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.

Giolito spins 4-hit gem, White Sox shut out Astros

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HOUSTON (AP) Lucas Giolito was forced to speed up his pace near the end of his last start for the Chicago White Sox because of rain. The results were so good he decided to try it again Thursday night against the Houston Astros, even though there was no need to rush in the climate-controlled confines of Minute Maid Park.

The tactic certainly paid off.

Giolito pitched a four-hitter for his first major league shutout, rookie Eloy Jimenez hit his third homer in two games and the White Sox beat the Astros 4-0.

“In the last game in the fifth inning, I really picked up the tempo because it started raining,” he said. “I was like, why not just try and do that every time? So I was just getting in attack mode early, filling up the zone, and luckily I had my good stuff and we were able to mix sequences really well. It was a good one.”

Chicago manager Rick Renteria was asked what superlative he would use to describe Giolito’s performance.

“Every one that’s in your book that you can put on a page,” he said. “If there was 1,000 of them, use all 1,000.”

Yoan Moncada had an RBI double and Tim Anderson added a run-scoring single for the White Sox, who earned a four-game series split by handing Houston its first set of consecutive losses since May 1-2.

Giolito (6-1) struck out a season-best nine and walked one in winning his fourth start in a row and fifth straight decision.

“He was doing really anything he wanted to,” Houston manager AJ Hinch said. “He was really good, so hats off to him for coming in and throwing all of his pitches for strikes. He’s changed his delivery, his arm action a little bit. He came in and really commanded the game from the very beginning.”

It was the first nine-inning complete game by a White Sox pitcher since Chris Sale beat Kansas City 7-4 in September 2016, and their first complete-game shutout since Sale threw a two-hitter in a 1-0 win at Tampa Bay on April 15, 2016.

In his previous outing last Saturday, Giolito was credited with his first career complete game when he beat Toronto 4-1 in a game called after 4 1/2 innings because of rain. After that one, the 24-year-old right-hander said he didn’t consider it a complete game until he went nine innings.

Didn’t take him long to check that box, too.

Giolito threw 82 of his season-high 107 pitches for strikes against a first-place team that began the day leading the majors with an .860 OPS and had homered in 19 consecutive games.

All the hits Giolito allowed were singles. Previously, his longest start was 7 1/3 innings.

“The Astros are a team I always look forward to facing,” Giolito said. “A lot of good hitters in that lineup. It’s always a fun challenge. They won a World Series a couple of years ago so when you do well against them, it makes you feel pretty good about yourself.”

Jimenez, who was 0 for 7 in the first two games of the series before hitting two homers in a win Wednesday night, connected off fellow rookie Corbin Martin (1-1) for a solo shot in the fourth inning that made it 4-0.

Martin gave up six hits and four runs over 3 1/3 innings in his third career start.

Yolmer Sanchez, who had three hits, doubled to start the third before Martin walked Charlie Tilson. Moncada followed with an RBI double to put Chicago up 1-0. A single by Anderson came next to score Tilson. Moncada scored on an error by Martin when his pickoff attempt to first was high.

Missing injured sluggers Jose Altuve and George Springer, the Astros couldn’t get anything going on offense. Their streak of 19 straight games with at least one home run was tied for the longest stretch in franchise history.

Michael Brantley hit his second single for Houston with two outs in the sixth. Giolito retired Carlos Correa to end that inning and pitched a perfect seventh before Max Stassi singled to start the eighth. Giolito struck out Jake Marisnick and Josh Reddick before Alex Bregman lined out to end the inning.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Astros: Springer, who has missed the last four games with stiffness in his lower back, took batting practice on the field and will likely return Friday night, Hinch said. … Altuve (hamstring) continues to make improvement but there still isn’t a target date for his return.

TOUGH ON RIGHT-HANDERS

Anderson had two hits and a walk and is batting .344 against right-handers, which leads the AL.

THEY SAID IT

Jimenez on hitting three home runs in two games: “It’s been good. It means a lot. It’s more fun coming (to the park). It’s just the beginning of something good.”

UP NEXT

White Sox: RHP Reynaldo Lopez (3-4, 5.14 ERA) starts Friday when Chicago opens a three-game series against the AL Central-leading Twins. Lopez has been strong in his last three starts, posting a 2.29 ERA.

Astros: LHP Wade Miley (4-2, 3.51) is scheduled to start Friday in the opener of a three-game series with Boston. He didn’t factor in the decision last time out when he allowed seven hits and three runs – two earned – in five innings of a 4-3 loss to the Red Sox.

More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports