Behind another strong start from Charlie Morton and a three-run home run from Neil Walker, the Pirates defeated the Brewers 5-2 at Miller Park this afternoon. The Cardinals lost to the Reds earlier in the day, which means that the Pirates now have a one-game lead in the National League Central.
Morton allowed two runs – one earned — over seven innings in the victory, striking out six and walking two. The 29-year-old hasn’t received much attention, but he has been very effective since returning from Tommy John surgery in June, posting a 3.00 ERA and 63/23 K/BB ratio in 90 innings over 15 starts. He has thrown at least seven innings in three out of his last four outings.
With today’s win, the Pirates now sit at 80-57 on the season. They only need two more wins for their first winning season since 1992. While that will be an important benchmark for the franchise, they have bigger goals in mind at this point.
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.