More signs of life in another victory
WASHINGTON — They have been without Cliff Lee, their best pitcher in 2013. They have roster issues that clearly need to be resolved in the offseason. The general manager already has declared that he expects there to be significant changes to the makeup of the team between the end of this season and the start of 2015.
Yet, there were the Phillies
(66-75) Saturday, dispatching the Washington Nationals for the second straight day, this time a 3-1 win behind A.J. Burnett. It was their 12th win in their last 17 games, all but one of those coming against contending teams. They are less than 10 games below the .500 mark for the first time since July 11. After opening the season with a bench devoid of anyone able to produce, the Phillies have gotten so many contributions across the board that Ryne Sandberg gets questions daily about productive players getting too little playing time.
Those are the facts. And here comes the question: Is there a point, if this team continues to play quality baseball against teams that are still playing for something, where this run extends long enough to allow hope to creep back into the picture for the franchise’s future?
“I don’t know,” said Ryan Howard, whose two-run single in the third provided the offense needed. “Every team is able to go on a run. It’s been a tough year for us collectively, but you try to come together and finish strong and build into next year — possibly. “That’s all you can do ...” After pondering it in the shower after the win, Sandberg said that, yes, there have been things he has seen of late that makes him feel there is more in the clubhouse at the moment to like than there had been during the long, sullen summer.
“We have some areas that need to be figured out (for 2015),” Sandberg said. “The starting pitching is unsettled, and it depends who is back. But yeah, I think we are showing better depth right now. We have things we can work with.
“It speaks for the makeup and for the guys playing hard every game. Some of that comes from the core guys. That’s what they are all about.”
Howard’s single came after Burnett had started the inning with a base hit. Howard has had 28 RBIs in his last 28 games, and is batting .267 with a .353 on-base and .458 slugging percentage in that span. It has helped that Ben Revere has been on an insane run at the plate — although he went 0-for4 Saturday — but there’s only one guy hitting behind Revere averaging an RBI per game, and it’s Howard.
Howard has been starting regularly at first base since an internally controversial threegame benching in late July. But his occasional day off here and there gives Darin Ruf a start, and he’s been productive there and in starts in left field. Grady Sizemore has been a fruitful addition. Maikel Franco is here. Even Freddy Galvis is making better contact after an injuryriddled and ineffective opening half.
“That’s what it takes,” Howard said. “We’ve been getting timely hits, Rev’s been swinging a hot bat. We’re just trying to ride that wave.”
“Any time you win games, it’s going to help the environment,” said Burnett, who must decide soon after the regular season’s end if he will return to the mound in 2015 and accept the lucrative option in his contract, or retire. “It’s late, but it’s good baseball. A lot of guys could have packed it in, gone for individual things and not worried about it. But we’re playing good baseball and we’re playing team baseball and having a great time.”
Ryan Howard connects for a two-run single in the third inning of the Phillies’ 3-1 win over the Nationals Saturday.
Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley, left, first baseman Ryan Howard, third baseman Cody Asche, catcher Wil Nieves, relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon and others celebrate after a baseball game against the Washington Nationals at Nationals...