Gabe Kapler says Phillies players should be thinking they can win NL East

Gabe Kapler says Phillies players should be thinking they can win NL East

PITTSBURGH — Back in spring training, Gabe Kapler described himself as a relentless communicator. More than three months into the season, that has proven true. Be it in the clubhouse, the weight room, his office or on the field during batting practice, Kapler is always having little powwows with players and coaches.

The Phillies’ successful first half — they entered Friday night’s game against the Pirates at 10 games over .500 and just a game out of first place in the NL East — has created a theme for Kapler’s recent conversations with players and coaches.

“The themes right now are we’re in a position to win the National League East and make a run at that,” Kapler said. “If we take care of our business and do various things, we are going to be excited about our prospects come September. Those conversations are ongoing. They're always being had. They’re being had in various forms, but we’re asking people to take part in incubating those discussions.

“In spring training, we talked as a group, the players and our leadership group, and we said we expect to be a postseason club. I believed that then. I believe it now. We do indeed have the athletes, the horses, the leaders, the connectors, the teammates, to be a playoff team.”

With the trade deadline arriving at the end of the month, the front office is looking to upgrade the roster. A bullpen move seems quite possible. Third base is an area the team would like to bolster. And, of course, Manny Machado looms out there (see story).

What does Kapler think the team needs?

“My job is to work with the players we have in the clubhouse right now,” he said. “Everything we need right now to compete is right here. If all of our young players take these small steps that we’ve talked about since spring training, theoretically we’re a better team in the second half and we’re in a position to strike and make the postseason. I trust the work that (general manager) Matt Klentak and our front office is doing. That includes examining the landscape and looking for ways to upgrade.”

It would take a significant package of young talent to get Machado from the Baltimore Orioles. (And don't buy all the July posturing, the Phillies are in on him.) Over the last couple of days, pitcher Zach Eflin’s name was thrown around in reports. It’s difficult to imagine the Phillies dealing a 24-year-old starting pitcher who is under control and seems to be putting it together at the major-league level. (Eflin is 6-0 with a 1.91 ERA in his last six starts.)

“I don’t think we are where we are today if not for Zach Eflin’s performance in the last five weeks,” Kapler said. “He’s been incredibly valuable for us.”

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Orioles trade Manny Machado to Dodgers; here's what it means for Phillies

Orioles trade Manny Machado to Dodgers; here's what it means for Phillies

Updated: 10 p.m.

No Manny Machado for the Phillies ... this time.

The Dodgers beat the Phillies' offer — at least in the eyes of the Orioles, which is all that matters. L.A. on Wednesday traded top prospect Yusniel Diaz, Dean Kremer, Zach Pop, Rylan Bannon and Breyvic Valera to Baltimore for Machado, a free agent at season's end.

Diaz is a 21-year-old right-handed outfielder with power and plate selection the Dodgers signed out of Cuba for $15.5 million in 2015. 

The Phillies went after the former Orioles superstar aggressively and were willing to part with well-regarded prospects including right-hander Adonis Medina, but in the end, the win-now Dodgers were more willing to overpay for the best available player.

This does not, however, close the book on Machado eventually signing a long-term contract with the Phillies. Corey Seager is the Dodgers' franchise shortstop. He's out for the season with an elbow injury, which is why L.A. made this move. It makes sense for the Dodgers to overpay, it makes sense for them to go all-in given their sky-high payroll, with where they are in their window of contention and with how last October went.

We know that Machado wants to play shortstop. It's a big deal to him and it's where he feels most comfortable. He said this week in D.C. that money isn't the only factor for him this winter, that happiness is most important. If he gets similar offers and one of the teams is willing to let him play shortstop, that could make all the difference.

The Phillies will still pursue Machado this winter. Right now, however, their focus will shift to other available players on the trade market. There are still some nice players out there who could boost the left side of the Phillies' infield, their rotation or bullpen.

Check out the Phils' other options here. The Blue Jays, Royals, and even the Orioles still match up well in a trade. 

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Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola overpowers Mookie Betts, Mike Trout in All-Star Game debut

Aaron Nola vs. Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve and Mike Trout. Welcome to the All-Star Game.

Nola made his ASG debut Tuesday night in D.C., pitching the top of the fifth inning with the National League trailing 2-1.

He opened the frame by striking out Royals catcher Salvador Perez on a low-and-away curveball well off the plate.

Next up was Betts, the AL MVP favorite. On a 3-2 count, Nola struck Betts out swinging on a high-and-tight 96 mph fastball.

The next batter, 2017 AL MVP Altuve, singled to right-center on the first pitch. 

And that brought up Trout, who had homered in his previous at-bat against Jacob deGrom. 

Trout had no such luck against Nola, popping up to first base in foul territory on the third pitch he saw.

Nola threw 15 pitches, 10 strikes. 

This was a pretty cool moment for Nola, facing arguably the three best hitters in baseball and retiring two of them. Looked like he belonged.

He made some new friends, too. Here's Nola planning an offseason sleepover with Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin.

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