Salisbury: A look at Phillies' second-half storylines

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Salisbury: A look at Phillies' second-half storylines

The Phillies have survived mediocrity at the bat rack and a rash of injuries to key players in running out to the best record in the major leagues.

As they come back from the All-Star break and get ready to return to work Friday night in New York, lets look at five story lines that will play out as the Phils try to hold off Atlanta for their fifth straight National League East title.
Get healthy, stay healthy
Twelve players have gone on the disabled list so far and another, All-Star third baseman Placido Polanco, is dealing with a bulging disc in his back that has taken the life out of his usually productive bat.

Key reliever Jose Contreras and starting pitcher Joe Blanton are both on the DL with elbow injuries and it is not known when or if either will be back.

But Roy Oswalt, the fourth ace of the Four Aces pitching staff, and reliever Brad Lidge are supposed to return. It would be a huge boost to this team if both can be effective in their roles while managing their high-mileage bodies to the finish line. Polanco is another player that must manage a problem and produce in the final months.

Closer Ryan Madson and outfielder Shane Victorino are due back soon. It is imperative both stay healthy. Chase Utleys health is seldom mentioned anymore, but he did miss the first 47 games with knee tendinitis, and this offense cant afford a flare-up.

This team, of course, is defined by starting pitching, so continued health of the Big 3 Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee is crucial.
Will they make a trade?
Jimmy Rollins was so right a few weeks ago when he talked about how the dynamics of this team have shifted from offense to pitching. At the All-Star break in 2008, the Phils ranked third in the NL in OPS (.776), second in runs per game (5), and second in home runs (130).

At the break in 2009, they ranked first in OPS (.793), first in runs per game (5.35), and first in homers (122). This year, they ranked eighth in OPS (.704), seventh in runs per game (4.22) and ninth in home runs (78).

This club has built the best record in the game on the back of its pitching staff, which leads the majors with a 3.02 ERA.

Phils officials would like to supplement the offense with a right-handed bat that could help at the corner outfield spots, but they have encountered two hurdles:

1. The Phils payroll, as recognized by MLB, is over 175 million and approaching the 178 million luxury-tax threshold. The Phils would pay 22.5 percent for every dollar they go over, so that could limit the amount of salary the team can or is willing to take on.

2. Potential trade partners know the Phils have a World-Series-or-bust mindset and are looking to gouge the Phils, who, after several years of big trades, are looking to protect prospects. If the Phils added a bat, it would likely be a complementary piece, unless Ruben Amaro Jr. has a trick up his sleeve. Kansas Citys Jeff Francouer and Wilson Betemit could be possibilities, but sources say the price for even them is high. San Diegos Ryan Ludwick could be someone to watch.

Amaro, the general manager, has always been a pitching-first guy, and it would not be surprising to see him seek a bullpen arm, but, again, he could be shackled by finances. It will be interesting to see if in-house candidates John Mayberry Jr. and Juan Perez can fill the need for a right-handed bat and a left-handed reliever.
The salary drives
The Phillies have a number of players whose contracts will be expiring at the end of the season. The big ones to keep an eye on: Hamels, Rollins, Madson. All three would love to go into the wintertime negotiating season on a roll.

Hamels is under control for 2012, so hes not going anywhere. The question is: What will he command in his final arbitration year? He is making 9.5 million this season. Given his track record, he could surge above 15 million next season, and even higher if he wins the Cy Young Award and has another strong showing in the postseason.

Remember, as we learned during Ryan Howards arbitration years, agents can and will argue special achievements during arbitration cases, so Hamels actually has a nice opportunity over the next 3 12 months to pad his wallet in the short term. As for the long term, its probably going to take a long-term deal with an average annual value of at least 20 million to keep Hamels off the free-agent market. Thats the going rate for Phillies aces and Hamels is most certainly one of them.

As for Rollins, he can be a free agent at seasons end and wants to stay in the town he has grown to love and call home. Club officials have been evaluating Rollins all season, and recent signs seem to point toward a desire to re-sign him. The question is: For how much and how long? Its not an easy question to answer as Rollins is 32 and moving away from his prime.

Rollins is finishing a deal that will end up paying him 48.5 million over six seasons. In baseball today, that was a bargain, as Rollins helped the team win championships while winning an NL MVP award and Gold Gloves. Rollins has seen players come in from other organizations and get big paydays. He is quick to cite his homegrown pedigree and place in the teams rise from also-ran to champion and wants to get paid for that in the form of another long-term deal.

Rollins isnt the player he was several years ago, but hes still a top defender and, when motivated, a productive offensive player. It seems as if Rollins has already begun his salary drive. He has hit .290 with a .790 OPS the last 24 games and is hitting .375 this month. In a lot of ways, Rollins future with the club will be decided these next 3 months. He controls a lot of his own destiny.

