Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Can Phils' bats keep momentum vs. Stephen Strasburg?

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Can Phils' bats keep momentum vs. Stephen Strasburg?

Phillies (2-3) vs. Nationals (3-2)
1:35 p.m. on CSN and streaming live on and the NBC Sports app

The Phillies are coming off quite a high after putting up a 17-spot on the Nationals Saturday night. It feels somewhat remarkable that the Phillies have outscored the Nats 23-10 in this series but are just 1-1. That's baseball for you.

Anyway, here are five things to know for Sunday afternoon.

1. Breaking out the bats
Whoa. That's the main way to react to seeing Saturday's box score. Watching the onslaught the Phillies had against Jeremy Guthrie in the first inning was mesmerizing, putting up 12 runs before the Nats could even get three outs. 

Four hitters had two-hit games and two had three hits -- Michael Saunders and Howie Kendrick. Saunders was a home run from the cycle. Nice to get the newcomers in on the action early. Cesar Hernandez had a pair of extra-base knocks, including a stand-up triple, and Tommy Joseph had his first two hits of the season, raising his average to .118.

The only starter not to get a hit was Freddy Galvis (Aaron Nola even picked up a single). However, Galvis got a run in via a sac fly, so he didn't go home completely empty-handed.

After a game like that so early in the season, you're bound to see some eye-popping numbers. Here are some: Kendrick sports a .444/.474/.667 batting line. Odubel Herrera has a .522 on-base percentage. Guthrie, perhaps pitching in the final game of his 13-season career, now has a 135 ERA, tied with Francisco Liriano for the worst in baseball.

It'll be tough for the Phillies to produce another 17 runs with the guy they'll be facing Sunday.

2. The $175 million man
Stephen Strasburg, now an eight-year veteran, is making the second start of his in the big leagues.

After signing a $175 million extension last season, Strasburg figures to be in Washington for a long time, which means the Phillies will have to continue competing with the overpowering right-hander. Along with Max Scherzer, Strasburg helps create a pretty daunting duo atop the Nationals' rotation for the foreseeable future.

Strasburg made just one start against the Phils last season, getting a win despite allowing four runs in seven innings. For his career, he's 8-2 vs. the Phillies, sporting a 2.37 ERA in 110 innings. It's his best ERA against a division opponent and he's dominated the Phils at times, striking out 138 in 110 innings.

In his opening day start, Strasburg picked up a win over the Marlins. He averaged 95.8 mph on his fastball, touching 98 on MLB's PitchFX system. He struck out just three batters, but didn't walk anyone and gave up just two runs over seven innings. After needing the bullpen for over seven innings Saturday, the Nationals could use another long outing from Strasburg to save some of their arms.

3. Can Hellickson repeat opening day?
For the second straight season, Jeremy Hellickson put together a strong performance on opening day in Cincinnati. And for the second straight year, he'll also be making his first home start against the Nationals. He's hoping it goes much better than last season.

On that game last April 15, the Nationals tattooed him for six runs, five of which were earned, in just three innings. That game distorted his overall numbers against the Nats last season (1-2 with a 5.09 ERA). In his other three starts, he had a 3.60 ERA and even beat the Nats later in April.

The veteran righty, who turned 30 on Saturday, was the Phillies' de facto ace last year and was particularly good at CBP. He was 7-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 99 2/3 innings at home and he seemingly got better as the season went on. His opening day start vs. the Reds was encouraging even though he lasted just 5-plus innings. You'll take a starter holding the opponent to just one run every single time and, unlike last season, the team was able to hold the lead.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Odubel Herrera really seems to be seeing the ball well in the early going. His quick start to 2017 got him an All-Star appearance and there's no reason he can't do the same this year.

Nationals: After a lackluster 2016, Ryan Zimmerman worked on lifting the ball with authority going into this season. It's been mostly successful with two home runs and a double with a .650 slugging percentage after he had just a .642 OPS (.370 SLG) last year.

5. This and that
• The Phillies had lost seven straight games to the Nationals at CBP before Saturday's win. They haven't won a home series vs. the Nats since Sept. 25-27, 2015.

• Guthrie's loss yesterday tied him with former Pittsburgh Pirate Jim Rooker for the third-most career losses (109) by a pitcher from Oregon. Guthrie has the fifth most wins (91) of any Oregonian. Former Tigers great Mickey Lolich leads both categories.

• Hernandez is 5 for 15 with two doubles off Strasburg. Maikel Franco is 3 for 10 with a home run and two RBI.

• Jayson Werth, Stephen Drew and Daniel Murphy each have one career homer off Hellickson. Bench bat Adam Lind and catcher Matt Wieters have seen him the most of any Nationals, going 10 for 32 and 6 for 30 against the righty, respectively.

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


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


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.