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PHI@ATL: Blanton fans seven over seven strong frames

ATLANTA -- The Phillies are making a difficult decision easier for the front office.

They had won eight of their last 11 games, including four consecutive late-inning comeback victories, when they flew to Atlanta late Thursday to open a critical three-game series this weekend against the Braves at Turner Field. But with Tuesday's Trade Deadline looming, they knew they couldn't stop winning. They needed to play well this weekend.

They haven't.

They have lost the first two games of this series, including Saturday's 2-1 loss.

That could be enough to push the front office into selling mode, regardless of Sunday's outcome. The Phillies are 45-56 and 11 1/2 games behind the NL Wild Card leaders, with eight teams ahead of them in the standings. They were 10 games behind the Wild Card leaders at the All-Star break. They have improved their play since, but not enough, losing ground in the standings.

"I've been hearing that for so long now, hell, I've kind of gotten immune to it," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, asked if he fears the two losses to Atlanta could make the Phillies sellers. "How long have I been hearing that?"

A couple weeks?

"A couple weeks?" Manuel said.

A couple months?

"It felt like 10 years," Manuel said. "It feels like it."

CSNPhilly.com reported trade talks involving Phillies center fielder Shane Victorino are heating up. He is the most likely player to be traded because the Phillies seem unlikely to offer him a multiyear contract extension.

Joe Blanton and Juan Pierre could be dealt, too.

Blanton, who will become a free agent after the season, improved his stock and could have sealed his fate with another strong performance Saturday. He allowed four hits, two runs, one walk and struck out seven in seven innings. He is 1-1 with a 2.74 ERA in his last three starts, allowing seven earned runs in 23 innings in that span. He has a 3.55 ERA in his last eight starts.

It seems every trade rumor lately has focused on the big arms: Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, Josh Johnson, James Shields, etc. But former Phillies general manager Pat Gillick acquired Blanton before the Trade Deadline in July 2008, and it worked out splendidly. Gillick had failed in his pursuit of CC Sabathia, who landed in Milwaukee, but he felt Blanton could stabilize the rotation, which he did.

Blanton picked up a win in Game 4 of the 2008 World Series.

Perhaps there is a team out there that sees Blanton doing the same thing for it. He is not an ace, but he could help its cause.

"Phenomenal," said Blanton, asked how he would describe his time in Philadelphia if he is traded before the Deadline. "I came, we won the World Series and went back again. We've been to the playoffs every time I've been here. It's one of the best places to play. Good fans and everything."

Roy Halladay pitches the series finale Sunday, which happens to be July 29. That date is noteworthy because, in each of the previous three seasons, the Phillies have made major trades on this day. They acquired Cliff Lee in July 2009, Roy Oswalt in July 2010 and Hunter Pence in July 2011.

It remains to be seen if Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will follow tradition and make another move on July 29. But this time, if he does, it seems likely he will be sending a player like Victorino or Blanton or Pierre somewhere.

This season has been a confusing one for the Phillies.

"I think a lot of guys are kind of thrown off by it and trying to figure out why and all that stuff," Blanton said. "We've won a lot, and all of a sudden you find yourself where you're at and it kind of makes your mind spin a little bit, and you're trying to figure out ways to get out of it. Before, we've always been on top, so even when you're not playing good in stretches, you're still relaxed and playing."

This season has been unlike anything Blanton has experienced in Philadelphia, which is why he could be traded before Tuesday's Deadline.

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