Madson opted for security in signing a three-year, 12 million deal before the 2009 season. Now with a good showing as closer in the first half of the season, he appears primed to see what he can get on the free-agent market. There will be a number of closers, including Heath Bell, Jonathan Broxton and possibly Francisco Rodriguez, on the market this winter, but agent Scott Boras, whose pep talks have resulted in a more aggressive Madson, will surely find a significant place for his client. But first Madson has to get back on the mound and stay healthy.The drive for history
Back in December, the baseball world wondered if the Phillies had assembled a historic starting pitching staff. Lee even talked abut the possibility when he signed with the Phils just before Christmas. Oswalts injury will prevent the Phils from making a bid to become the first team since the 1971 Orioles to have four 20-game winners, but its possible that this staff could become the first since the 1973 As to have three 20-game winners.

Halladay and Hamels both have 11 wins and Lee nine. All three figure to make a run at 20. The 1973 As won the World Series with the help of 20-game winners Catfish Hunter, Ken Holtzman and Vida Blue.

Hamels (2.32), Halladay (2.45) and Lee (2.82) went into the break ranked second, fifth and eighth in the NL in ERA. The last team to have three pitchers finish the season in the Top 10 in ERA was the 2005 Astros with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Oswalt. That club lost the World Series to the Chicago White Sox.
How will young relievers hold up?
Antonio Bastardo and Mike Stutes have been godsends to a bullpen that has been hit hard by injury, but it is reasonable to wonder if they will keep performing at such a high level as their innings mount and the pressure of big games rises? An improved showing from the offense would take some heat off all the relievers and the starters, too.
E-mail Jim Salisbury at jsalisbury@comcastsportsnet.com
Related: Ryne Sandberg happy he landed with the Phillies Phils are their own biggest threat in second half

Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

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Best of MLB: Walk-off single gives Giants 13th win in last 14 games

SAN FRANCISCO -- Brandon Crawford singled in Matt Duffy with two outs in the 10th inning, and the surging San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres 4-3 Wednesday for their 13th win in 14 games.

Duffy singled off Brad Hand (1-2) with one out, pinch-hitter Hunter Pence popped out, Duffy advanced on a wild pitch and Crawford hit a 1-2 offering over center fielder Jon Jay as Duffy scored standing up.

Crawford also singled and scored after some alert baserunning in the second inning. Duffy and Denard Span drove in runs for the NL West-leading Giants.

San Francisco completed a three-game sweep, extended its winning streak to five and improved to 9-0 against the Padres this season. The Giants' two walkoff wins in the series were against Hand (see full recap).

Arrieta moves to 9-0 in Cubs' win over Cards
ST. LOUIS -- Jake Arrieta remained unbeaten on the season despite allowing as many as four runs for the first time in nearly a year and the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 9-8 on Wednesday.

Arrieta (9-0) joined the White Sox's Chris Sale as the only nine-game winners in the majors.

Arrieta allowed four runs in a regular-season game for the first time since June 16, 2015.

Arrieta became the first Cub to win his first nine decisions since Kenny Holtzman in 1967 and it is the best start to a season for the franchise since Jim McCormick went 16-0 in 1886.

Kris Bryant hit a three-run homer and Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist each drove in two for the Cubs (see full recap).

Bradley extends hit streak to 29 in BoSox victory
BOSTON -- Jackie Bradley Jr. extended his major league-best hitting streak to 29 games, Xander Bogaerts homered to extend his hitting streak to 18 games and the Boston Red Sox beat the Colorado Rockies 10-3 on Wednesday night for their fourth straight win.

Travis Shaw had three RBIs and Boston moved to a season-best 12 games over .500. The Red Sox have scored eight or more runs 10 times in their last 14 home games.

Steven Wright (4-4) had another solid outing, giving up three runs, two earned. He has now given up three runs or fewer in eight of his nine starts.

Chad Bettis (4-3) held the Red Sox scoreless through three innings but was responsible for seven runs over the next two innings before getting pulled.

The Rockies have lost six of their last seven -- all on the road (see full recap).

Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

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Odubel Herrera flips Phillies into winners over Tigers before big trip to Wrigley Field

BOX SCORE

DETROIT — At least Odubel Herrera was honest about it.

“I didn’t expect to hit it that far,” he said with a big grin on his face late Wednesday afternoon.

A couple of hours earlier, Herrera helped key an 8-5 Phillies’ win over the Detroit Tigers with a towering three-run home run into the right-field seats against Anibal Sanchez (see Instant Replay).

Herrera unloaded on the hanging slider and finished with his bat high.

As the bat reached its apex, Herrera didn’t just let it go. He flipped it in the air as if to say, ‘Uh-huh, I crushed that one.’ In the annals of bat flips, it wasn’t quite Jose Bautista quality, but it wasn’t far off. The flip was so dramatic that Herrera admitted after the game that he would not have been surprised if a Tigers pitcher had retaliated and stuck a pitch in his ribs later in the game.

