Phillies

Best of MLB: Indians beat Royals, clinch 2nd straight AL Central title

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Best of MLB: Indians beat Royals, clinch 2nd straight AL Central title

CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor planned to pour a bottle of water over his head. On Sunday, he'll switch to champagne.

For the second year in a row, the Cleveland Indians are AL Central champions.

A few hours after they beat Kansas City 8-4 in the first game since the Royals stopped their AL record winning streak at 22, the Indians clinched the division title when second-place Minnesota lost to Toronto.

When their second crown became official, the Indians were long gone from Progressive Field, leaving the ballpark to spend time with family or toast a memorable week. In Lindor's case, he was set to eat pizza and watch the boxing match between Gennady Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez.

Lindor said if the Twins lost he would dump water on himself before focusing on the fight (see full recap).

Kyle Hendricks, Addison Russell lead Cubs over Cardinals 4-1
CHICAGO -- Kyle Hendricks pitched effectively into the eighth inning, Addison Russell homered and the Chicago Cubs beat the St. Louis Cardinals 4-1 on Saturday to increase their NL Central lead.

Chicago has won five straight and leads Milwaukee by 3 1/2 games and St. Louis by five in the division.

Albert Almora Jr. had three hits and two RBIs for the Cubs.

Russell was activated before the game after being sidelined since early August with plantar fasciitis of the right foot. He pinch hit in the eighth and hit a solo shot against Tyler Lyons to the back of the left-field bleachers.

Hendricks (7-5) allowed one run and five hits in a season-high 7 2/3 innings. He struck out five and walked one (see full recap).

Yankees hit 3 HRs, back Montgomery in 9-3 win over Orioles
NEW YORK -- Didi Gregorius and Greg Bird both homered for the second straight game, rookie Jordan Montgomery pitched six shutout innings and the New York Yankees downed the Baltimore Orioles 9-3 Saturday for their fourth win in a row.

The Yankees (82-66) extended their stretch of winning seasons to 25, the second-longest such streak in major league history behind their own 39 straight from 1926-64.

The Yankees began the day three games behind AL East-leading Boston. New York was atop the wild-card race, four games ahead of Minnesota.

Gregorius and Bird each hit three-run homers and Todd Frazier added a two-run shot as the Yankees won for the seventh time in eight games. They are a season-high 16 games over .500.

Baltimore has lost nine of 10 as it continues to fall out of playoff contention (see full recap).

Bellinger hits 38th HR to help Dodgers beat Nationals 3-2
WASHINGTON -- Cody Bellinger hit his 38th homer to match the National League single-season record for rookies, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Washington Nationals 3-2 Saturday to inch closer to the NL West title.

Chase Utley had two doubles and scored twice to help the Dodgers reduce their magic number to win the division to five. Los Angeles also moved seven games ahead of the Nationals in the race to secure home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.

Los Angeles has won four straight since dropping 11 in a row. The winning streak includes the first two games of this series, which concludes Sunday.

Anthony Rendon homered for the Nationals, who have lost four of five since clinching the NL East last Sunday (see full recap).

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Phillies' ramped-up rebuild demands starting-pitching upgrade

Let the record show that on a snowy Friday afternoon 10 days before Christmas 2017, the Phillies ramped up their rebuild.

Dramatically.

What other conclusion can be drawn after the club went out and signed Carlos Santana, one of the best offensive players on the free-agent market? With the signing, confirmed by multiple baseball sources, general manager Matt Klentak has attached a new level of importance to the 2018 season.

Just a couple of days ago at the winter meetings in Orlando, Klentak spoke of how 2018 was going to be a time to "find out" more about the team's young core of players. Who would continue to take a step forward? Who would fall by the wayside?

But now that Santana is here, 2018 doesn't feel like it's just a find-out season. It feels like a season in which the Phillies can continue to find out about players — separate the studs from the duds — and also start nibbling around that second National League wild-card spot.

Sure, a lot has to go right for that to happen.

And one of the things that has to go right is Klentak has to land a starting pitcher to slot in around Aaron Nola and the rest of the staff, which has the look of a bunch of No. 4 and No. 5 starters — until someone steps forward.

