an issue.

The Phillies’ closer racked up his 22nd save –- and third in as many games -- in the team’s 4-1 win over the Milwaukee Brewers on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay). Papelbon hopes to get the chance to close out a fourth straight Phillies win on Thursday afternoon.

There’s also something else he clearly wants:

The chance to pitch for a winner again.

After Wednesday night’s game, the subject of this month’s trade deadline came up. Unlike some of his teammates, Papelbon did not shy away from the talk.

Papelbon has allowed just 22 hits and five runs while striking out 32 and walking just nine in 36 1/3 innings this season. He is 22 for 24 in save chances.

He was asked if he hoped his strong performance would make him wanted by a contender.

“Of course, man,” he said. “What kind of question is that?”

Actually, it was a reasonable question. There have been players in the past who have rejected trades from losing teams to contending teams because they were comfortable in their situations. Brian Giles once rejected a trade from San Diego to Boston. The topic actually has some relevance to this Phillies club because veterans Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley both have full no-trade rights. Neither has completely closed the door on a possible trade, but both have expressed a desire to stay with the Phillies.

Papelbon was incredulous that a player would not want to move from a losing team to a contending team.

“What?” he said.

“Some guys want to stay on a losing team?" he said.

“That’s mind-boggling to me,” he said.

So if a contender called, you’re ready to go?

“Yeah,” Papelbon said with an are-you-kidding-me laugh. “I think that’s a no-brainer.”

Papelbon was asked if he believed a contender would come knocking?

“I don’t know,” he said.

Does he hope one will?

“Yes and no,” he said. “You know, I came here for a reason ... and I say that because I'm with a group of guys in the bullpen that can do very special things in the future. I've been waiting for that, you know what I mean? It's fun to be a part of that, it really is. We are there finally with our bullpen. So that aspect of it would kind of suck to leave. But at the same time, winning is the cure-alls of cure-alls."

The Phillies did not make the playoffs in Papelbon’s first two seasons with the club. They are in last place in the NL East this season and on pace for 90 losses.

The Phillies tried to trade Papelbon last winter but found no takers because he was coming off a poor 2013 season and was owed $26 million for 2014 and 2015. Papelbon is owed the remainder of his $13 million salary for this season and $13 million for next season, so he won’t be cheap. Phillies management has indicated that it would absorb some salary in trades and it’s likely they would to move Papelbon. They were willing to eat salary on his deal last winter, but still no takers.

Papelbon is a much better pitcher this season because he is healthy.

“Last year sucked,” he said. “I felt like I had a broke hip all season. I think this year I’ve been able to get my mechanics back on a healthier hip. I’ve been able to drive off it. I think that has a lot to do with it.”

Like many Phillies, Papelbon has a limited no-trade clause. He can block deals to 17 teams.

Asked if he would block a deal to a contender, Papelbon shook his head no.

The list of teams to which Papelbon would accept a trade can change yearly. Last year, Detroit was one of the teams he could block. He was asked specifically if he would accept a trade to Detroit and he nodded his head yes.

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

Tonight's lineup: WIth only RHP left, could Ryan Howard start every game?

If healthy, Ryan Howard is expected to start all three games in the Phillies' final series of the season Sept. 2-4 at home against the Mets.

He might also start the entire Braves series.

The Phillies' final six games are all against right-handed starting pitchers: Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and Josh Collmenter in Atlanta; Robert Gsellman, Bartolo Colon and Noah Syndergaard with the Mets. That could mean six starts for Howard before his time with the Phillies expires.

Howard's batting average has been below .200 for practically the entire season, but he's been much better since the All-Star break, hitting .259/.325/.598 with 11 homers, five doubles and 25 RBIs in 123 plate appearances (see game notes). He went 0 for 6 in his last two starts but homered in each of his two previous starts to reach 23 for the third year in a row.

Here's the Phillies' full lineup Tuesday against Teheran:

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Roman Quinn, LF
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Maikel Franco, 3B
5. Ryan Howard, 1B
6. Cameron Rupp, C
7. Freddy Galvis, SS
8. Aaron Altherr, RF
9. Jerad Eickhoff, P

Matt Kemp is out of the Braves' lineup.

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Nick Markakis, RF
5. Tyler Flowers, C
6. Jace Peterson, 2B
7. Dansby Swanson, SS
8. Mallex Smith, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff approaches 200-inning mark

Phillies (70-86) at Braves (63-92)
7:10 p.m. on CSN

After losing by three possessions on Sunday and getting an off day Monday to think about it, the Phillies are back in action Tuesday night to begin their final road series of 2016.

Let's take a look:

1. The finish line nears
Forty-nine down, two to go. The Phillies have just two series left this season, a three-gamer in Atlanta and then a set with the Mets at home to close it out. 

