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PIT@PHI: Blanton limits Pirates over seven strong

PHILADELPHIA -- Chase Utley should be back in the lineup on Wednesday, but on Monday he offered his perspective on his team's chances to make the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year:

"There's no doubt in my mind, there's plenty of time."

The Phillies beat the Pirates on Monday night at Citizens Bank Park, 8-3, to improve to 35-40. They're tied for last place in the National League East with the Marlins, and have plenty of ground to make up in the division and Wild Card races. But they have 87 games to play, which could be enough, as they have the best winning percentage in baseball after the All-Star break (.622) over the past five seasons.

"Generally, in the past, we've always been a second-half team," right-hander Joe Blanton said. "We've always played better in the second half regardless of our first half. If we played well in the first half, we play better in the second. If we play OK in the first, we really pick it up in the second. So hopefully that trend continues, and we really start playing our best ball in the second half."

Last week manager Charlie Manuel thought that 90, 91 or 92 wins might be enough to win the division. The Phillies would have to go 55-32 (.632) the rest of the way to finish with 90.

It won't be easy.

More nights like Monday will help.

If the season had ended on Sunday, the Pirates would have been the NL's second Wild Card team, but they hardly looked ready for October in the first inning on Monday.

Jimmy Rollins hit a leadoff double and scored on Hunter Pence's one-out single to right field to make it 1-0. Carlos Ruiz followed with a single to right. Pence hustled and tried for third, but the throw from Pirates right fielder Jose Tabata missed its mark, allowing Pence to score and make it 2-0. Ruiz reached second on Tabata's throw, but after third baseman Pedro Alvarez recovered the ball, he misfired a throw to second base, and Ruiz reached third.

Shane Victorino singled to score Ruiz, making it 3-0, and another throwing error by Tabata allowed Victorino to score for a four-run lead.

Three throwing errors. Four runs. The Phillies would take it.

"We were aggressive," Manuel said. "They started throwing the ball around and started making some mistakes."

"We didn't defend the ball very well in the first inning, which kind of complicated things," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Our 'towards' button was off, meaning 'towards where we're supposed to throw it.' That wasn't working very well. There's a lot of places you can go with what happened."

Rollins hit a two-run homer in the fourth on a 3-0 pitch from Jeff Karstens to make it 7-2.

"[Manuel] gave me the green light, so I swung," Rollins said.

Did he want the green light?

"Yep."

And why shouldn't he? Rollins is hitting .343 with 10 doubles, two triples, seven home runs, 18 RBIs, 21 runs scored and a 1.043 OPS in 25 games since May 28.

Blanton has struggled lately, but in this one he allowed seven hits -- one a homer to Tabata in the third -- and two earned runs, issued one walk and struck out eight in seven innings. He has allowed 17 home runs in 48 1/3 innings over a span of eight starts, but this time he avoided the big inning and held the lead.

"It goes back to offense," Blanton said. "They gave us the lead early by being aggressive and forcing things to happen. It allows you to get into a nice rhythm after that. Hopefully we'll start something fresh. All winning streaks start after a loss. Hopefully we can get something good going."

The Phillies need to win two of the three remaining games to finish the 10-game homestand with a 6-4 record.

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