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Phillies Notebook: Focus must be on NL East

Posted by Eric Fisher On August 1

Why would the first-place Phillies risk disrupting their chemistry by trading for two potential starters? The answer is there’s no way a team can rest on its laurels in the National League playoff race.

Unlike the American League, where, barring a hot streak by the Angels or Rays, there are six teams battling for five playoff berths, only four teams appear to be out of the playoff hunt in the National League. Entering Wednesday’s action, the Phillies have a half-game lead on the Braves in the NL East, the Cubs and Brewers are virtually tied atop the NL Central, and the Diamondbacks have taken a half-game lead on the Dodgers and Rockies. Only five of those seven NL teams will qualify for the playoffs. That’s why it’s so important that the Phillies win the NL East.

The Phillies need to win the NL East. They don’t want to get thrown into a stew full of teams trying to earn the second wild card. Right now, the Central Division co-leaders are ahead of the Phillies, so, if they don’t win the NL East, they would be competing for one wild card spot with the Rockies, Dodgers, Pirates and even the Nationals, Cardinals and Giants.

The Phillies don’t want to get involved in the wild card race. There are too many variables beyond their control What they can control is finishing ahead of the Braves.

The Braves didn’t sit still at the trade deadline. They acquired starting pitcher Kevin Gausman from the Orioles. Actually, the Braves traded for four pitchers, with lefthander Jonny Venters and righthanders Darren O’Day and Brad Brach being the others. The Braves also added outfielder Adam Duvall, and they did all of that without giving up any of the top prospects from their highly rated farm system.

The Phillies also didn’t sacrifice their future to acquire potentially important parts before the non-waiver trade deadline. Their moves started with the acquisition of infielder Asdrubal Cabrera from the Mets. And then on Tuesday, deadline day, the Phillies traded for Rays catcher Will Ramos, who made the All-Star team this season, and Blue Jays lefthanded reliever Aaron Loup.

The Phillies can’t worry if they improved more than the Cubs, who traded for former Phillie Cole Hamels, or the Pirates, who pried starting pitcher Chris Archer from the Rays, or the Diamondbacks, who bolstered their bullpen. They can worry about those teams if they face them during the playoffs. All the Phillies should worry about is finishing first in the NL East. That means they have to finish ahead of the Braves and the Nationals, who still might be dangerous if they can get their act together.

The margin for error is slim. The Phillies are a half-game ahead of the Braves. Did they do enough before the trade deadline to stay ahead of the Braves? Only time will tell.

 

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TRADE WITH A CATCH: The interesting part of the trade for Wilson Ramos is that few people thought the Phillies had a need for a catcher. Jorge Alfaro is batting a respectable .255, although he has walked just 13 times and has a .308 on-base percentage. Backup Andrew Knapp is batting .223, produced some clutch hits in July. Ramos is batting .297 this season with 14 home runs and 53 RBI.

Ramos appears to be a step up at catcher, but the catch is that he’s sidelined with a hamstring injury. Ramos might not be ready for a few weeks. He might not even be ready to play until the end of August. That’s all right because the Phillies don’t have a pressing need for a catcher. If, however, they need him down the stretch, it would be helpful to have Ramos provide power while hitting close to .300.

*****

ACES AREN’T WILD: Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta did exactly what elite pitchers are supposed to do during the Phillies’ two-game series with the Red Sox. Nola allowed one run in eight innings in the first game. Arrieta allowed one run in seven innings in the second game. Remember, these performances came against one of the best offenses in the major league.

You can’t ask for much more from your top two starting pitchers than shutting down the Red Sox, who have the best record in baseball. Arrieta picked up the win, while Nola had to settle for a no-decision, but both gave their team a solid chance to win on the road against a terrific team.

*****

CELEBRATING THE PAST: The Phillies will pay tribute to their past during their upcoming series with the Marlins. The festivities kick off on Friday when Shane Victorino will retire as a Phillies. On Saturday, the late pitcher Roy Halladay and former general manager and advisor Pat Gillick will be inducted into the Phillies Wall of Fame. On Sunday, the Phillies will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 2008 World Series championship. Many players from the 2008 championship hand will be at Citizens Bank Park to take part in the festivities.

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FRANCO-FILE: Believe it or not, Maikel Franco is tied for the top batting average on the Phillies, matching Odubel Herrera’s .278 average. It was a little more than a month ago when Franco was relegated to the bench because of his poor play.

Franco is playing so well that when the Phillies acquired Asdrubal Cabrera last Friday, everyone assumed that the bulk of Cabrera’s starts would come at shortstop, in place of Scott Kingery, rather than at third base. Franco is playing so well that he even walked twice, which certainly isn’t his strong point, and scored two runs Tuesday during the Phillies’ 3-1 triumph over the Red Sox.

Has Franco played himself back into the organization’s future plans? Let’s see what he does the rest of this season.

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HERRERA’S BLUNDERS: Did anyone believe Phillies manager Gabe Kapler when he said that Odubel Herrera had a regularly scheduled day off against the Red Sox on Tuesday and that his absence from the lineup had nothing to do with his mistakes during Monday’s 2-1 loss?

Herrera failed to slide into third base in the second inning during a play in which Rhys Hoskins was caught in a rundown between third base and home plate. Herrera’s blunder resulted in a double play, taking the Phillies out of a rally in a game in which runs were at a premium. In the fifth inning, Herrera misjudged a line drive, resulting in an RBI triple, the only run allowed by starter Aaron Nola.

When Herrera is good, he’s so good. But when he’s bad ….

*****

HOSKINS’ HOMERS: Rhys Hoskins blasted seven home runs during an eight-game stretch to take the Phillies’ team lead with 21 homers. He also generated 13 RBI during that stretch.

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SLOW START: Asdrubal Cabrera, who was batting .277 with 18 home runs and 58 RBI while with the Mets, is just 3 for 19 since joining the Phillies.

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CATCHING UP WITH QUINN: Roman Quinn’s speed is supposed to be one his strengths, but he was thrown out on his first two stolen base attempts after being called up from Class AAA Lehigh Valley. On the other hand, Quinn went 3 for 5 during Tuesday’s victory over the Red Sox while starting in center field in place of Odubel Herrera.

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LOOKAHEAD: The Phillies will host the Marlins for four games from Thursday-Sunday before hitting the road for a three-game series against the NL West-leading Diamondbacks. After a day off next Thursday, the Phillies will play a weekend series in San Diego.

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