Phillies

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers outlast Nationals in Game 5 to reach NLCS

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers outlast Nationals in Game 5 to reach NLCS

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WASHINGTON -- A little past midnight in Game 5 of the NL Division Series, Clayton Kershaw emerged from the bullpen to pitch in relief for the first time in seven years.

Two outs later, the only save of his major league career in the books, Kershaw's arms were raised and teammates were rushing to celebrate with a guy whose postseason performances have never carried the luster of his regular-season success.

Coming in with two runners on base and the outcome in the balance, Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop out, then struck out Wilmer Difo to end it, finishing the Los Angeles Dodgers' 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals to win their NL Division Series in game that ended in the wee hours of Friday.

The Dodgers won the last two games of the best-of-five NLDS and now head to the NL Championship Series to face the Chicago Cubs. That opens at Wrigley Field on Saturday night.

The Nationals, meanwhile, still have never won a postseason series.

Kershaw worked two days after throwing 110 pitches over 6 2/3 innings in Game 4, when he had the benefit of only three days' rest following his win in Game 1 against the Nationals.

Several hours before Thursday's game began, Dodgers first-year manager Dave Roberts was asked whether Kershaw might be available at all -- maybe just for one out, say?

"No," came Roberts' reply. "Absolutely not."

Turned out the three-time NL Cy Young Award winner would get a pair of outs in his first relief appearance since the 2009 playoffs.

He came in after regular Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen threw a career-high 51 pitches while getting a career-high seven outs after entering in the seventh. Jansen walked Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth with one out in the ninth -- and that's when Roberts went to Kershaw.

Kershaw wound up with his second pro save. His other one came in 2006, the Gulf Coast League.

LA's scoring all came in a four-run seventh off six Nationals pitchers, including Joc Pederson's homer off Max Scherzer and Justin Turner's two-run triple off Shawn Kelley.

Washington was leading 1-0 in the sixth, when Werth walked and Ryan Zimmerman smacked a two-out double to left. But third-base coach Bob Henley -- whose propensity for waving runners home led to a popular T-shirt among Nationals players that says, "Send `em short, send `em tall, send `em one, send `em all" -- sent Werth and saw him get thrown out easily on shortstop Corey Seager's relay.

Wasn't even close.

And in the sort of blink-and-you-missed-it game-shifting sequence, Werth's inning-ending, overzealous bid to score was followed immediately by Pederson's homer on Scherzer's first -- and, it turned out, only -- pitch of the seventh. Pederson connected with a 96 mph slider, sending it to the opposite field and over Werth's head in left.

That began a rally that included a pinch-hit RBI single by 37-year-old pinch hitter Carlos Ruiz, helping LA go up 4-1.

Then came Heisey's homer.

Then came Jansen.

And then came Kershaw.

The West champions Dodgers are back in the NLCS for the first time since 2013, but they've lost in their past three trips to that round, failing to make it to the World Series since they won their most recent championship in 1988.

The East champion Nationals, under first-year manager Dusty Baker, are one-and-done in the playoffs yet again. They won their third NL East title in the past five years, but each time were eliminated in the NLDS. Washington was beaten in five games in 2012 by the St. Louis Cardinals after leading 6-0, then 7-5 entering the ninth, at home in Game 5, and in four games in 2014 by the San Francisco Giants.

Take it back further, and a baseball club based in the nation's capital hasn't won a postseason series since the old Senators were the 1924 World Series champions.

Young Urias
Dodgers LHP Julio Urias, who turned 20 in August, became the youngest pitcher to appear in the postseason since Cincinnati's Don Gullett was 19 in the 1970 World Series, the Dodgers said, citing STATS. Urias entered in the fifth and threw two scoreless innings. He walked Harper, then picked him off first base.

`RIP' Harambe
According to the Cut4 Twitter feed, Harper paid tribute to Harambe, the gorilla killed at the Cincinnati Zoo, with an "RIP" decal on his bat knob during batting practice before the game.

Trainer's room
Nationals: Baker said before the game that RHP Stephen Strasburg would not be able to pitch in the NL Championship Series if Washington were to advance. "He won't be available for the next series," Baker said. "It would be a miracle if he was." That doesn't really come as a surprise, given that Strasburg has been sidelined since hurting his pitching elbow in early September and cut short a bullpen session Tuesday.

Jake Arrieta ain't happening, Phillies fans

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AP Images

Jake Arrieta ain't happening, Phillies fans

ORLANDO — Throughout this entire offseason, Phillies officials have privately said that they will not be players for top free-agent starting pitchers seeking long contracts and huge paydays.