Retribution never came. And Herrera left Detroit with a smile on his face and yet another big day for the Phillies. He is leading the club with a .327 batting average and his .440 on-base percentage is second-best in baseball.

Herrera's big home run helped make a winner out of Aaron Nola and the Phillies on a day when they really needed a win. After all, they had lost four of their previous five and are headed into the den of baseball’s best team, the Chicago Cubs, on Friday.

“For me, it was a must-win,” said manager Pete Mackanin, whose club is 26-21. “We’d lost four of five and I felt like we needed to come out of here with a win.

“The guys battled the whole game. To me it looked like they played like they had to win this game, which was nice to see. It looked like they played knowing we had to win. They were grinding and coming up with hits. Call it what you want, it was just the feeling I got.

“I’m not going to say I’m anxious to see the Cubs; they’re a hell of a team. But I’m hopeful we can take two out of three.”

The Tigers are one of baseball’s best hitting teams.

The Phillies are one of the worst. They entered the day scoring just 3.2 runs per game.

But on this day, the Phillies out-hit the Tigers, 12-10, to salvage one game in the series.

Nola went six innings, allowed four runs, a walk and struck out six. He left with a 7-4 lead. Things got hairy in the seventh, but Hector Neris cleaned up things for David Hernandez, and Jeanmar Gomez registered his majors-leading 17th save.

In between, Peter Bourjos had a couple of big hits, including his first homer of the season. Andres Blanco started at second over Cesar Hernandez and had a couple of big hits, as well. Bourjos and Blanco even hooked up on a double steal with Blanco becoming the first Phillie to swipe home since Chase Utley in 2009. (An off-line throw to second by Tigers catcher James McCann helped.) 

“We have to try things,” Mackanin said. “We can’t bang it out with most teams so we have to try that kind of stuff, take chances.”

The Phillies actually banged it on this day.

Bourjos’ homer in the seventh provided some valuable cushion.

There are no cheap homers in spacious Comerica Park. Bourjos’ homer traveled 401 feet according to ESPN’s play by play.

Though Bourjos claimed he did not see Herrera’s bat flip in fifth inning, he was aware of it. For the record, Bourjos did not flip his bat on his homer. He put his head down and ran.

“I don’t have that kind of swag,” he said with a laugh.

Bat flips make some folks, particularly old-schoolers, uncomfortable. Bautista’s famous bat flip against Texas in the playoffs last season led to simmering tensions all winter and eventually a brawl between the two teams two weeks ago.

Mackanin actually seemed a little uncomfortable talking about Herrera’s flip.

“I did not see it,” Mackanin said. “A lot of players believe that they should be able to celebrate. But I didn’t see it. I wish you never brought it up.”

Herrera explained that he always flips his bat, even when he makes outs. This one had a little extra oomph, he said, because, "I didn’t expect to hit it that far.”

And how far did he hit it?

Well, ESPN’s play by play said it traveled 409 feet. MLB’s Statcast said it went 427.

Either way, that’s a long Uber ride.

Herrera was asked what was more impressive, the flip or the homer?

“Both,” he said with a laugh.

Herrera has become a more demonstrative player in his second year in the league. He’s letting his emotions show. On Monday night, frustration over a poor at-bat got the best of him. He did not run out a ball back to the pitcher and was benched.

On Wednesday, his emotion was more triumphant, hence the bat flip. But sometimes that can make an opponent angry. There were no repercussions Wednesday and probably won’t be because the Tigers and Phillies don’t see each other again this season. But down the road?

“I’m not worried,” Mackanin said.

“It was nothing personal,” Herrera said. “It was natural.”

Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

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Maikel Franco says ankle injury is mild, vows to play Friday

DETROIT — The Phillies have an off day Thursday.
 
It will come in handy for Maikel Franco.
 
The third baseman suffered what was termed a sprained right ankle while sliding into second base in the top of the seventh inning Wednesday. He hobbled off the field before the start of the bottom of the inning.
 
After the game, both Franco and manager Pete Mackanin stressed that the sprain was mild.
 
Franco received treatment after coming out of the game and he will again on the off day. Mackanin said he would exercise caution in determining Franco’s availability for Friday afternoon, but did not rule out playing Franco.
 
Franco was adamant. He’s playing.
 
“It’s a little bit sore, but it’s fine,” he said. “It already feels better. I’ll be ready for Friday. With the day off, I know I’ll be OK.”
 
If Franco can’t play, Mackanin would insert super-sub Andres Blanco into the lineup. He had two hits, including an RBI double, and scored two runs in Wednesday’s win over the Tigers (see Instant Replay).
 
Franco had a pair of singles and is 7 for 15 in his last four games.