Phillies

Maikel Franco breaks out of slump just in time to face nemesis Bartolo Colon

Maikel Franco breaks out of slump just in time to face nemesis Bartolo Colon

NEW YORK -- Maikel Franco lugged a career-worst 0-for-21 slump into Thursday night's game against the New York Mets.

By the second inning, the skid had swelled to 0 for 22 and it was reasonable to begin to wonder if Franco would get a night off when the Phillies returned home Friday to face Bartolo Colon and the Atlanta Braves. After all, Franco is 1 for 16 with no walks and three strikeouts lifetime against Colon, the portly right-hander who knows how to exploit Franco's free-swinging tendencies with savvy, pitch movement and change of speed.

When Pete Mackanin posts his starting lineup for Friday night's game, look for Franco to be in it.

Colon or no Colon, Mackanin has to play Franco after the way he rebounded after his first at-bat Thursday night.

Franco scorched an RBI double to left field against gas-throwing Noah Syndergaard in the third inning and later belted a home run against Fernando Salas to help lead the Phillies' 6-4 win over the Mets (see game story).

It was a slump-busting, confidence-building, frustration-dissipating game for Franco. The Phils' cleanup man will carry a .172 batting average into Friday night.

"It was great to see Franco finally break through," Mackanin said. "He's not going to hit .150, .160. These guys that are hitting .380 and .400, they're not going to hit .380 and .400 all season. Everything evens out."

Franco admitted that the slump had begun to frustrate him. He believed that he was hitting the ball better than his results. He was, in fact. Entering Thursday, the ball had come off his bat at 91.7 miles per hour, according to MLB's Statcast data. That was the 18th-best average exit velocity in baseball. On balls in play, Franco was hitting just .136 entering Thursday and that suggests some bad luck.

But it wasn't all bad luck, in the opinion of hitting coach Matt Stairs.

"It's kind of surprising to see his numbers with the amount of work he does in the batting cage," Stairs said before the game. "He works his tail off. He does everything right in the cage, gets out in batting practice and works on things and has great BPs, drives the ball to left-center and right-center, not thinking pull.

"I think the thing that is hurting him this year is that he's gotten some pitches to hit and he's missing them. I really do. If you go back and look at the films, he's had some pitches to hit. I don't know if he's gotten a little too big (with his swing). I think his timing is off a little bit. His foot is getting down late which is causing him to miss those pitches.

"Yeah, he is running into some bad luck. But I'm not going to say that's the reason he's hitting what he's hitting. He's made some easy outs on balls he should be hitting."

Though his batting average is down, Franco's selectivity at the plate, a major problem last year, has improved in the early season. He entered Thursday seeing 3.93 pitches per at-bat, up from 3.56 last year, and his walk rate was 8.3 percent, up from 6.3.

Before the game, Stairs offered the opinion that Franco was ready to break out.

"Am I worried about him?" Stairs said. "No. It takes one swing to turn it around."

Franco found that swing.

Twice.

Now comes the test of Bartolo Colon.

MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

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MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

The red-bearded slugger connected on the 29th anniversary of the Dodgers' last game-ending postseason homer: Kirk Gibson's famous pinch-hit drive to beat Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener.

"One of my earliest baseball memories, I was 4 years old at my grandma's house watching that game in `88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," a smiling Turner said. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

Turner drove in every run for Los Angeles, going the other way for a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. A fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey reached over a railing to catch the ball on the fly.

Turner's second homer of the postseason ended another dramatic night for the Dodgers, who remained unbeaten in these playoffs and moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1988.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. He's been at his best in October, batting .377 with 22 RBIs in the postseason.

"We've been doing it all year long," Turner said. "We're never out of a game. As long as we have outs left, we're going to keep fighting."

Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan in a Chase Utley jersey in the center-field bleachers caught the ball in his glove.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games and went on to its first World Series championship since 1908, while the Dodgers have been absent from the Fall Classic since 1988.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the victory with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

After a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner evened it moments later by poking a single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out but also was stranded.

Up next
Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired 

MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

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MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

HOUSTON — Jose Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa's double in the ninth inning, Justin Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Correa also homered, but Houston needed a daring dash from Altuve to get Verlander a win. The 5-foot-6 AL MVP front-runner reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman , then sprinted around from first base on Correa's shot to right-center field, sliding past catcher Gary Sanchez as he misplayed a short-hop. Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason.

Verlander pitched another gem for the Astros, setting a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowing five hits in his second career complete game in the postseason. He threw a season-high 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird in the top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the inning, Judge picked up Correa's hit in right field and threw toward second base. Shortstop Didi Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. But Sanchez bobbled the one-hop as Altuve slid by, and the Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field. Altuve pointed toward Correa and his teammates from behind the plate (see full recap).

Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs in NLCS Game 1
LOS ANGELES -- Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Yasiel Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a short start by Clayton Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NL Championship Series opener.

Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.

With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief pitching, Los Angeles calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by Chicago on the way to its first World Series championship in 108 years.

Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago's Jon Lester (see full recap).