It's not that the Phillies can't do it. This is the same ownership group that signed free agent Cliff Lee to a mega-deal a few years ago, the same ownership group that gave Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard huge extensions.

Money is not an issue for this team. 

The Phillies will spend big again someday soon — GM Matt Klentak talked about that Monday — but the time is not right, at least when it comes to signing free-agent pitchers on the other side of age 30 whose impressive career track records have included some recent blips in performance and the occasional health concern.

Back in October, club president Andy MacPhail talked about the downside of signing these types of pitchers and the dangers of paying for what he called "past performance." He went on to stress something that he has stressed since he arrived in Philadelphia in the summer of 2015 — the need to develop your own pitchers.

Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish are the top two starting pitchers on this winter's free-agent market. Both are over the age of 30. Both are seeking big-money, long-term deals. Phillies officials, while expressing respect for both pitchers, have privately rejected the idea of pursuing either this winter.

And, yet, on Day 2 of the winter meetings Tuesday, a breathless rumor surfaced that the Phillies were considering Arrieta. A Phillies official privately scoffed at the rumor, which surfaced a day after ESPN reported that Arrieta was seeking a deal of $180 million to $200 million.

Again, it's not that the Phillies can't afford Arrieta. It's that his age — he'll pitch at 32 next season — does not make him a great fit for a young Phillies team that still has miles to go on its development curve.

"There will come a time when we are one piece away and that one piece is a fill in the blank — starting pitcher, closer, cleanup hitter — and in that moment, when we feel that we are one piece away, or two pieces away, that's when we open up the wallet and we go do what we need to do," Klentak said Monday.

Now, if the Baltimore Orioles are serious about trading Manny Machado this winter, we expect the Phillies to be right in it. They love Machado and his age — 25 — fits nicely into the Phillies' plan of developing a young core. It's extremely doubtful that the Phillies would give up Sixto Sanchez or Scott Kingery, but they'd listen on other players, provided they could get Machado signed to an extension.

The Phillies are looking to add starting pitching this winter and they have lots of money. So linking Arrieta to the Phillies makes sense, especially for those interested in driving up his market. We don’t doubt that Arrieta's name may have come up in passing in conversations between the Phillies and his agent, Scott Boras. Maybe that qualifies as "considering." But this is a deal that ain't happening.

Even with eye on top talent like Manny Machado, Phillies will give core more time

Even with eye on top talent like Manny Machado, Phillies will give core more time

ORLANDO, Fla. — On Day 1 of the winter meetings Monday, the Phillies' longstanding interest in Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado bubbled to the surface once again. The subject will continue to percolate all winter and beyond as the Orioles mull whether to trade the star player or let him play out the 2018 season, his final one before free agency.

It makes much more sense for the Phillies to try to sign Machado as a free agent next winter rather than surrender prospects — and ultimately big cash in the form of an extension — for him this winter. But if the Orioles create a market for Machado this winter, the Phillies will be in on it. At the moment, all is quiet.

It's no secret that the Phillies have deep pockets and no secret that they will spend big on top talent like Machado once their rebuild gets into the red zone. Klentak confirmed that again on Monday.

"There will come a time when we are one piece away and that one piece is a fill in the blank — starting pitcher, closer, cleanup hitter — and in that moment, when we feel that we are one piece away, or two pieces away, that's when we open up the wallet and we go do what we need to do," he said.

"But for right now, we are on the cusp of getting to where we want to go, to developing this next young core. This is what happened with (Jimmy) Rollins and (Chase) Utley and (Ryan) Howard and (Cole) Hamels. We need to give these guys a chance to become that next group."

The Phillies showed improvement in the second half of last season. They went 38-38 over the final 76 games. Klentak wants to give the team's core the chance to continue its improvement in 2018.

"The most important thing we can do next year is let this young core develop and get the reps that they need to continue their improvement," Klentak said.

"We scored almost a full run more per game in the second half than we did in the first half. That was driven by (Nick) Williams, (Rhys) Hoskins, (J.P.) Crawford and (Jorge) Alfaro joining Cesar (Hernandez), Freddy (Galvis), (Maikel) Franco, Odubel (Herrera), (Aaron) Altherr, (Andrew) Knapp. That's exciting to me. Not only do we need to let that play out, we want to let that play out. 

"We want to see what that group can do now that they're more than three months into their major-league careers. What can they do in their first full season? Or their second full season? Baseball aging curves tell us that these players are likely to get better. How much better? We don't know. But we're only going to find out if we let them play."