Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Aaron Nola's 1st start; hittable opposing pitcher

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Aaron Nola's 1st start; hittable opposing pitcher

Phillies (1-3) vs. Nationals (3-1)
7:05 p.m. on NBC10; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies lost their home opener to the Nationals but impressed their manager in doing it, coming back from a 7-0 deficit and getting the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth inning of a 7-6 loss.

The series continues Saturday night in Aaron Nola's much-anticipated season debut:

1. All eyes on Nola
In reality, all eyes will be on Nola 32 times this season or however many times he takes the mound. He's coming off an elbow injury that cost him the second half of his season, and before that injury, he had the worst stretch of his baseball life.

On June 5 last season, Nola fired six shutout innings with nine strikeouts against the Brewers to lower his ERA to 2.65 through 12 starts. What happened from there was ugly. Nola gave up 39 runs (36 earned) over 33 innings in his next eight starts as his ERA soared to 4.78. His opponents hit .367 with 14 walks.

Where was the guy with the pinpoint command?

Nola had a rough spring, but Pete Mackanin liked the velocity he saw from his 23-year-old right-hander. 

It's not velocity that made Nola a first-round pick in 2014, though. It was elite command, an ability to spot his fastball wherever he wanted, and a slurvy curveball that can completely freeze hitters.

The Nationals are not an easy first test. Bryce Harper is 7 for 11 off Nola with two homers. Daniel Murphy has a double, triple and a homer in 13 at-bats. Jayson Werth has taken him deep twice.

Nola has faced Washington six times and gone 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA. He doesn't need to go out there tonight and fire seven shutout innings, but the Phillies will want to see him enter and exit the game healthy, keep the ball low and work quickly. This early in the season, it's more about positive signs from Nola than just results.

2. Wake-up calls
Tommy Joseph needs one. So does Maikel Franco, Michael Saunders and Cameron Rupp.

Joseph is 0 for 13 with six strikeouts. Franco is 2 for 16 and has left a whole lot of men on base. Saunders is 1 for 10 and has made a few crucial outs. Rupp is 2 for 11 with five K's.

The Phillies obviously are not going to win many games with half of the lineup doing nothing. It is reminiscent of last season when the Phillies would have so many guys going cold at the same time. That's how you score 39 fewer runs than any other team.

3. Herrera's hitting, though
One guy that you can't complain about so far is Odubel Herrera. Four games into the season, he's gone 6 for 14 with two doubles and four walks.

Herrera had two more hits Friday off Max Scherzer, the reigning Cy Young winner who Herrera continues to have success against (see story).

Herrera and Howie Kendrick have been the Phillies' most consistent hitters less than a week into the season. Freddy Galvis and Aaron Altherr have also shown some pop.

4. Guthrie gets the start
There was some thought the Phillies would face talented young right-hander Joe Ross this weekend, but instead, they'll see veteran Jeremy Guthrie on Saturday and Stephen Strasburg on Sunday.

The Nationals selected Guthrie's contract after Friday's game. 

It's a pretty big surprise to see the 38-year-old starting during a team's first cycle through the rotation. He had a 5.95 ERA for the Royals in 2015 and didn't pitch in the majors last season, posting a 7.17 ERA at Triple A.

He's, at times in his career, been a serviceable fourth starter who limits walks. 

When Guthrie last pitched in the majors, he used a five-pitch mix: four-seam fastball around 92-93 mph, a sinker, changeup, curveball and cutter.

Put it this way: Having faced Scherzer on Friday and with Strasburg on tap Sunday, this is the game the Phillies' bats need to wake up. There won't be much of an excuse if they're silent against Guthrie and a Nationals bullpen they exposed Friday.

5. This and that
* Joaquin Benoit and Hector Neris are going to get so many outs this season. Let's just hope they're meaningful outs. Both impressed Friday with the Phillies trailing by multiple runs. The back-end of this bullpen is the team's strength; hopefully, they get to use it.

* Credit to Jeanmar Gomez for easily working his way through Bryce Harper, Daniel Murphy and Ryan Zimmerman in an 11-pitch, 1-2-3 ninth inning Friday.

* Harper loves himself some Citizens Bank Park. In 36 career games here, he's hit .306 with 12 homers, 26 RBIs and an OPS well over 1.000.

* As if that's not enough, Harper is protected by Daniel Murphy, a .313 lifetime hitter against the Phillies in 510 plate appearances. 

(How awesome is it that the Mets just gave away Murphy and Justin Turner, who have become two of the most consistent doubles hitters in the NL?)

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


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).