Phillies

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Vince Velasquez faces his relentless former team

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Vince Velasquez faces his relentless former team

Phillies (34-62) vs. Astros (65-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies bring two straight series wins into what's sure to be a challenging three-game set this week at Citizens Bank Park against the AL-best Houston Astros.

At 65-33, Houston is on pace for 107 wins. The Astros' franchise record for wins in a season is 102 back in 1998 when they were promptly beaten in four games in the first round of the playoffs.

This Astros team is built to go much deeper into October.

1. Unstoppable offense
All the Astros do is score.

They lost MVP candidate Carlos Correa last week to a thumb injury that will keep him out about two months, but the lineup hasn't really missed a beat. The Astros scored 23 runs in their weekend series win in Baltimore.

The Astros have scored six runs or more 51 times this season. That's nine more occurrences than any team in baseball and 13 more than any team in the American League.

It helps a little bit playing the Astros in a National League stadium and ridding them of the DH, but Houston has a relentless lineup that just keeps coming and coming and coming.

Jose Altuve is hitting .358 with a .988 OPS, 28 doubles, 15 homers and 21 steals. He could end up as the AL MVP.

George Springer is their dynamic leadoff hitter who's hit .311 with a .978 OPS, 27 homers and 66 RBIs. He's already scored 82 runs and is on pace for 136, which would be the most for any player since Curtis Granderson in 2011.

Lefty Josh Reddick typically bats second or third to split up the right-handed hitters and he's been solid all year as well, hitting .301 with an .835 OPS.

Then there's utility man Marwin Gonzalez, who's hitting .320 with 18 homers and a .994 OPS.

And there's first baseman Yuli Gurriel, hitting .294 with 27 doubles, 13 homers and an .815 OPS.

Up and down the lineup, everyone has met or exceeded expectations. Even players like Brian McCann and Evan Gattis, who don't play every day, have been much better than league average at their positions.

It's going to be the toughest test of the season for the Phillies' pitching staff because this a deeper, more explosive lineup than the Nationals or Dodgers. There's no safe haven for a pitcher to catch his breath.

2. Velasquez draws his old team
Vince Velasquez faces the Astros for the first time since being traded to the Phillies in December 2015. (Ken Giles could also make his first appearance against the Phillies.)

Velasquez (2-5, 5.14) is coming off an impressive start in his return from the DL last week. In Miami last Tuesday, he allowed just two runs (one earned) on four hits over six innings.

It was the most efficient outing of the season for Velasquez, who needed 79 pitches to complete six innings. The Marlins put balls in play early in at-bats as opposed to fouling pitches off and running deep counts.

Tonight could be a different story. On top of being much better than the Marlins, the Astros are also a much more patient lineup that swings and misses less. Five different Astros starters have an on-base percentage of .345 or higher, and then you have someone like Nori Aoki, who barely ever strikes out.

Velasquez used his time off to clear his head after an uneven first half. He's been using his fastball up in the zone a lot lately and it's worked because he has enough velocity to blow it by hitters when it's at shoulder-level or above. It can be a dangerous game, though, because if Velasquez misses even slightly lower in the zone, he's inviting loud contact.

3. Deeper Phils lineup
The Phillies have scored five runs or more in seven straight games, their longest single-season streak since 2005.

How have they done it? There's not one reason — in fact, there are at least five.

Nick Williams' bat in the middle of the lineup has been the biggest factor. He came up on June 30 and has hit .309 with four homers, four doubles, two triples and 15 RBIs in 19 games.

Since June 3, Odubel Herrera has hit .331 with a major-league-leading 19 doubles.

Over his last 35 games, Maikel Franco has as many walks (15) as strikeouts.

And the icing on the cake has been the returns of Cesar Hernandez and Howie Kendrick to the top of the Phillies' lineup.

Hernandez has reached base in all six games and 12 of 30 times total (.400 OBP) since coming back from the DL.

Kendrick hit in all three games over the weekend to raise his season slash line to .353/.403/.471. He's missed 60 games but been extremely productive when he's played.

The Phillies haven't previously had more than half the lineup hitting at the same time. When you add in Tommy Joseph's power, Andrew Knapp's plate selection and Freddy Galvis' ability to hit one out in any given plate appearance, you have the makings of a better lineup.

The Phillies still own the majors' worst record, but there are actually four teams — the Blue Jays, Reds, Giants and Padres — with worse run differentials.

4. More than a funny name
The Phillies face 29-year-old Astros right-hander Brad Peacock, who is having a career year. In 22 appearances (10 starts), Peacock is 8-1 with a 2.49 ERA and he's struck out a whopping 93 batters in 68⅔ innings.

He's also allowed just one home run in those 68⅔ innings.

Peacock has used five different pitches this season but goes mostly fastball-slider-sinker with his heater ranging from 93 to 96 mph. He also has a changeup and curveball.

His opponents have hit just .156 against the fastball this season and haven't hit better than .225 against any of his pitches. He's simply dominated for this first-place team and could legitimately start one of their first three playoff games, especially if Lance McCullers Jr. continues to struggle.

The Phillies have seen Peacock twice, in 2014 and 2011. In the most recent start, he allowed eight runs and put 11 men on base in just five innings. He was a much different pitcher then.

5. This and that
• Luis Garcia's save Sunday afternoon was his first since 2015. Garcia has pitched a career-high 17⅔ scoreless innings, allowing seven hits and striking out 17 over that span. If Hector Neris falters one more time in the ninth inning, the closer's job could temporarily go to Garcia.

• The Phillies have the lowest bullpen ERA in the majors since June 26 at 2.19.

• Giles has a 3.28 ERA this season with 21 saves in 23 attempts. He's struck out a career-low 10.3 batters per nine innings. In parts of two seasons with Houston, his ERA is 3.82 compared to 1.56 with the Phillies.

MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

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MLB Playoffs: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees to force Game 7 in ALCS

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON — Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

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Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."