The Week Ahead: Phillies primed to make a run


Hold onto your hats Braves fans, the Philadelphia Phillies are finally hitting their stride.

The season has been a struggle for the Phillies. They’ve endured a host of injuries, questions about the preseason trade of Cliff Lee, some major slumps from outfielders Jayson Werth and Raul Ibanez, and even some questionable managing decisions.

All you have to do is Google “Fire Charlie Manuel” to see how quickly the bloom of consecutive World Series appearances can crumble from the rose.

But through it all, they’ve managed to keep contact with the Atlanta Braves, entering the week at 70-53, just 2 1/2 games back.

After all the injuries, they are finally healthy, with Chase Utley and Ryan Howard rejoining the lineup last week. After the hand-wringing over the loss of Lee, Roy Oswalt is ensconced in the rotation. After all the criticisms of Werth and Ibanez, the pair of streaky outfielders are sporting an OPS of .917 and .770, respectively.

And now they’ve got four games at home against the Houston Astros (54-69) this week, a clear chance to make a move. After that it gets a little tougher, with a road trip to San Diego and Los Angeles, but the final month is filled with a whole lot of Marlins, Brewers, Mets and Nats – hardly frightening.

And in case you’re wondering, the Phillies and Braves have six games remaining against each other: Sept. 20-22 in Philadelphia, and Oct. 1-3 in Atlanta. Should be a great race.

Reds at Giants, Aug. 23-25:
I thought the Giants were supposed to have good pitching. What happened? They better figure it out quickly with the Reds coming to town.

Twins at Rangers, Aug. 23-26: Texas had a bad week and still didn’t see its lead in the AL West dented much. But after being swept by the Rays, a good showing against the Twins would be good for the Rangers’ confidence.

Red Sox at Rays, Aug. 27-29: The Red Sox aren’t out of it yet, but if they’re going to make a move this would be a good place to start.

Yankees at White Sox, Aug. 27-29: Ozzie Guillen says he doesn’t like playing against spoiler teams like the Royals because they “have fun and kick people’s butts (and) laugh.” I wonder if the struggling White Sox are going to be happier playing the Yankees.

Phillies at Padres, Aug. 27-29: You might not have believed this entering the season, but if the playoffs started today, these teams would be facing off in the NLDS. Even more shocking? The Padres would have homefield advantage.

Monday, 10:15 p.m. ET: Reds at Giants (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 8:05 p.m.: Twins at Rangers (ESPN2)
Wednesday, 10:10 p.m.: Rockies at Dodgers (ESPN)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Phillies at Padres (FOX)
*Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Twins at Mariners (FOX)
Sunday, 2 p.m.: Yankees at White Sox (TBS)
Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Red Sox at Rays (ESPN)
*Check local listings

And for those of you who have asked for a schedule of MLB Network games, you may find that here.

Are you on Twitter? You can follow Bob here, and get all your HBT updates here.

There’s no one to blame in Yankees’ loss

Joe Girardi

You’re going to boo All-Star Brett Gardner for striking out against a Cy Young contender?

You’re going to bash Alex Rodriguez for going hitless in another postseason game, three years after his last one?

Maybe you’d prefer to put it all on Masahiro Tanaka for giving up two solo homers to a lineup full of 20-homer guys?

The truth is that the Yankees were supposed to lose tonight. They were facing an outstanding left-hander with their forever-lefty-heavy lineup, and they simply didn’t have anyone pitching like an ace to set themselves up nicely for a one-game, winner-take-all showdown. The 3-0 result… well, that’s how this was supposed to go down.

It didn’t necessarily mean it would; what fun would it be if the better team always won? And the Astros might not even be a better team than the Yankees. However, the Astros with Dallas Keuchel on the mound were certainly a better team than the Yankees with whoever they picked to throw.

I just don’t see where it’s worth putting any blame tonight. Joe Girardi? He could have started John Ryan Murphy over Brian McCann against the tough lefty, but he wasn’t willing to risk Tanaka losing his comfort zone by using a backup catcher.

The front office could have added more talent, perhaps outbidding the Blue Jays for David Price or the Royals for Johnny Cueto, and set themselves up better for the postseason. However, that would have cost them Luis Severino and/or Greg Bird, both of whom went on to play key roles as the Yankees secured the wild card. Would it really have been worth it? I don’t think so.

Tanaka gave the Yankees what they should have expected. Had Keuchel’s stuff been a little off on short rest, Tanaka’s performance would have kept the Yankees in the game.

Keuchel, though, was on his game from the first pitch. The Astros bullpen might have been a bit more vulnerable, and late at-bats from Gardner, Carlos Beltran, Rodriguez and McCann definitely left something to be desired. Still, on the whole, the lack of offense was quite a team effort.

The Yankees got beat by a better team tonight.  I’m not sure the Astros would have been better in Games 2-7 in a longer series, but they had everything in their favor in this one.

Keuchel, Astros cruise past Yankees in AL Wild Card Game

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Dallas Keuchel faced the Yankees two times during the regular season and was fantastic in each outing, striking out 12 in a complete-game shutout on June 25 and whiffing nine batters over seven scoreless frames on August 25.

The 2015 Cy  Young Award candidate continued that trend in Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game, limiting the Yankees to three hits and one walk over six innings of scoreless ball as the Astros earned a 3-0 win and advanced to a best-of-five ALDS with the top-seeded Royals.

Keuchel was working on three days of rest but didn’t show very many signs of fatigue, whiffing seven and needing only 87 pitches to get through six. He sure looked like he could have gone an inning longer, but Astros manager A.J. Hinch decided to turn the game over to his bullpen and they added three more big zeroes to the scoreboard at a very loud then very boo-heavy Yankee Stadium. Tony Sipp worked around some early jitters to throw a scoreless seventh, Will Harris kept the Yankees off the bases entirely in a scoreless eighth, and closer Luke Gregerson went 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Impending free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus provided the first burst of offense for the Astros in the top of the second inning with a leadoff homer against Masahiro Tanaka. And then deadline acquisition Carlos Gomez, who missed a bunch of time down the stretch with an intercostal strain, got to Tanaka for another solo shot in the top of the fourth. Houston scored its third run on a Jose Altuve RBI single in the top of the seventh.

This is a young, talented Astros team with an ace at the head of its rotation.

Kansas City could have a problem.