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Summer brings intrigue for Philadelphia

Potential trades, young players will keep excitement around Phillies

Summer brings intrigue for Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA - The Phillies have not scored a run since the sixth inning Friday. They lost Cliff Lee for the season Thursday. They have not made a trade to change their 25-man roster since they acquired Jayson Nix before Opening Day.

They play on.

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The Phillies have 50 games to play (or a little more than 30 percent of their season). They are on pace to finish 71-91, which would be their worst record since 2000. It leads to a question Phillies fans have asked multiple times since their team remained status quo at Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline:

Why watch?

Here are a few reasons to follow the team the final two months of the season:

Maybe August 31 is better than July 31.

Following a flurry of trades in baseball before Thursday's Trade Deadline, the MLB Network asked Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. on Friday if there is a disparity between how the Phillies value their talent compared to other teams.

"It's probably true," Amaro said. "It's kind of in the eye of the beholder."

The front office believed if it could not strike a deal before July 31, it would have the opportunity to make one before the August 31 waiver Trade Deadline or in the offseason. Clearly changes are needed, and perhaps the Phillies will pull the trigger on somebody like Marlon Byrd, A.J. Burnett or Jonathan Papelbon.

Unfortunately for the Phillies, they lost Lee to an elbow injury. If he had remained healthy and pitched well, he would have been the top trade chip in baseball.

Is this a platoon or not?

Ryne Sandberg spoke assertively a couple weeks ago when he discussed Ryan Howard's future at first base. He said he knew what Howard could do, so it is time to see what others can do. He said the remaining $60 million on Howard's contract following this season would have no impact on his lineup because he is trying to win.

He uttered the p-word: platoon.

But after, Amaro said he expects Howard to be his first baseman in 2015. Sandberg has started Howard eight of nine games at first base, including one game against a left-handed pitcher.

"We'd like to get him going for us," Sandberg told reporters Sunday at Nationals Park. "And he's working on some things. He could be a big bat for us."

What is the plan going forward?

Howard is tied for seventh in the National League with 63 RBIs, but it is telling that the Phillies would need to eat almost every dollar on his contract to trade him. His .663 OPS is 136th out of 153 qualifying hitters in baseball. He is on pace for 91 RBIs, but consider for a moment that hitters with 575 or more plate appearances in the cleanup spot almost get 90 RBIs by default because of the number of RBI opportunities they have.

There have been 400 hitters with 575 or more plate appearances hitting fourth since 1914 (Howard is on pace for 594): 322 have had 90 or more RBIs.

But Howard's .663 OPS in the cleanup spot would rank last in that group, which is troubling. Washington's Chick Gandil had a .678 OPS in 593 plate appearances hitting cleanup in 1914.

Ken Giles and Co.

Papelbon remains the closer, but Ken Giles has been mostly spectacular through 20 appearances since his promotion from Triple-A. He looks like the team's closer for the future, but the bullpen's progress is worth watching, too.

The bullpen had a 4.86 ERA in 43 appearances through May 22. It had a 2.29 ERA in 48 appearances from May 23-July 11, which had many in the organization excited about the future. But since then, Phillies relievers have a 6.86 ERA in their last 19 appearances.

The Phillies need to see much better from their bullpen down the stretch.

Maikel Franco's shot.

The final two months should be about the future, which includes playing time for Triple-A prospect Maikel Franco.

He has a .915 OPS in 27 games from July 2-August 2. If he keeps it up, he should be in line for a September callup. And if he gets called up he should play, sharing time at third base with Cody Asche and at first base, if possible.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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