PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Phillies’ five-year reign atop the NL East is nearing an official end, and manager Charlie Manuel is evaluating the team’s needs for next season.
The Phillies, who missed injured All-Stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard for most of the first half of the season, are playing better now having won 10 of their last 14 games. But Philadelphia entered Saturday with a 67-71 record, 18 games behind first-place Washington in the division.
Philadelphia had to wait another day to continue its recent stretch of good play, as Saturday’s scheduled game was postponed by rain after a delay of 2 hours, 49 minutes. The game was rescheduled as part of a day/night doubleheader on Sunday, with the first game slated to start at 1:05 p.m. and the nightcap scheduled to begin at 6:35.
Manuel said the Phillies haven’t lost their edge, but maybe the toll of five straight trips to the postseason has had an effect on his players.
“I don’t know if (the edge) is missing this year,” Manuel said before Saturday’s rainout. “When you go to two World Series and go to the playoffs five times and you go deep into the playoffs and you’re going home every November, you stop to think about it, you’re playing a lot of baseball.
“You count the games you play in spring training and the postseason and the regular season and you’re playing a lot of baseball. You’re a regular player, yeah over the course of the year it definitely takes its toll on you.”
Philadelphia is a long shot to make the playoffs this season and Manuel is looking at the needs for next year.
The Phillies appear to have holes at several positions, particularly third base and possibly all three outfield positions. Outside of closer Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal before this season, Philadelphia also has question marks in the bullpen.
“Right now, I’d say our bullpen would be my first priority,” Manuel said.
The Phillies have been piecing together a bullpen all season, often using young, unproven arms. Of the nine relievers, only left-hander Antonio Bastardo had a significant role in any of the Phillies’ last five NL East titles.
“We got good potential, we got some talent there,” Manuel said. “It’s a matter of the consistency part has to come into play and sometimes the more experience they get, the better that is going to get, it should be. That’s kind of what happens.”
Besides the bullpen, Manuel is looking to find at least one more power bat — particularly someone who can hit and man third base. The Phillies are also trying to solve the outfield puzzle, with Domonic Brown a leading candidate for a corner spot but no other outfielder on the current roster is secure of even a backup role.
“We need some run producers and run producers are guys like a big corner outfielders who are big guys or a prototype third baseman,” Manuel said. “They are run producers. When I say run producers, I’m talking 85 to 100 RBIs — frontline run-producing players. I’m talking about more than one.”
Kevin Fransden has been playing third base for the Phillies, filling in for injured Placido Polanco. Fransden is hitting .336 with a homer and eight RBIs in 34 games. But he is out indefinitely with a stress fracture in his left fibula.
“I think he’s resting it for a few days and the doctors will look at him and tell me more about him,” Manuel said.
The Phillies also likely will be without lefty reliever Raul Valdes, who will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his left knee on Monday, for the rest of the season.
Notes: Philadelphia LHP Cole Hamels (14-6, 3.04) is scheduled to face Colorado RHP Tyler Chatwood (4-4, 5.53) in the opener on Sunday, followed by Phillies RHP Tyler Cloyd (1-1, 2.77) against Rockies LHP Drew Pomeranz (1-8, 4.93). . Hamels will be vying for his career-high tying 15th win, set in 2007. He is 3-0 in his last four starts against Colorado, going 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA over 30 innings. . Saturday’s rainout deprived Colorado rookie Matt McBride an opportunity to play near where he grew up 45 minutes north of Philadelphia in Bethlehem, Pa. McBride, who is batting .160 in 11 games, was scheduled to start and play first base on Saturday.
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