October preview? Phillies set for Red Sox test


October preview? Phillies set for Red Sox test

Monday, June 27, 2011
Posted: 6 p.m.

By Jim Salisbury

Back in spring training, Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called the Boston Red Sox the best team in baseball.

Nearly three months into the regular season, does Amaro still feel that way?

Yes, he said Sunday.

But its the Phillies, not the Red Sox, who have the best record in the majors at 49-30.

Yeah, but we dont have the total package yet, Amaro said. One phase of our game is a little light right now.

That phase, of course, is offense.

The Phils are winning at a .620 clip despite lackluster offensive production. They rank 10th in the National League with a .246 team batting average, ninth in combined on-base and slugging percentage (.693) and eighth in runs per game (4.05). All three of those marks are below the league average.

Boston, meanwhile, is 45-32, a half-game out of first place in the American League East. The Red Sox are 43-22 since a 2-10 start, and they lead the majors in batting average (.277), runs per game (5.31) and OPS (.799).

The Red Sox come to Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night for their almost annual interleague meeting with the Phillies.

Amaro said he is not that interested in seeing how his club stacks up against one of the ALs top teams. Hes not into all that potential World Series preview hype.

Nope, he said.

Why not?

We just need to try to win games, he said. It has nothing to do with the Red Sox.

Manager Charlie Manuel, on the other hand, is eager to see how his club fares against the Red Sox. The Phils are just 5-16 against Boston during Manuels tenure.

Anytime the Red Sox come in its big for us and, of course, for our fans, Manuel said. Weve had a hard time beating them for five or six years. It would be nice if we can win a series. Its important for us to play Boston. Well get a good look at them. Theyre a good team, a good hitting team. Its a competition. Its a good test for us.

This series will test the adage that good pitching can stop good hitting. The Phillies have the best ERA in the majors at 3.05 and they will send two of the hottest pitchers in the majors Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels to the mound in the first and third games. Rookie Vance Worley pitches the middle game on Wednesday night.

Lee has dazzled in June, going 4-0 with an 0.27 ERA in four starts. He has allowed just one run in 33 innings this month and none in his last 23 innings. He is holding opposing hitters to a .170 batting average over that span.

Lees opponent in Tuesday nights series opener is another of the games hottest pitchers. Right-hander Josh Beckett has a 1.51 ERA in his last eight starts.

Bostons offensive juggernaut is led by first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. The former San Diego Padre is enjoying a huge season in his first year in Boston. Gonzalez entered Monday leading the majors in batting average (.361), hits (114), doubles (25) and RBIs (71). Outfielder Carl Crawford, who signed with the Red Sox in the offseason, is on the disabled list.

With the exception of Ryan Howard, who ranks second in the NL with 62 RBIs, Phillies players are scarce on the NL offensive leader boards.

As Amaro said, the offense is a little light right now. Amaros use of the qualifier right now was interesting. Does it mean he believes things will turn around? Or does it mean he has a plan a lineup addition possibly? to help turn things around?

We can only hope that the players were paying big money to play produce and produce consistently, he said. We need to be more consistent. And we believe they will.

Why does he believe they will?

Because at the end of the day the talent is still there, Amaro said.

It is clear that Amaro is looking for a right-handed hitting outfielder on the trade market, but he does not have much payroll flexibility. The Phils, with the majors second-highest payroll, are about 3 million shy of the 178 million luxury-tax threshold. All this points to a marginal or complementary addition, possibly a player like Josh Willingham or Ryan Ludwick.

Asked about making a trade, Amaro again put the onus on the teams current players to start producing.

It would be like giving a Tic Tac to a whale, he said. These guys need to produce. I could add Mickey Mantle and its not going to have any effect if the guys we already have dont hit.

As much as Manuel craves another bat, he, too, put the responsibility for turning around the teams offensive fortunes on the guys already here.

And like Amaro, he mentioned the high salaries of some of these players.

Theyve got the wood in their hands, Manuel said. Theyre getting paid to hit.

The Phillies are coming off a series in which they scored just five runs in winning two of three against Oakland.

More production would serve them well against a team such as Boston in this series that many believe could be a preview of big things to come.

All we want to do is raise the trophy in October, Jimmy Rollins said. This is just another interleague series on our schedule. Itll be fun. Well enjoy it. But as far a World Series preview theres way too much baseball left to say that.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSalisburyCSN.

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards


Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time


Simmering issue: Pete Mackanin says he will continue to trim Ryan Howard's playing time

