Phillies

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Win or lose, tonight important for Aaron Nola

Phillies-Astros 5 things: Win or lose, tonight important for Aaron Nola

Phillies (34-64) vs. Astros (67-33)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

After being dominated by the AL-best Houston Astros on two consecutive nights, the Phillies attempt to avoid a sweep with their best pitcher on the mound.

1. Unstoppable offense
As Nick Pivetta was cruising through the first five innings last night, retiring 14 of the first 15 batters he faced, you just knew the Astros' offense wouldn't be dormant for long.

Sure enough, they put up a four-spot in the sixth and the game was over.

Last night's game was the 64th time the Astros have scored five runs or more this season. The league average is 45. The Phillies have done it just 34 times, fewest in the majors.

The Astros won easily despite missing Carlos Correa, George Springer and losing Alex Bregman early to an injury. There's a ton to like about this team, and being there to watch them on the field pregame the last two days, it sticks out how loose this team is. They should be — they're winning game after game after game and blowing out their opponents.

2. Nola time
Last night was a confidence-builder for Pivetta even though he allowed five runs because it showed him and the Phillies that when his slider is working and his fastball command is there, he can silence the best of offenses. 

Likewise, a successful start tonight from Aaron Nola would be huge, whether the Phillies win or lose.

Nola over his last six starts has gone 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA and .190 opponents' batting average. He's struck out 50 and walked 13 in 42⅓ innings. 

Nola dominated the Brewers his last time out — seven innings, one run, nine strikeouts — by utilizing all four of his pitches. He threw 31 two-seam fastballs, 27 four-seam fastballs, 20 changeups and 18 curveballs. He'll need a similar mix tonight because this Astros team hunts fastballs early in the count and is ready to pounce on any pitch that catches too much of the middle of the plate.

Nola typically pounds the strike zone, but tonight he might be wise to begin a few more at-bats than usual with a get-me-over breaking ball.

An at-bat that stuck out last night was Evan Gattis' in the sixth inning. He came up with two men on and one out, and Pivetta threw two 96 mph fastballs by him in a 3-1 count to strike him out. Both fastballs were in very hittable zones, but because Pivetta had Gattis thinking up there about all the sliders he saw earlier in the game, Gattis couldn't catch up to the heat.

That's really the only way you can keep a team like this off balance.

3. Franco back in his shell
It looked like maybe, finally, Maikel Franco was turning a corner right after the All-Star break, but alas. 

Franco is 0 for 16 with seven strikeouts over his last four games and just like that, he's back to hitting .224/.282.390.

Franco's batting averages by month this year: .213, .218, .224, .241.

His on-base percentages: .273, .274, .284, .299.

He has a .296 OBP the last two seasons, which a middle-of-the-order hitter cannot get away with unless he's hitting 40 home runs.

At a certain point, you have to accept that Franco is who he is. And with how wild and inconsistent his approach is, secondary factors like lineup protection don't really mean a ton.

4. Herrera to sit?
Pete Mackanin double-switched Odubel Herrera out of last night's game after a few questionable moments. Herrera bat-flipped a deep flyout, then later didn't run out a dropped third strike. Neither was completely out of the norm for Herrera, but Mackanin doesn't want to let every one of these events go so he pulled him.

"It's not a secret. It's talked about," catcher Cameron Rupp said (see story). "If you guys are seeing it, we are seeing it. It is what it is. We can say it to him, Pete has said it to him. It's no secret and when you don't do it, you put Pete in that position to do what he did.

"Pete is the manager and what he asks us to do, we're supposed to do. It's a team thing and one guy can't just not follow the rules. It's not the first time. It has happened before and that's something we don't want to see. We want him in the game. He's a good player. Pete doesn't ask a whole lot of us. He asks us to play the game hard and play the game the right way."

Herrera has been the Phillies' best hitter the last two months, batting .331 since June 3 with a majors-leading 20 doubles. But as Mackanin said last night, Herrera, too, is in a developmental phase. It's just the development is more mental than physical.

5. This and that
• Two perfect innings last night from Luis Garcia ran his scoreless innings streak up to 19⅓. Over that time, his opponents have hit .108. Garcia might get a shot at the closer's job in spring training 2018.

• Jose Altuve went 1 for 4 with a double and a run scored last night. How locked in is he? It was only the fourth time in his last 16 games he didn't have multiple hits. Altuve is hitting exactly .500 (47 for 94) since June 27.

• Earlier this week, Mackanin indicated Aaron Altherr could come off the disabled list today. We shall see. When Altherr does return, the Phillies will have some decisions to make in the outfield unless they end up trading Howie Kendrick before Monday's deadline.

• The Phillies face a hot pitcher tonight in Mike Fiers (7-4, 3.59). Fiers has struck out 20 in 14 innings his last two starts and helped to solidify the back of Houston's rotation. Carlos Gomez was the headliner of the trade two summers ago with Milwaukee, but it's Fiers who has had the most staying power with Houston.

MLB Playoffs: Dodgers crush Cubs to reach 1st World Series in 29 years

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MLB Playoffs: Dodgers crush Cubs to reach 1st World Series in 29 years

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- Enrique Hernandez put a Hollywood ending on an L.A. story three decades in the making.

