The Week Ahead: Phillies primed to make a run

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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.

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH
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.

ON THE TUBE
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.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.