Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. has a “50-50″ chance to make the Opening Day roster

Red Sox prospect Jackie Bradley Jr. has a “50-50″ chance to make the Opening Day roster

When spring training began, Red Sox prospect outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. was considered a pretty solid lock to begin the season in the minors. However, after a strong showing this spring and the injuries to David Ortiz and Stephen Drew, Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com hears that the Red Sox are wavering on that stance. “When…

NL East: Phillies manager Mackanin believes his team is for real

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NL East: Phillies manager Mackanin believes his team is for real

Making sweeping judgments just one month into the Major League Baseball season is always a risky proposition. After all, we're talking about a small sample size — not even one-fifth of the 162-game slate — so it's hard to tell exactly which early-surprise teams will be out of the running down the road. 

But at 15-11, the Philadelphia Phillies so far are showing that they're not laying down just because they were widely expected to struggle in 2016.

Just ask the Nationals. The suddenly youthful Phillies' three-game sweep of the NL-East leaders last week felt like a head-scratcher for Nats fans, but it was a series that showed that Pete Mackanin's club might no longer stuck in the seemingly perpetual quagmire of a rebuild. 

"Every time we play somebody, I get the same question, but it's a good question because of course we [believe in ourselves]," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said via MLB.com. "We played the Mets, we played them well. We just got done sweeping the Nationals and that was one of those teams where we wanted to gauge how good we were."

Of course, the Phils had already been hard a work trying to retool the roster under the direction of new President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail. Once known for a core featuring stars like Ryan Howard, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, Philly's now getting major contributions from the likes of Vince Velasquez, Maikel Franco, Odubel Herrera and Aaron Nola — not exactly household names, but potential building blocks that are all under 25. 

So, can this last? Are the Phillies ahead of schedule?

Well, though they're winning, the Phillies certainly aren't exactly dominating any one area of the game. Their better-than-expected pitching staff owns a so-so 3.93 ERA, which is helping to keep this team afloat. The staff will need to keep this up, because the offense is currently ranked 29th in the majors in on-base percentage (.289) and 28th in OPS (.651), which explains why this team can have a winning record despite a minus-23 run differential. 

As the Phillies fight to show that they aren't a mirage, the one thing that does seem real for the team and its fans is that there might finally be light at the end of the tunnel. The rebuilding plan appears to be paying dividends early on, and perhaps sometime soon, this club could pose as a serious threat to the Nats and the rest of the NL East for the division crown. 

"The players should feel proud of what they've done so far this season, no matter what happens down the road," Mackanin said. "The biggest thing for me was how we reacted after going 0-4 at the beginning of the season. What have we gone, 15-6 since then? It's a good feeling."

Hardy won't put date on expected return

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Hardy won't put date on expected return

BALTIMORE –- Buck Showalter knew J.J. Hardy was hurt during the fifth inning of Sunday’s game. A half-inning earlier, Hardy had fouled a ball off his left foot.

Showalter was removing Ubaldo Jimenez from the game, and he asked the shortstop about the foot. He said: ‘This is strange. It’s gotten real stiff and sore in a hurry.’’’

Hardy left the game after the fifth inning, and a CT Scan and MRI on Monday revealed a hairline fracture in his left foot. 

Neither nor Hardy nor the Orioles have spoken about how long he’s been out, but an industry source estimated on Monday he’d be out four to six weeks. For now, Hardy will be in a walking boot for two to three weeks. Others have estimated he could miss as long as eight weeks. 

“I had an idea after the game or when I came out of the game that something wasn’t right,” Hardy said. “Then, obviously with the X-ray, there was something they wanted to see closer. They kind of gave me a little heads-up that something could be wrong.”

Hardy missed 48 games last year and had two stints on the disabled list with a left shoulder and groin injuries. 

“After I fouled the ball off my foot, I didn’t think too much of it,” Hardy said. “I mean it hurt, but it wasn’t terrible. I jogged to first base and kind of felt the same thing, nothing terrible. Then when I got out in the field and the more I moved around, the worse it was getting instead of loosening up or going away. So, I knew it was something.” 

While he’s missed time, Hardy has never had a broken bone before. He’s not sure whether he’ll stay with the Orioles or rehab in Sarasota.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” Hardy said. “I’ve been feeling as good as I can remember. I mean I don’t know the last time that I’ve felt this good. It’s definitely frustrating. I am just going to try and get back as soon as possible.”

RELATED: Chris Tillman starts as Orioles begin life without J.J. Hardy

Open court: Do any Pacers free agents fit Wizards?

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Open court: Do any Pacers free agents fit Wizards?

Paul George came close to getting the Indiana Pacers out of the first round, but they didn’t have enough to get past the Toronto Raptors in Game 7. Still, it was a bounce-back season to elite status for him as he led them to 45 wins after missing the postseason a year ago.

Indiana has a few free agents worth a look for the Wizards, who will go into the offseason with as many as nine spots open.

The Wizards' goals are to get younger, more explosive and identify a few two-way players in the process to improve their 21st scoring defense. Adding players indiscriminately isn't an option because of the salary cap. The big fish (meaning, big-name free agents) will get signed first. Assuming the Wizards land one, even if it's not named Kevin Durant, they'll construct the roster with the remaining money with as many as eight other spots open. More than likely they'll retain 2-4 of their own free agents which will cut that number of open slots from 5-7.

They'll need a solid backup for Marcin Gortat at center, a true scorer behind Bradley Beal and a backup point guard for John Wall.

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These are Indiana’s free agents, in order of best fit:

Solomon Hill:  Look at the Pacers at the end of games, and this 6-7 forward who earned just $1.4 million is on the floor because of his improving three-point shooting ability and defense. When they needed someone to slow down Beal in the second half of their last meeting with the Wizards this season, they went with Hill and it worked. He’s unrestricted and has surprising athleticism. His numbers are modest (4.2 points, 32.4% three-point shooting) which should translate into him being more affordable. The key with Hill is upside. He’s a solid rotation player at 25.

Jordan Hill: A career backup center, Hill gets his production (8.8 points, 6.2 rebounds) through hustle and can be a spot starter in a pinch. He made $4 million and is unrestricted and won’t command too high of a pricetag.

Ian Mahinmi: In his first year as a starter, the 6-11 center played well enough to get a raise above $4 million and is unrestricted. Mahinmi, 29, probably will want a chance to continue starting rather than returning to a backup role (9.3 points, 7.1 rebounds).

Ty Lawson: At one time a starting quality point guard, he’s now relegated to a backup role and is unrestricted. If he can regain his form, he’d be a steal but there’s no indication that’s going to happen soon. Lawson made $12.4 million this season and won’t come anywhere close to that in the open market. Shoots in the low 40s from the field and low 30s from three-point range, not a good enough of an upgrade behind Wall.

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