Phillies

Phillies Mailbag: J.P. Crawford's debut, ABs for Altherr, Franco expectations

Phillies Mailbag: J.P. Crawford's debut, ABs for Altherr, Franco expectations

Ahh, the final weekend before opening day.

Time to open up the ol' bag of mail for your pressing Phillies questions:

An interesting question. There were pretty high expectations last season for Aaron Altherr before he suffered the wrist injury early in spring training. Because wrist injuries tend to affect a hitter's swing, we can just act like 2016 never happened -- Altherr came back late in the season and played every day, but hit just .197 in 227 plate appearances.

But this is the same big, fast, athletic, powerful outfielder who slugged .489 in 2015 with 20 extra-base hits in just 161 PAs. He had a strong spring, hitting .297 with four home runs.

Marshall Harris and I asked Pete Mackanin about Altherr on the Measured Takes podcast Thursday and Mackanin's answer was simply that if Altherr hits, he'll play.

I think there will be ample opportunity for Altherr even though he enters the season as the Phillies' fourth outfielder. He could face a tough lefty instead of Michael Saunders. He could play left field with Howie Kendrick moving to second base when Cesar Hernandez needs a day off.

As for Stassi, I think his best chance at playing time will come at first base because he's a plus defender and bats from the opposite side of Tommy Joseph. It would be a good idea for the Phillies to get Stassi some starts against hard-throwing righties.

I think J.P. Crawford will be up this season, yes. The Phillies have to protect him on the 40-man roster after the season anyway, so he's likely to debut in September, if not before.

If Freddy Galvis goes down with an injury at any point, you'll probably see Crawford unless he's just in a bad funk at Triple A. 

But if/when Crawford comes up for good, I don't expect the Phillies to move him away from shortstop. He's a perennial top prospect and a lot of that value is tied to his premium defensive position. It's where the Phillies want him long term, so why mess around and move him somewhere else and potentially affect his growth?

Galvis is an elite defensive shortstop who deserves to play shortstop. Cesar Hernandez is a better hitter at second base. So if everything pans out -- Crawford makes it up, Hernandez doesn't take steps back -- either Hernandez or Galvis would probably have to be traded. Hernandez would have more value because his skills are more evident, but there are a lot of teams that could use Galvis. Shortstop is a thin position league-wide, and this guy hit 20 homers with Gold Glove defense last season. Yes, his .274 on-base percentage was as bad as it gets, but the defense and power are still more than most shortstops offer.

I don't see how they couldn't. Remember that at this time last year, Cameron Rupp and Tommy Joseph were unproven and Ryan Howard was clearly near the end, so Franco was the Phillies' only real power threat.

Franco started out hot, but by May 1 his batting average was around .250 and his on-base percentage around .300, and he barely inched up from that point forward. He swung out of his shoes a lot, gave away at-bats and, at times, didn't seem to be concentrating.

Good.

Last season showed Franco he has a lot of work to do. At an offensive position, it's not enough to have a .310 on-base percentage even if you're hitting 25 homers.

Mackanin likes the way Franco used the middle of the field this spring, and said that if he had that approach more last season, he could have turned more hanging sliders into extra-base hits.

With a well-respected veteran like Kendrick batting before him, Franco just seems less likely to give away at-bats. He'll have someone to answer to. With Saunders batting fourth or fifth, pitchers won't be able to shy away from Franco with runners in scoring position because there's just as much a chance for a homer from the two guys batting after him.

I'm not saying that the presence of Kendrick and Saunders alone will push Franco to reach his potential, but it will help. 

As far as Herrera ... I think he's pretty much immune to his surroundings, in a good way. He's such an energetic player and can do so much with the bat that he seems like he'd hit .290 whether he was leading off for a bad team or batting second or sixth for a good team.

MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

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MLB Playoffs: Justin Turner hits walk-off HR to give Dodgers 2-0 lead over Cubs

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- Justin Turner hit a three-run homer with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 4-1 on Sunday to take a 2-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

The red-bearded slugger connected on the 29th anniversary of the Dodgers' last game-ending postseason homer: Kirk Gibson's famous pinch-hit drive to beat Oakland in the 1988 World Series opener.

"One of my earliest baseball memories, I was 4 years old at my grandma's house watching that game in `88 and seeing Gibby hit that homer," a smiling Turner said. "So yeah, it feels pretty cool. I thought about doing the fist pump around the bases, but we'll wait until we get to the World Series for that, hopefully."

Turner drove in every run for Los Angeles, going the other way for a tying single in the fifth before sending a long shot to center field off John Lackey in the ninth. A fan wearing a blue Dodgers jersey reached over a railing to catch the ball on the fly.

Turner's second homer of the postseason ended another dramatic night for the Dodgers, who remained unbeaten in these playoffs and moved within two wins of their first World Series appearance since 1988.

"It's very cool, and J.T., we were talking about it in there after the game," manager Dave Roberts said. "Twenty-nine years to the day. It was special. Our guys feel it."

Game 3 in the best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Midseason acquisition Yu Darvish starts for the Dodgers against Kyle Hendricks.

Yasiel Puig drew his third walk of the game leading off the ninth, and Charlie Culberson bunted him to second. After losing pitcher Brian Duensing struck out pinch-hitter Kyle Farmer, Chicago manager Joe Maddon went to the bullpen for the 38-year-old Lackey, who pitched on consecutive days for the first time in his 15-year career.