The Phils have a series record of 18-25-6. They have just six series wins in 21 tries since the All-Star break (6-12-3). 

The Phillies and Braves have played seven times in the second half and the Phils are 2-5 — they split a four-game series July 28-31 in Atlanta and were swept at home Sept. 2-4.

With 70 wins, the Phillies have already beaten their over-under by four victories. If they manage to split these final six games, they'll finish 10 games better than they did in 2015.

The Braves, meanwhile, will avoid 100 losses. That didn't look possible when they were 33-66 and on pace for 109 losses. But Atlanta has been much better the last six weeks, especially offensively.

2. Freeman's monstrous year
Whether it was the addition of Matt Kemp or just regression to his true talent level, Freddie Freeman has been a force of nature this summer.

Freeman started slowly. Through June 12, he was hitting .242 with a .750 OPS in 61 games. Since then? He's hit .347/.445/.673 with 33 doubles, five triples, 23 homers and 69 RBIs in 91 games. The Braves are just three games under .500 over that span at 44-47.

It's pretty amazing that Freeman has had an MVP-caliber season in a lineup that offers so little protection. This has been the best year of his seven-year career. In 669 plate appearances, he's hit .305/.402/.570 with 43 doubles, six triples, 32 homers and 87 RBIs. He's also walked 86 times. 

Freeman's best work this year has come against the Phillies. In 16 games, he's gone 22 for 60 (.367) with a .449 OBP, five doubles, five homers and 10 RBIs.

3. The push toward 200
Jerad Eickhoff makes his 32nd start of the season tonight and will likely have one more on the final day. He enters tonight's game with 187⅓ innings pitched, 12⅔ shy of the 200-inning benchmark every pitcher seeks.

Eickhoff said early in the summer that 200 innings would be meaningful to him and acknowledged it just sounds different than 195. It's taken health, stamina and consistency for Eickhoff to get to this point at age 26 in his first full big-league season.

Eickhoff (11-14, 3.75 ERA) has made six consecutive quality starts. He's steadied the Phillies' rotation for four months now. Since May 22, Eickhoff is 10-8 with a 3.52 ERA, but if you remove the one dreadful outing at hitter-friendly Coors Field, his ERA over that span is 3.13. He very well could be the opening day starter in 2017.

Eickhoff has faced the Braves five times in his career and gone 2-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. 

Freeman is 5 for 14 against him with a double and a homer, but all other active Braves have hit a combined .209 with no extra-base hits in more than 75 plate appearances.

Eickhoff won't have to deal with Kemp, who has been hot lately but is out of Tuesday's lineup.

4. Last look at Teheran
The Phillies take on talented Braves right-hander Julio Teheran for the third time this season and 15th time in his six-year career.

Could it be their last time seeing him in an Atlanta uniform? That's always a possibility for the rebuilding Braves with Teheran, who has long been an intriguing trade candidate. A 25-year-old with a 3.37 career ERA and one of the more team-friendly contracts in baseball, Teheran figures to have immense trade value this offseason. He's due $31 million over the next three seasons in a sport where pitchers half as talented now earn similar average annual salaries.

If Teheran is eventually dealt for a package of prospects, the Phillies won't be sad to see him go. He's 7-4 with a 2.31 ERA and has allowed just five home runs to them in 89⅔ career innings. His starts against the Phillies the last three years have been even better: 6-2, 1.39 ERA, 56 strikeouts, 13 walks, one homer allowed in 71 innings.

His last time out, Teheran allowed just one run over seven innings to the Mets but struck out only one batter. He hasn't missed many bats lately, generating just three swings-and-misses in his last start and six two outings before that.

Teheran has five pitches but mostly uses a four-seam fastball/slider combination. When he last faced the Phillies on Sept. 4, 90 of his 119 pitches were four-seamers or sliders.

Current Phillies have hit .219 collectively against Teheran in 169 at-bats. Freddy Galvis has seen him the best, going 7 for 18 (all singles) with three walks. Ryan Howard has two doubles and two solo homers off Teheran in 26 ABs.

5. This and that
• File this one under stats nobody would have predicted: The Braves have the highest on-base percentage in the majors since the All-Star break at .346. The Phillies are fifth-worst at .306.

• In 50 games with Atlanta, Kemp has hit .287/.341/.508 with 13 doubles, 10 homers and 35 RBIs. He had 16 walks in 100 games with the Padres and has 18 in half as many games with the Braves. His poor defense has still made him a net negative player this season (if you believe in WAR), but the Braves are 26-24 since acquiring him.

• If the season ended today, the Phillies would have the ninth pick in next June's draft. Based on the records of the teams around them, they are a near lock to pick either 8th, 9th or 10th.

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