Phillies

For Phillies, beating up on Marlins is a must

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For Phillies, beating up on Marlins is a must

The Phillies enter the X Factor portion of their schedule when they travel to Miami for a three-game series against the Marlins on Friday night.

You know the story by now. Marlins ownership had another one of its infamous fire sales in November. Shortstop Jose Reyes, catcher John Buck and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle were traded away in a purge that reduced the team’s payroll by $60 million. The stripping down of the Marlins came a year after they spent lavishly on talent in preparation of their move into a new ballpark, and it created ill will among the fans/taxpayers who helped pay for that stadium.

“It’s not right, plain and simple,” Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said of the Marlins’ strip down.

In the wake of the controversial dismantling, the Marlins have been left with a JV team that has been forced to use light-hitting Phillies’ castoff Placido Polanco as a cleanup man in four of nine games. The Marlins, who have the worst record in the majors, have won just one of those nine games. They have scored just 16 runs and been shut out four times.

Despite winning two in a row, the Phillies are off to a middling start at 4-5. The Marlins are a team that the Phils could get well against in a hurry. But here’s the hitch: Every team in the NL East could profit against the Marlins this season. They are the division’s X Factor team. Beating up on them won’t guarantee a team’s winning the NL East, but it can certainly help.

“You’ve got to play them and you’ve got to beat them,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “They’re not going to roll over and give you anything. If they beat you, yeah, that could cause you a lot of problems in your division. I think right now, where they set and who they are -- if you think you’re going to win your division or go somewhere, you have to take care of your business against them.”

Washington and Atlanta has already taken care of some business against Miami. Both have posted an early-season three-game sweep of the Marlins. Now it’s the Phillies’ turn to see how much hay they can make in the first three of 19 games against Miami this season.

The Phils will send John Lannan, Cole Hamels and Roy Halladay to the mound against Ricky Nolasco, rookie Jose Fernandez and Kevin Slowey in the series.

Plenty of good seats remain available.

The Marlins drew just 14,222 and 13,810 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the two smallest crowds at their year-old stadium. They could get a bump when Cuban-born pitcher Fernandez starts against Hamels on Saturday night. The 20-year-old right-hander struck out eight Mets in five innings in his big-league debut Sunday. This weekend’s series finale will have a huge Phillies subplot as the struggling Halladay tries for the third time to pitch beyond the fifth inning.

Road-to-nowhere teams like the Marlins have given the Phillies problems in the past. Last year, the Phillies’ late run at an NL wild-card spot suffered a gaping wound when they lost three of four to 107-loss Houston, the worst team in the majors, in mid-September.

The Phillies have to expect to beat the Marlins.

But they can’t assume they will.

“Washington, Miami, New York, Atlanta -- we have to win all these games,” GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said. “You have to win your division games. On any given day, any team can beat another team. This is different than other sports. You saw what Houston did to us last year.

“We have to play good baseball, and we have to play with energy whether there’s four people in the stands or 40,000.”

The Marlins drew 34,439 on opening day, but not all of those fans had their happy, new-season faces on. There are hard feelings toward owner Jeffrey Loria, who has stripped down his club twice in a decade. One fan wore a shirt that said, Marlins baseball: Helping other teams get better since 1998. A couple of protesting fans were asked to leave.

Giancarlo Stanton hasn’t been so lucky. The Marlins’ mega-talent, who expressed his displeasure with the Marlins’ purge this winter, remains part of the team largely because he’s inexpensive at $537,000 this season. Stanton, 23, has averaged 37 homers and 86 RBIs the last two seasons. As his salary climbs, he could be the next big name out the door. And, yes, sources say the Phillies have let it be known that they’d like to talk to the Marlins once they put a For Sale sign on Stanton.

Rollins said the Marlins’ way of operating was a topic of conversation among Team USA players at the World Baseball Classic last month. Stanton was on that club and Rollins was able to take the young slugger’s temperature on the topic.

“He’s going to be OK,” Rollins said. “For his sake, I wish he was somewhere where he could shine and be a star. In a situation like that, the season can get long on you. But he’s going to be OK.”

Stanton hits third in the Marlins’ lineup, a challenging task without a formidable cleanup bat behind him (see story). He is off to a slow start, hitting just .167 (5 for 30) with two doubles, no homers and no RBIs.

The Phillies hope Stanton stays cold this weekend as they look to beat up on a team that they should beat up on.

Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

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Astros reach World Series, shut out Yankees in ALCS Game 7

BOX SCORE

HOUSTON -- Jose Altuve embraced Justin Verlander as confetti rained down. An improbable thought just a few years ago, the Houston Astros are headed to the World Series.

Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers combined on a three-hitter, Altuve and Evan Gattis homered and the Astros reached the World Series for only the second time by blanking the New York Yankees 4-0 Saturday night in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series.

Next up for the Astros: Game 1 against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night. Los Angeles opened as a narrow favorite, but Verlander, the ALCS MVP, and fellow Houston ace Dallas Keuchel will have plenty of rest before the World Series begins at sweltering Dodger Stadium.

"I love our personality," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "We have the right amount of fun, the right amount of seriousness, the right amount of perspective when we need it. This is a very, very unique group. To win 100 games and still be hungry is pretty remarkable."

The Astros will try for their first World Series title, thanks in large part to Altuve, the diminutive second baseman who swings a potent bat, and Verlander, who switched teams for the first time in his career to chase a ring.

Four years removed from their third straight 100-loss season in 2013, the Astros shut down the Yankees on consecutive nights after dropping three in a row in the Bronx.

The only previous time the Astros made it this far, they were a National League team when they were swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.

Hinch's club has a chance to win that elusive first crown, while trying to boost a region still recovering from Hurricane Harvey.

"This city, they deserve this," McCullers said.

Clutch defensive plays by third baseman Alex Bregman and center fielder George Springer helped Houston improve to 6-0 at Minute Maid Park in these playoffs and become the fifth team in major league history to capture a seven-game postseason series by winning all four of its home games.

Morton bounced back from a loss in Game 3 to allow two hits over five scoreless innings. Starter-turned-postseason reliever McCullers limited the Yankees to just one hit while fanning six over the next four. A noted curveballer, McCullers finished up with 24 straight breaking pitches to earn his first major league save.

Combined, they throttled the wild-card Yankees one last time in Houston. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez and their New York teammates totaled just three runs in the four road games.

"I know people are going to talk about how we didn't win many games on the road. There were some other teams that haven't won many games on the road, either. We just happened to run into a very good team that just beat us," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

The Astros also eliminated New York in the 2015 postseason, with Keuchel winning the AL wild-card game at Yankee Stadium.

CC Sabathia entered 10-0 with a 1.69 ERA in 13 starts this season after a Yankees loss. But he struggled with command and was gone with one out in the fourth inning.

Houston was up 2-0 in fifth when former Yankees star Brian McCann came through for the second straight game by hitting a two-run double. He snapped an 0-for-20 skid with an ground-rule RBI double to give Houston its first run on Friday night in a 7-1 win.

The Yankees, trying to reach the World Series for the first time since 2009, lost an elimination game for the first time this season after winning their first four in these playoffs. New York went 1-6 on the road this postseason.

After going 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position through the first three innings, the Astros got on the board with no outs in the fourth with the 405-foot shot by Gattis.

Altuve launched a ball off Tommy Kahnle into the seats in right field with one out in the fifth for his fifth homer this postseason. It took a while for him to see that it was going to get out, and held onto his bat until he was halfway to first base before flipping it and trotting around the bases as chants of "MVP" rained down on him.

Altuve finished 8 for 25 with two homers and four RBIs in the ALCS after hitting .533 with three homers and four RBIs in the ALDS against Boston.

Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel hit consecutive singles before Kahnle struck out Gattis. McCann's two-strike double, which rolled into the corner of right field, cleared the bases to push the lead to 4-0. Gurriel slid to avoid the tag and remained on his belly in a swimming pose at the plate for a few seconds after he was called safe.

It was just the second Game 7 in franchise history for the Astros, who lost to the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS exactly 13 years earlier.

Sabathia allowed five hits and one run while walking three in 3 1/3 innings. He wasn't nearly as sharp as he was in a Game 3 win and just 36 of the 65 pitches he threw were strikes.

Morton got into trouble in the fifth, and the Yankees had runners at the corners with one out. Bregman fielded a grounder hit by Todd Frazier and made a perfect throw home to allow McCann to tag Greg Bird and preserve Houston's lead. McCann held onto the ball despite Bird's cleat banging into his forearm. Chase Headley grounded out after that to end the inning.

A night after Springer kept Frazier from extra-bases with a leaping catch, Judge returned the favor on a ball hit by Yuli Gurriel. Judge sprinted, jumped and reached into the stands to grab his long fly ball before crashing into the wall and falling to the ground for the first out of the second inning.

Springer had another nifty catch in this one, jumping in front of Marwin Gonzalez at the wall in left-center to grab a ball hit by Bird for the first out of the seventh.

With McCullers in charge, the Astros soon closed it out.

"It's not easy to get here. And I don't take any of this for granted. And this is what we play for," Verlander said. "These are the experiences that you remember at the end of your career when you look back, winning these games, just playing the World Series. Hopefully winning the World Series."

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.