A tale of two No. 3 hitters

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When the showdown against the Yankees began, it looked like Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth were the Phillies poised to make postseason history. Howard matched a record by driving in runs in eight straight games to begin the postseason. Werth, meanwhile, hit five homers in nine games against the Rockies and Dodgers.
In the World Series, though, the Phillies’ best player has taken over. Chase Utley had his second two-homer game against the Yankees on Monday and drove in four runs to lead the Phillies to an 8-6 victory. He has five homers in all, tying Reggie Jackson (1977) for the World Series record.
Utley is now batting .314 with six homers, 11 walks and 14 runs scored in 14 postseason games. He’s been limited to 10 RBI, mostly because neither Jimmy Rollins nor Shane Victorino has done a very good job of getting on base. However, he might well be the best choice for World Series MVP even if the Phillies go on to lose in New York.
Mark Teixeira, on the other hand, has only been drawing accolades for his defense. He struck out as the tying run to end Monday’s loss, dropping him to 2-for-19 for the World Series. He’s batting .175 with two homers, seven RBI and a 16/6 K/BB ratio in 57 at-bats for the postseason. Saving him from criticism is that both of his homers have been big: he delivered a walkoff shot to end Game 2 of the ALDS against the Twins and he tied Game 2 of the World Series with a solo shot off Pedro Martinez. He’s struggled throughout, though.
Still, no one is really going to point the finger at Teixeira for this one. A.J. Burnett, working on short rest, gave up six runs in two-plus innings. Phil Coke, brought in to face the lefty-heavy portion of the Philadelphia lineup after largely being avoided of late, gave up solo homers to Utley and Raul Ibanez while recording just two outs. Those are the two players manager Joe Girardi will be asked about over the next 24 hours.
Getting to start on normal rest, Cliff Lee was merely OK for the Phillies. He didn’t show up with his best stuff, but he limited a depleted lineup to two runs and four hits over seven innings before allowing the first three batters to reach in the eighth. He was knocked out of the game by a two-run double from Alex Rodriguez that should have been caught by Raul Ibanez. Fortunately, Chan Ho Park finished the eighth without much trouble. Ryan Madson had big issues in the ninth, but he escaped largely thanks to a double-play ball from Derek Jeter.
The World Series will shift back to New York now. Neither manager has officially announced a Game 6 starter, though the assumption is that Martinez will face Andy Pettitte, who would work on three days’ rest. It is noteworthy that the Phillies again bypassed J.A. Happ in relief tonight, opening up the possibility that he could start Game 6 if the Phillies don’t want to go with Cole Hamels in Game 7.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.