Teams may come calling Phillies for Ryne Sandberg

Sep 17 2011 - 5:56pm

A couple of weeks from now, the regular season will be over. Some teams will be getting ready to start the playoffs. Others will be looking for new managers. That's just the way it works.

Down in Florida, 80-year-old Jack McKeon is expected to return to his role as a consultant. The Astros are in the middle of a protracted sale that could be bad news for Brad Mills. There's no guarantee Davey Johnson will be back in Washington. The Cubs have already fired general manager Jim Hendry and field manager Mike Quade could be next.

There has been loose talk in St. Louis the past few years that Tony La Russa could be ready to move on to his next challenge. The scuttlebutt in Baltimore is that Buck Showalter might move into the front office. Ozzie Guillen and the White Sox appear headed for a split. Bob Melvin, who took over in Oakland when Bob Geren was let go at midseason, hasn't been told whether he'll be back.

And, yes, the ripple effect from all this could reach the Phillies.

When Ryne Sandberg was hired to manage Triple A Lehigh Valley last offseason, some handicappers installed him as Charlie Manuel's heir apparent.

Now that the onetime Phillies farmhand who became a Hall of Famer after being traded to the Cubs before the 1982 season has taken an IronPigs franchise that had never spent a day above .500 to the finals of the International League playoffs, it's fair to wonder if he still will be around when Manuel decides to call it quits.

General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said nobody has called to ask for permission to talk to Sandberg about a big-league opening, but noted that it's still very early in that process. "Obviously if there was a club that was interested in his services we certainly would applaud that and, as is our policy, we'd absolutely give him an opportunity to do that," Amaro said. "And I hope he does get that opportunity. If not with us, then certainly with another club.

"It's hard for me to think of enough superlatives when I talk about what he's done there."

Sandberg has paid his dues. He has been a spring-training instructor. He's in his fifth season as a minor league manager. He started at Class A Peoria in the Cubs system and worked his way up. He has ridden the buses, as they say. He has taken his team to the playoffs three times.

You'd have to think he'd be a pretty hot name right now, although each situation is different. Some teams want a stern disciplinarian, others will seek a player's manager. Some prefer previous big-league experience, others are looking for a fresh face with no baggage.

The twist here is that it's not out of the question that he could end up with the Cubs, the organization he left when he was passed over in favor of Quade a year ago.

It's hard to figure out exactly what's going on around Wrigley Field these days. Hendry's replacement hasn't been hired. Despite that, owner Tom Ricketts recently gave farm director Oneri Fleita a four-year extension. And to court Sandberg now would be a tacit admission that they screwed up by not hiring him at the end of last season.

Still, it's a fascinating possibility. It would be a popular choice for a franchise that needs to reconnect with its fan base. And he is wearing a Cubs cap on his Hall of Fame plaque, after all.

The Phillies put Sandberg in a position to succeed when they traded him to Chicago. It would be somehow fitting, then, if hiring him at Lehigh Valley this season ended up helping him get back to the majors as a manager somewhere else.

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STOP THAT!

The conventional wisdom going into the season was that with a rotation full of aces, the Phillies shouldn't suffer many long losing streaks, and it's certainly worked out that way. They've dropped two straight five times, three in a row once and been beaten four consecutive times twice. They're 38-13 (.745) after a loss. That's pretty darn good.

Here's a look at how the starters have fared when asked to step into the stopper's role:

Roy Halladay: 15 starts. Team is 12-3, he's 9-2, 2.37 ERA.

Cole Hamels: 10 starts. Team is 8-2, he's 6-1, 2.13.

Roy Oswalt: 8 starts. Team is 3-5, he's 3-4, 4.24.

Cliff Lee: 7 starts. Team is 6-1, he's 3-1, 2.28.

Vance Worley: 4 starts. Team is 4-0, he's 2-0, 1.00.

Kyle Kendrick/Joe Blanton: 7 starts. Team is 5-2, they're 3-2, 5.45.

One added note about Halladay. In his last nine games following a Phillies loss he has allowed two or fewer runs each time and has a 1.26 ERA.

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SUS-PENCE

With the Astros this season, Hunter Pence averaged a home run for every 36.27 at-bats. Going into Thursday, he had one per 17.56 at-bats since joining the Phillies.

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MINOR MATTERS

The Phillies' eight affiliates were a combined 437-400 (.522) this season, fourth-best winning percentage in baseball behind the Rangers (.565), Dodgers (.543) and Giants (.539).

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MOVIN' ON UP

Say what you want about Charlie Manuel, and everybody does, but he's compiling a pretty impressive resume. And he's only added to that since the season started. His .572 winning percentage (641-479) is the best ever among Phillies managers with at least 300 games. And he needs just four wins to tie Gene Mauch for the most in franchise history, even though Mauch managed more than 200 more games.

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TROUBLE BREWING?

It's bad enough that Milwaukee has lost six of its last eight (and seven of nine at home) but free-agent-to-be Prince Fielder openly admits he expects to be gone and setup man Francisco Rodriguez says he's unhappy about not being used in save situations.

Fielder, in a TBS interview to be aired Sunday: "Being real about it, it is probably the last year ... Hopefully we can go out with a blast."

K-Rod: "I'm not happy. That's the bottom line."

Obviously, this isn't the best way to be getting ready for the postseason.

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INJURY OF THE WEEK

Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday could be out for the rest of the season after he hurt himself while swinging a bat in the on deck circle on Tuesday. He has been diagnosed with an inflamed third finger on his right hand and, at a minimum, will miss the four-game series at Citizens Bank Park that begins Friday night.

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LITTLE THINGS

Through July 19, Nationals lefty reliever Sean Burnett had a 5.67 earned run average in 42 games. He then moved his plant foot from the third-base side of the rubber to the first-base side. In 23 games since, his ERA is 1.31. "It's such a huge difference," he told the Washington Post. "It doesn't seem like it'd be a big difference, but the arm angle and the angles the hitter gets, it's damn near impossible to pick up."

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BY THE NUMBERS:

14: Strikeouts with the bases loaded for Yankees setup reliever Dave Robertson.

19: Consecutive losing seasons for the Pirates, extending their own record. The difference this time is that the Bucs were in first place as late as July 25.

88: Game-time temperature at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Sept. 9. That was the lowest since May 24.

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FINALLY

The Mariners beat the Yankees, 2-1, in 12 innings Wednesday night in part because relievers Tom Wilhelmsen and Steve Delabar closed the game out by combining for three shutout innings.

Wilhelmsen is a 27-year-old rookie who had never pitched above Class A before this season and took a five-year hiatus from baseball between 2003 and 2009 to work as a bartender in Tucson. And Delabar, 28 and also a rookie, was a substitute teacher in Elizabethtown, Ky., when he was signed at the end of April.

One more time: We couldn't make this stuff up.

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