CHICAGO – The Ryan Howard drama continues to simmer.
Howard’s dwindling production has led to dwindling playing time. He did not start against a right-handed pitcher for the second time in eight days on Sunday (see game recap).
After the game, manager Pete Mackanin addressed the uncomfortable situation and said he would continue to trim Howard’s playing time against right-handers because he wants to look at Tommy Joseph, who has 10 hits, including three homers and a double, in his first 35 big-league at-bats.
“We brought Joseph up here for a reason, to get a look at him,” Mackanin said. “I can’t let him stagnate on the bench like (Darin) Ruf ended up doing, so he’s going to face some right-handed pitchers to keep his timing. I don’t know when the next time we’re going to face a left-handed pitcher is, but I’m going to use (Joseph) a little bit more often than I did Ruf.”
Since the end of last July, Howard has gone from being a full-time player to a platoon guy, facing just righties. Now, he’s migrating toward more of a reserve role.
Taking away playing time from a club icon – Howard is a former NL MVP and World Series champion -- is not easy, but Mackanin has little choice. Howard is hitting .154 with eight homers and 18 RBIs in 136 at-bats over 44 games. He has struck out in 33 percent of his plate appearances. Howard’s average for the month of May is .097 (6 for 62) and he has 25 strikeouts. He recently used the word “brutal” to describe how the month of May has been going.
Mackanin was asked about Howard’s mindset in relation to losing playing time.
“I don’t know how he feels,” Mackanin said. “I’m sure we’ll talk to him and we’ll go from there. The important thing is that we brought Joseph up here to get a look at him, and as I said, if he sits on the bench for a week or 10 days and we don’t get a look at him, what’s the point of bringing him up?”
Howard started Saturday against Cubs’ righty Kyle Hendricks and went hitless.
After Sunday's game, Howard was asked if he was surprised to see he was not in the lineup.
“I guess, yeah,” he said. “But I don’t make the lineup. The manager makes the lineup. I just show up. If I’m in there, I’m in there, if I’m not, I’m not."
Howard said he was unaware of Mackanin’s intention to sit him more against righties.
“I haven’t heard anything about sitting more against righties,” he said. “I haven’t been called into the office and talked to about it, so you guys apparently have breaking news before I do.”
Howard's status in the lineup and with the team has been an issue for almost two years. Before the 2015 season, former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. admitted it would be best if Howard moved on. The Phillies tried to trade him last year, but there was no interest. 

Howard is in the final year of a five-year, $125 million contract that did not kick in until after he suffered a devastating Achilles tendon rupture on his final swing of the 2011 season.
He is still owed more that $26 million in salary for 2016 and an option year buyout for 2017.

Howard isn't walking away from that kind of money.

Would the team release him to solve this uncomfortable situation? Or will it ride out the final four months of the season and the contract with Howard as a part-time player?

Time will tell.

Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs


Phillies swept out of Chicago with another loss to MLB-best Cubs

CHICAGO – The Phillies are rebuilding.

The Chicago Cubs are focused on winning the World Series for the first time in 108 years.

And they have a team that can do it.

So the events of the last three days at Wrigley Field were not that surprising.

The Phillies suffered a three-game sweep, capped off by Sunday afternoon’s 7-2 loss.

When the Phillies departed Citizens Bank Park last week, they had a 25-19 record and were one of the surprise teams in the majors.

But the trip to Detroit and Chicago figured to be a stiff test. The Tigers pound the baseball. The Cubs do everything.

In the end, the Phillies won just one of the six games on the trip. They limp home at 26-24 for a matchup Monday night with the Washington Nationals.

Is the Phillies’ unexpected, early-season magic fading?

“That’s up for debate, I guess,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “Every team goes through a hot streak and a cold streak. How you come out those streaks, especially now with a cold streak, determines how good of a team you are. I choose to believe we’re at the bottom of the roller coaster and on our way up.”

The Phils were outscored 17-5 by the Cubs in this weekend’s series. The Cubs’ starting pitchers – Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey – combined to allow just three earned runs in 22⅓ innings. And Jake Arrieta, arguably the best pitcher in baseball, did not appear in the series.

After Sunday’s game, Mackanin was asked what he learned about his club on the trip.

“I didn’t learn anything about my team,” he said. “I learned first-hand that the Cubs have a lot going for them. They’re a good team, probably the best team in baseball right now and they beat us fair and square.”

They do have the best record in the majors at 34-14.

It was not surprising to hear that Mackanin didn’t learn anything about his club during the trip. He knows the Phillies are rebuilding and have glaring holes. He knows the pitching has kept them in games and allowed them to win a bunch by one run. He also knows it’s difficult to sustain that with a team that averages just 3.22 runs per game, second-lowest in the majors. Sunday marked the 19th time the Phillies have scored two or fewer runs.

Looking for more offense, Mackanin sent Ryan Howard to the bench Sunday against a right-handed pitcher and used Tommy Joseph. Joseph hit a homer in the ninth inning. After the game, Mackanin said he would continue to get Joseph playing time against right-handers.

Power-armed right-hander Vince Velasquez had a difficult trip. Against two of the toughest lineups in baseball, he pitched 8⅔ innings over two starts. He gave up 18 hits, five of which were homers, and 10 earned runs. The Cubs got him for nine hits and seven runs in 4⅔ innings. He gave up two homers, a solo shot in the second and a three-run blow in the third.

The three-run homer, by Ben Zobrist, gave the Cubs a 5-0 lead and ignited the daily Happy Hour in the stands.

Two batters before Zobrist homered, Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis failed to make a play on a hard-hit one-hopper by Kris Bryant. Galvis backed up and gloved the hot smash, but threw quickly, off-balance and wildly to first. It was ruled a hit. Had Galvis made the play, it would have ended the inning. Instead, Velasquez issued a two-out walk to extend the inning further and Zobrist hit the two-out homer.

“I don’t know why Freddy got rid of the ball so quick,” Mackanin said. “I thought he could have planted and thrown it over there. But I’m not going to be critical of Freddy Galvis. He’s been unbelievable, just outstanding.”

Zobrist’s homer was one of six the Cubs hit in the three games. Two of them were three-run shots. The Phillies had just two homers in the series. Both came Sunday after the club was down 7-0.

“We didn’t string hits together,” Mackanin said.