Phillies

MLB Playoffs: Clayton Kershaw tosses gem to help Dodgers knot up NLCS with Cubs

MLB Playoffs: Clayton Kershaw tosses gem to help Dodgers knot up NLCS with Cubs

CHICAGO -- So much for October closer. With his Dodgers desperate for a win, Clayton Kershaw delivered the best start of his checkered playoff career.

The ace left-hander pitched seven sparkling innings, Adrian Gonzalez homered and Los Angeles beat the Chicago Cubs 1-0 Sunday night to tie the NL Championship Series at a game apiece.

Kershaw retired his first 14 batters and allowed just two hits in first outing since he pitched three times in the NL Division Series, including a two-out save in Game 5 on Thursday night in Washington. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner struck out six and walked one while throwing just 84 pitches in a brisk outing that could help when he returns later in the NLCS.

"It was one of those games where one pitch could have been the deciding factor," Kershaw said. "So, really just kind of couldn't look up for a minute for air and just kind of kept going through it and fortunate to get through it tonight."

Kenley Jansen then struck out four in two perfect innings for his third save of the playoffs. The teams combined for just five hits for the lowest total in a playoff game since the Cardinals and Pirates had four in Game 4 of their 2013 NL Division Series.

"I think that you couldn't have scripted it any better," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "And it was just another fun ballgame."

Roberts almost went to Jansen with a runner on first and two out in the seventh, but Kershaw argued successfully to stay in the game. Javier Baez then hit a drive to the warning track in deep center, but Joc Pederson was there for the catch.

"He hit it pretty good," Kershaw said. "And yeah, after Dave came out and that, I kind of talked my way into it. I really wanted to -- he was probably not going to trust me again after that, but, fortunately, he hit it at somebody, so it was good."

Baez's drive was one of a precious few hard-hit balls for the Cubs. Kershaw was that good.

The Dodgers needed a clutch pitching performance after their heartbreaking 8-4 loss in the series opener. And Kershaw responded with a gem that continued his reputation repair after a handful of playoff duds over the years. He was just 3-6 with a 4.79 ERA in 16 career postseason games coming into this series.

"I feel like every start he has the chance to be great," catcher Yasmani Grandal said. "It's just unbelievable to see him pitch, it's unbelievable to see him compete."

Game 3 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta, who pitched a no-hitter at Dodger Stadium last August, faces left-hander Rich Hill.

The Cubs lost a 1-0 game in the postseason for the first time since Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox blanked them in the 1918 World Series opener.

"Playoffs is always about pitching and defense," said Miguel Montero, the Game 1 star for the Cubs. "Tonight we played great defense as well and we couldn't score."

Chicago, trying for its first pennant in 71 years, wasted a solid start by major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks, who pitched 5 1/3 innings of three-hit ball in his first outing since he left his Division Series start against San Francisco with a bruised right forearm.

Hendricks' only mistake was a second-inning fastball that Gonzalez drove over the wall in left-center for his second homer of the playoffs. Gonzalez also had a tying two-run single in the eighth inning of the series opener, but Montero's pinch-hit grand slam was the big blow in a dramatic win for Chicago.

A day later, the Cubs couldn't get anything going against Kershaw.

"He kept the ball off the fat part of our bat," manager Joe Maddon said. "He threw strikes like he normally does. So despite not having rest, his command and velocity were still good."

Slumping slugger Anthony Rizzo just missed a home run with a foul drive in the fourth, and then bounced out. Baez and Willson Contreras hit consecutive two-out singles in the fifth for Chicago's first baserunners, but Jason Heyward fouled out to third.

Nothing seemed to bother Kershaw on a muggy night at Wrigley Field. After Grandal dropped a foul popup in the seventh, Kershaw responded with a wry grin, and then struck out Ben Zobrist.

"I honestly thought with him pitching with a couple of days' rest, he wasn't going to be that nasty," Baez said, "but obviously he came ready for us and he just did his job."

Jansen backed Kershaw with flawless relief. The big right-hander struck out Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant before Rizzo lined meekly to second for the final out.

About Gonzalez
Gonzalez became the seventh player in major league history to homer in at least six consecutive playoff series, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. It was the third go-ahead homer of his postseason career.

What a relief
While the Cubs struggled against Jansen and Kershaw, Hendricks and their bullpen gave them a chance. Carl Edwards Jr., Mike Montgomery, Pedro Strop and Aroldis Chapman combined for 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief.

Josh Reddick got Los Angeles' last hit of the night in the sixth, putting runners on first and second. Edwards then came in and got Pederson to hit a soft liner to second that Baez let drop before starting a heady inning-ending double play .

Up next
The Cubs and Dodgers work out in Los Angeles on Monday, and then Arrieta and Hill return to the mound for the first time since the Division Series. Arrieta made one start against Los Angeles this season, pitching seven scoreless innings in a no-decision at Wrigley on May 31. Hill, a fourth-round draft pick by the Cubs in 2002, has made one appearance against his first major league team, recording two outs in relief for Boston on May 21, 2011.

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.