Fueled by a home run trilogy from their emotional utilityman, Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally going to the World Series.

Hernandez homered three times and drove in a record seven runs, Kershaw breezed through six crisp innings and Los Angeles ended the Chicago Cubs' title defense with an 11-1 rout in Game 5 of the NL Championship Series on Thursday night.

"It feels good to hear World Series," Kershaw said. "It's been a long time coming for this team."

After years of playoff heartache, there was just no stopping these Dodgers after they led the majors with 104 wins during the regular season. With Kershaw firing away at the top of a deep pitching staff and co-NLCS MVPs Justin Turner and Chris Taylor leading a tough lineup, one of baseball's most storied franchises captured its first pennant since Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda managed Kirk Gibson, Orel Hershiser and Co. to Los Angeles' last championship in 1988.

"Every night it is a different guy," Turner said, "and this is one of the most unbelievable teams I've ever been a part of."

Kershaw will be on the mound again when the Dodgers host the New York Yankees or Houston Astros in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday night. The Yankees have a 3-2 lead heading into Game 6 of the ALCS at Houston on Friday night, so one more New York win would set up another chapter in an old October rivalry between the Yankees and Dodgers.

Los Angeles made the playoffs eight times in the previous 13 seasons and came up short of its 22nd pennant each time, often with Kershaw shouldering much of the blame. The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner took the loss when his team was eliminated by the Cubs in Game 6 of last year's NLCS at Wrigley Field.

The ace left-hander was just OK during his first two starts in this year's postseason, but Los Angeles' offense picked him up each time. Backed by Hernandez's powerful show in Chicago, Kershaw turned in an efficient three-hit performance with five strikeouts and improved to 6-7 in the playoffs -- matching Burt Hooton's club record for postseason wins.

"To get to be on the mound tonight and get to be going to the World Series on the same night, it's a special thing," Kershaw said. "Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series? I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So, I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

When Kenley Jansen retired Willson Contreras on a liner to shortstop for the final out, the party was on . The Dodgers poured out of the dugout and mobbed their dominant closer near the mound, and a small but vocal group of Los Angeles fans gathered behind the visitors' dugout and chanted "Let's go Dodgers! Let's go Dodgers!"

On the field, manager Dave Roberts hugged Lasorda and told the iconic skipper the win was for him.

"I bleed Dodger blue just like you," Roberts said. "Thank you, Tommy."

Hernandez connected on the first two pitches he saw, belting a solo drive in the second for his first career playoff homer and then a grand slam in the third against Hector Rondon. Hernandez added a two-run shot in the ninth against Mike Montgomery.

The 26-year-old Hernandez became the fourth player with a three-homer game in a league championship series, joining Bob Robertson (1971 NLCS), George Brett (1978 ALCS) and Adam Kennedy (2002 ALCS). Hernandez's seven RBIs tied a postseason record shared by four other players who all did it in a Division Series.

Troy O'Leary was the previous player to have seven RBIs in a playoff game, for Boston at Cleveland in the 1999 ALDS.

It was a stunning display for a player with 28 career homers who remains concerned about his native Puerto Rico, which is recovering from a devastating hurricane. He delivered a historic performance in front of his father, Enrique Hernandez Sr., who was diagnosed with a blood cancer related to leukemia in December 2015, but got word last November that he was in remission.

"For me to be able to come here and do something like this is pretty special," said Hernandez, who also goes by Kik?. "My body's here, but my mind's kind of back home. It's hard being away from home with what's going on.

"All I want to do right now is go to my dad and give him a big hug."

Kris Bryant homered for Chicago, but the NL Central champions finished with just four hits in another tough night at the plate. Each of their eight runs in the NLCS came via the long ball, and they batted just .156 for the series with 53 strikeouts.

Long playoff runs in each of the last two years and a grueling five-game Division Series against Washington seemed to sap Chicago of some energy, and its pitching faltered against sweet-swinging Los Angeles. Jose Quintana was pulled in the third inning of the final game, and the Cubs never recovered.

"They executed their plan," Bryant said. "They pitched great and the bullpen was lights out. That makes for a tough time scoring runs."

Turner and Taylor helped put it away for Los Angeles, contributing to a 16-hit outburst while closing out a pair of impressive performances.

Turner singled home Taylor in the Dodgers' five-run third, giving him seven RBIs in the series and 24 throughout his postseason career. Taylor finished with two hits and scored two runs as the Dodgers, who have won five straight NL West titles, improved to 7-1 in this postseason.

Taylor's versatility helped Los Angeles cover for the loss of All-Star shortstop Corey Seager, who missed the series with a back injury, but is expected to return in the next round. Coming off a breakout season, the 27-year-old Taylor hit .316 with two homers and scored five times against the Cubs.

"I couldn't be happier to be a part of this and be with these guys," Taylor said. "It's been an unbelievable year, and I'm just super excited."

Out with a bang
Hernandez joined Kennedy (2002), Adrian Beltre (2011), Reggie Jackson (1977 vs. the Dodgers) and Babe Ruth (1928) as players to hit three home runs in a postseason series clincher.

Lights out
Dodgers relievers have thrown 23 consecutive scoreless innings, a postseason record.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

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MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).