Lackey got the call over All-Star closer Wade Davis, and the veteran starter walked Chris Taylor on six tense pitches.

Turner stepped up and ended it with his fourth career playoff homer. He's been at his best in October, batting .377 with 22 RBIs in the postseason.

"We've been doing it all year long," Turner said. "We're never out of a game. As long as we have outs left, we're going to keep fighting."

Completing the poetry of the moment, a fan in a Chase Utley jersey in the center-field bleachers caught the ball in his glove.

Addison Russell homered in the fifth for the Cubs, who are down early in this rematch of the 2016 NLCS. Chicago won that series in six games and went on to its first World Series championship since 1908, while the Dodgers have been absent from the Fall Classic since 1988.

Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen got the victory with a hitless ninth despite hitting Anthony Rizzo on the hand with a one-out pitch. That ended the Los Angeles bullpen's impressive streak of 22 straight Cubs retired to begin the NLCS, but the Dodgers have thrown eight hitless and scoreless innings of relief in the NLCS.

After a collective offensive effort drove the Dodgers to a 5-2 win in Game 1, Turner did it all in Game 2. He has 10 RBIs in the Dodgers' five postseason games, getting five in the playoff opener against Arizona.

Jon Lester yielded three hits and five walks while failing to get out of the fifth inning in the shortest start of his long postseason career, but the Dodgers couldn't take advantage of a rare shaky night by the Cubs' star left-hander.

Rich Hill struck out eight in five more impressive innings for the Dodgers, but he was pulled for pinch-hitter Curtis Granderson in the fifth in a debatable decision by Roberts.

Russell was off to a 4-for-22 start in the postseason with nine strikeouts before the slugging shortstop put a leadoff homer into the short porch in left field.

Turner evened it moments later by poking a single to right after a leadoff double by Culberson, the Dodgers' improbably successful replacement for injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager.

The Dodgers chased Lester with two outs in the fifth, but reliever Carl Edwards Jr. came through after several recent postseason struggles, striking out pinch-hitter Chase Utley and then pitching a strong sixth.

Lester was the co-MVP of last season's NLCS, winning Game 5 at Dodger Stadium and yielding two runs over 13 innings in the series. He had nothing near the same success against the Dodgers' revamped lineup in this one, issuing four walks in the first four innings and repeatedly escaping jams.

Dodgers third base coach Chris Woodward held up Turner in the third when it appeared he could have scored from first on Cody Bellinger's double to the gap.

Javier Baez, the other co-MVP of last season's NLCS for Chicago, got to third base in the third with one out but also was stranded.

Up next
Cubs: Hendricks dominated Chicago's playoff opener with seven scoreless innings against the Nationals, but yielded four runs in four innings during the team's wild Game 5 victory in Washington. He is starting on normal rest.

Dodgers: Darvish was outstanding in Game 3 against the Diamondbacks, earning his first career postseason victory with seven strikeouts over five innings of two-hit ball. He was acquired 

MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

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MLB Playoffs: Altuve's dash lifts Verlander, Astros over Yanks in Game 2

HOUSTON — Jose Altuve raced home on Carlos Correa's double in the ninth inning, Justin Verlander struck out 13 in a complete game and the Houston Astros beat the New York Yankees 2-1 Saturday for a 2-0 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Correa also homered, but Houston needed a daring dash from Altuve to get Verlander a win. The 5-foot-6 AL MVP front-runner reached with a one-out single against closer Aroldis Chapman , then sprinted around from first base on Correa's shot to right-center field, sliding past catcher Gary Sanchez as he misplayed a short-hop. Altuve had two more hits and is 13 for 23 (.565) this postseason.

Verlander pitched another gem for the Astros, setting a postseason career best for strikeouts and allowing five hits in his second career complete game in the postseason. He threw a season-high 124 pitches and retired baby Bronx Bombers Aaron Judge, Sanchez and Greg Bird in the top of the ninth.

In the bottom of the inning, Judge picked up Correa's hit in right field and threw toward second base. Shortstop Didi Gregorius fielded there, and his throw beat Altuve to the plate by a few steps. But Sanchez bobbled the one-hop as Altuve slid by, and the Astros mobbed Correa in shallow center field. Altuve pointed toward Correa and his teammates from behind the plate (see full recap).

Puig, Taylor power Dodgers past Cubs in NLCS Game 1
LOS ANGELES -- Chris Taylor hit a tiebreaking homer in the sixth inning, Yasiel Puig added a homer and an RBI double to his dynamite postseason, and the Los Angeles Dodgers overcame a short start by Clayton Kershaw for a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs on Saturday night in the NL Championship Series opener.

Charlie Culberson doubled, drove in the tying run and scored another while replacing injured All-Star shortstop Corey Seager for the resourceful Dodgers, who improved to 4-0 in this postseason.

With another collective offensive effort and four innings of perfect relief pitching, Los Angeles calmly overcame an early two-run deficit and took the first game of this rematch of the 2016 NLCS, won in six games by Chicago on the way to its first World Series championship in 108 years.

Game 2 is Sunday, with Rich Hill starting at home against Chicago's Jon Lester (see full recap).