Report: Phillies still a player for A.J. Burnett

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Report: Phillies still a player for A.J. Burnett

The Phillies are "very much still in the running" for A.J. Burnett, MLB.com's Todd Zolecki reported Monday night. This comes three days after GM Ruben Amaro Jr. cautioned against any more major moves coming.

Amaro said last Friday that it appeared the Phils would head into spring training with the rotation they had. 

“I don’t suspect we’ll be doing anything,” the Phillies' GM told CSNPhilly.com Phillies Insider Jim Salisbury. “I think we’ve got what we’ve got. I suspect we’ll go into the season with what we’ve got -- or at least spring training with what we’ve got. We’re always looking, always trolling. I know there are guys out there, but I don’t suspect us having anything major coming through.”

Burnett would certainly qualify as a "major" upgrade to a very thin Phillies staff. He led the NL with 9.8 strikeouts per nine innings in 2013 and has the second-best groundball rate in the majors since 2012.

The Burnett saga this offseason has had many stops and starts. At first, retirement seemed to be his choice. Then it appeared he wanted to pitch only for the Pirates, or perhaps the Orioles, since he's a resident of suburban Baltimore. But other teams have entered the mix since the retirement option went out the window, and East Coast teams seem to have the advantage.

Adding Burnett would give the Phillies a rotation that could contend. He'd slot in either in between or after Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee. After the ace lefties, the Phillies have Kyle Kendrick and Roberto Hernandez destined for the rotation, with Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez and Jonathan Pettibone the top candidates for the final spot.

If the Phillies did bring in Burnett, they'd have a rotation that could rival the NL's top staffs in Washington and Los Angeles. The Nationals' top-four of Jordan Zimmermann, Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Doug Fister is the deepest in the NL, but the Dodgers' top-three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu might be the best in a short series.

The Cardinals (Adam Wainwright-Michael Wacha-Shelby Miller-Jaime Garcia-Lance Lynn) and Giants (Matt Cain-Madison Bumgarner-Tim Lincecum-Tim Hudson) also have formidable rotations, further showing how tough it will be for the Phillies to navigate through the NL, with or without Burnett.

The Orioles, Pirates and Blue Jays seem to be the Phillies' clear competition for Burnett, who could likely be had on a one-year deal worth upwards of the $16.5 million he made in 2013.

But Roch Kubatko of MASNSports.com reported over the weekend that the O's are likely out on Burnett. "Feeling is he wants to pitch in NL," Kubatko tweeted.

The Blue Jays, meanwhile, are a reported suitor for Ervin Santana, which would take them out of the Burnett sweepstakes.

Signing Burnett hasn't been the Phillies' main goal this offseason, but a lot of their moves -- re-signing Chase Utley and Carlos Ruiz, doing little to improve the bullpen, opting for all low-cost commitments -- make much more sense if they result in the ability to land Burnett. 

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.

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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).