Santana's deal is for three years and $60 million, according to sources. Three years is a nice get — i.e., it's not cripplingly long — for a 32-year-old (in April) who hits for power, produces runs and does what Klentak likes best: controls the strike zone. (You could say that Klentak added two players who control the strike zone to his lineup Friday as the trade of Freddy Galvis to San Diego for strike-throwing pitching prospect Enyel De Los Santos cleared the way for J.P. Crawford to be the regular shortstop.)

The Phillies need to do everything within reason to make sure that the first of Santana's three seasons with the club isn't about simply inching the rebuild forward. The Nationals are the class of the NL East, but the rest of the division ranges from ordinary to awful. The Phils, with an improved offense and bullpen (Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter), can play with the Braves and Mets and clean up on the Marlins, the jewelry store that became a pawnshop, in agent Scott Boras' words.

It's just up to Klentak to get more starting pitching, and he's on the case. He admitted that at the winter meetings. He is particularly fond of young starters with years of control remaining on their contracts. Gerrit Cole, Chris Archer and Michael Fulmer fit this description. It takes talent to get pitchers like that. The Phillies have enough depth of prospects to get one of these guys and their reserves of expendable talent just grew with the Santana signing.

Santana, a switch-hitter who has averaged 25 homers, 85 RBIs and a .810 OPS in eight seasons, is going to be the team's primary first baseman. Rhys Hoskins is going to be the primary leftfielder. That means the Phillies suddenly have a young outfielder that they could deal. Maybe they try to capitalize on Nick Williams' strong half-season in the majors and package him for an arm. Or maybe it's Odubel Herrera or Aaron Altherr.

However it plays out, you can be sure that Klentak will be creative. You can rule nothing out with this guy. The other day, we poo-pooed the Phillies signing Jake Arrieta, who is looking for a long-term deal approaching $200 million. But if Arrieta lingers out there until February and is looking for a two-year landing spot, hey, maybe.

We wouldn't even put it past Klentak to entertain the idea of using Santana at third base a little bit — he did play 26 games there in 2014 — and trading Maikel Franco. The Giants were sniffing around, gathering intel on Franco at the winter meetings. There has to be a reason for that. Also at the meetings, an official from a rival club said the Phillies weren't as aggressive as he expected in trying to move Cesar Hernandez. Could it be that Hernandez would get some time at third if Franco were to be moved? Hernandez is still a trade chip, but he doesn't need to be cashed in until July and by that time Scott Kingery should be here.

There are a lot of ways this thing can go. And with the signing of Carlos Santana — which won't become official until he passes a physical next week — the Phillies have guaranteed that the remainder of this offseason will be a busy one.

It has to be.

The stakes have changed for 2018. The rebuild is still in place, but it has been ramped up. Matt Klentak has improved the bullpen and the offense. Now he has to attack that starting pitching and he has the trade weapons to do it.

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

Source: Phillies agree to $60 million deal with Carlos Santana

The Phillies' busy Friday continued with a pricey free-agent signing.

The Phils have agreed to a three-year, $60 million deal with former Cleveland Indian Carlos Santana, a source confirmed to NBC Sports Philadelphia's Jim Salisbury.

It is by far the most expensive contract the Phillies have given out under the Matt Klentak-Andy MacPhail regime.

They had the money. When the offseason began, the only player the Phillies had signed to a multi-million dollar deal was Odubel Herrera.

Santana, 31, has always been a high-walk power hitter. From 2011 through 2017, he walked between 88 and 113 times each season, all while maintaining relatively low strikeout totals for a man with such power and plate selection.

In 2016, Santana set a career high with 34 home runs. Last season, he hit .259/.363/.455 with 37 doubles, 23 homers and 79 RBIs.

This addition provides the Phillies with much-needed pop to protect Rhys Hoskins and also gives the Phils added versatility. Santana is a switch-hitter who came up as a catcher, but he hasn't caught since 2014. The last three seasons, he has played primarily first base. In his eight seasons, Santana has also started 26 games at third base and seven in right field.

The move likely means Hoskins will play left field, and it could facilitate another Phillies trade of an outfielder such as Nick Williams, Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera.