Elliott on Baseball

BOB ELLIOTT

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

On Aug. 29, the Los Angeles Dodgers sat 41/2 games out of first.

They had dropped a series opener, 9-3, to the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks, falling dangerously close to being out of the National League West race.

Usually a club needs to be within five games of first on Sept. 1 to make a run.

The Dodgers took the final two games of the Arizona series to begin an eight-game winning streak. In all, they won 15 of their next 18 games. They took a 31/2 game lead over Arizona into last night's game in San Francisco.

On Sept. 10, the Philadelphia Phillies lost 7-3 to the Florida Marlins to fall 31/2 games behind the New York Mets in the NL East.

Thanks to seven victories in a row, the Phillies owned a half-game lead in the East over the Mets going into last night's game against the Marlins. The Mets were the wild-card leaders by 11/2 games over the Milwaukee Brewers.

The Phillies made their run with the help of closer Brad Lidge, who has converted 38 consecutive save opportunities. This is the same Lidge who was booed out of Houston last season.

A month ago, the thought of the Phillies' Ryan Howard winning his second NL MVP Award in three years would have produced giggles. His average was low. His strikeouts were high. Opposing pitchers no longer felt the need to pitch around him.

During the Phillies-Atlanta Braves game Thursday, broadcaster Chip Caray opened with this line when Howard came to the plate: "Here's Ryan Howard ... 190 strikeouts this season ... Wow!"

Said analyst Joe Simpson: "So? I'll take the 137 RBIs."

With Jayson Werth on third, Howard hit a fly ball to the track. Make it 138 RBIs.

Since Aug. 27, Howard was 30-for-77 (.400) with 10 homers and 28 RBIs.

Could Howard be an MVP candidate along with Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado? Delgado had a rough first two months but had 36 homers and 106 RBIs going into last night's game in Atlanta.

Phillies pitcher Brett Myers, who worked last night, has been a vastly improved starter since returning from the minors (7-2, 1.80 in 11 starts).

The Phillies have a favourable schedule. After three games in Florida against the Marlins this weekend, they return home to meet Atlanta and then the Washington Nationals.

The Mets, after leaving Atlanta, go home to play the Cubs four times and then three against the Marlins as they close down Shea Stadium next Sunday.

Meanwhile in the West, Dodgers manager Joe Torre appears headed to his 14th consecutive post-season.

James Loney needs one double to give the Dodgers three players with at least 35 or more each for the first time in franchise history. Matt Kemp has 38 and Andre Ethier 36.

Manny Ramirez joined the Dodgers at the July 31 deadline in a three-way deal. While he wears No. 99 a la Wayne Gretzky and may be there only for a good time, he has made an impact. Ramirez joined Hank Sauer as the only two players to collect 14 homers and 40 RBIs in their first 40 games after being traded mid-season. Sauer was dealt from the Cubs to the Reds in 1949.

If Ramirez manages to push his average to .400 again (it was .390), he'll be the first NL player since Bill Terry in 1930 to hit .400 or better with at least 150 at-bats in a season.

How many charts and graphs do you think that agent Scott Boras will make for free- agent Manny on that stat?

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QUICK HITS

WELCOME SURPRISE FOR KOTTARAS FAMILY

Markham's Marie Kottaras was looking for a couch at a Sears store last weekend when she saw her son, George, on a TV. He was hitting for the Boston Red Sox against the Blue Jays.

Marie watched the rest of the game from a recliner as George went 0-for-2 and scored a run in his first big-league game after replacing Jason Varitek in the seventh.

JAYS SCOUTS HONOURED

Former Blue Jays scouts Wilbur (Moose) Johnson and Epy Guerrero will be honoured by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation Jan. 16 in Beverly Hills, Calif. Johnson also was involved with the Philadelphia Phillies, landing Ryne Sandberg and Darren Daulton.

With the Jays, Johnson put together the deal which brought Robbie Alomar and Joe Carter from San Diego and suggested the Jays take Tom Henke in the compensation draft. Guerrero signed 37 major leaguers, 30 with the Jays, including Damaso Garcia, Tony Fernandez, Carlos Delgado and Kelvim Escobar.

RIDE PONY RIDE

Baltimore Orioles manager Dave Tremblay looked up Tuesday to see one-third of his former lineup with the 1974 Kingston Ponies at the Rogers Centre during batting practice.

After the game, Tremblay, a former catcher, entertained old roomie and centre fielder Roy Baron, shortstop Ron Earl and second baseman Bobby Gilmour, uncle of former NHLer Doug Gilmour.

YOU'RE KIDDING

Lame complaint of the week goes to Houston Astros owner Drayton McLane and Astros players moaning about having to play two games against Chicago in the Cubs backyard at Miller Park in Milwaukee, as a result of Hurricane Ike. Commissioner Bud Selig can't move games to a neutral site without approval of both the players' association and owners of the teams involved.

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THE BOOK ON ... BOSTON RED SOX MANAGER TERRY FRANCONA

WHAT A MAJOR-LEAGUE SCOUT SAYS: "You know how you guys do comparisons in the post-season? Starting pitching, bullpen and offence? Well, manager is a category Boston should win no matter who the Red Sox play.

"This guy deserves a lot of credit for how the Red Sox perform. They may look like they were out of control -- less now that Manny Ramirez is gone -- but they play the game right. He is in control.

"I remember him as a player, he was a guy I didn't think would ever manage. You know you see a backup catcher or a heady infielder and think maybe, some day. Well, he was an outfielder who had fun playing.

"We always give managers the blame, this guy deserves a lot of praise."

Rating out of five: 5

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CAUGHT OFF THE BAG

Bob Elliott looks at the lighter side of baseball

Managers don't have a long rope. See Ned Yost.

It's even shorter in the minors. Yet, Phillip Wellman, who managed double-A Mississippi, is with the Atlanta Braves this month, as a September coaching callup.

Phillip who? He's the manager who was ejected, ripped up two bases and used the resin bag for an imaginary "grenade toss" in 2007.

He's worth a look (youtube.com/watch?v=Ggy6WGUFaYs).

Wellman's team won the Southern League despite losing 15 of its first 17 games.


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