Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff searches for 1st win

Phillies-Nationals 5 things: Jerad Eickhoff searches for 1st win

Phillies (4-7) vs. Nationals (6-5)
1:35 p.m. on CSN and streaming live on and the NBC Sports app.

The Phillies broke a four-game losing skid after Cesar Hernandez's two-run homer propelled them to a victory Saturday afternoon. With the weekend series tied 1-1, Jerad Eickhoff will go toe to toe with Gio Gonzalez on Sunday as the Phils look to take their second straight series from the Nats.

Here are five things to know for the series finale.

1. Eickhoff searches for 1st win
Despite two quality starts to begin the season, Eickhoff is still without a win in 2017.

It follows a similar trend to last season. While Eickhoff was the team's most consistent and reliable starter in 2016, he had two one-month stretches where he wasn't able to pick up a win. Two games into this season, he has a sterling 1.98 ERA, but the Phillies have lost both his starts. He's even gone fairly deep into games (13 2/3 innings overall) and has struck out 13 batters. His five walks, including four vs. the Mets last time out, are a little off for the righty. But he's still only allowed eight hits this year. 

The 26-year-old righty has allowed a home run in both starts this season, yet he still hasn't given up more than three earned runs in a start since Aug. 18 last season. He faced the Nationals twice in 2016. Fitting with the trend, he produced quality starts in both games, but the Phillies lost each time. In two career starts at Nationals Park, he's gone 13 innings, struck out 15 batters and the Nats have scored just two runs. 

As a team, the Nationals haven't hit Eickhoff well. Adam Eaton and Jayson Werth have each hit homes runs off him, but the team as a whole has a .216/.259/.392 batting line. Star right fielder Bryce Harper is 1 for 9 vs. Eickhoff with six strikeouts.

2. Gonzalez dealing to start 2017
Last season was the worst full season of Gonzalez's career. The veteran lefty threw 177 1/3 innings and had a rotten 4.57 ERA. His ERA has gotten worse every season since his career-best in 2012. At age 26 that year, he tossed 199 1/3 innings with a 2.89 ERA and led the National League with 21 wins and a 9.3 strikeout per nine rate. Now he's 31 years old and firmly further down in the Nats' rotation.

But he's off to a fantastic start this season. He has 13 strikeouts in 13 innings and has a sterling 0.69 ERA. Talk about production. Gonzalez has still allowed plenty of hits (13) but just two walks. He beat the Cardinals while allowing two runs, one earned, over seven innings last time out. He's always walked a lot of guys, so seven innings with no walks is a big deal for the veteran lefty.

While Gonzalez won't keep up a 0.69 ERA for long, he tends to hold Phillies in check. Freddy Galvis has good numbers (two home runs, two doubles, nine hits in 35 ABs) off Gonzalez, but the roster as a whole has a paltry .204/.263/.296 line against him. This is one of the times the Phillies miss Darin Ruf. Ruf was 11 for 31 with three home runs, three doubles and eight walks off Gonzalez, tormenting him while in a Phillies uniform.

Last year, Gonzalez was 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA in four starts vs. the Phils and allowed just four earned runs in 26 1/3 innings. For his career, he's 10-6 with a 2.67 ERA over 20 starts vs. the Phillies. 

3. Bullpen diaries 
If you look at the overall numbers, the Phillies' bullpen has had a horrid start to this season. In 39 innings, the team has a 5.31 ERA, firmly in the bottom third of the league.

However, when you add context, the Phillies' pen seems a lot more reliable. First off, Adam Morgan -- who gave up seven runs and six homers in just six innings -- is back down in Triple A. Beyond Morgan, Jeanmar Gomez has had the worst performance of any Phillie this year with seven earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. While he's still on the team, he is unlikely to see much more high-leverage situations for a while after being removed from the closer role. 

So when you take those two players out, the bullpen has a 2.93 ERA. You can reduce it even further if you take out Joely Rodriguez' performance (same innings and runs as Gomez). This is all to say, the new back-end of the bullpen has the potential to be a force. No one is mistaking this Phillies bullpen for one with a mountain of depth. However, it still has three pitchers capable of performing in high-leverage situations.

The trio of Hector Neris, Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek have combined for 16 scoreless innings. The Phillies have had plenty of trouble getting it to the back of their bullpen with barely five innings per start from the rotation, yet it has to comfort Pete Mackanin to know he has reliable people ready to go. Last year, the Phillies' back-end of the 'pen was basically just Neris and Gomez and that fell apart when Gomez struggled in September.

After Joe Blanton gave up a two-run homer Saturday, the Nationals have a 6.29 bullpen ERA and only one reliever (Matt Albers) has had a scoreless April.

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Despite strong games this week, Maikel Franco is still in a slump to start the season. His batting line after Saturday is just .195/.261/.366. 

Nationals: With both Trea Turner and Stephen Drew on the disabled list, the Nationals have had to turn to Wilmer Difo. The second-year middle infielder is solid in the field but has struggled to produce at the plate this morning.

5. This and that
• With just two errors this season, the Phillies are tied for second fewest fielding miscues in baseball. Only the Royals with just one have been more efficient. The Nationals (nine) are tied for third most in baseball.

• Before Saturday's game, the Phillies had the third highest strikeout rate in all of baseball. The team had 92 strikeouts and had K'd in 24.5 percent of its plate appearances.

• The Nationals lead all of baseball with 26 doubles this year. Their only one on Saturday came from their starting pitcher, Tanner Roark.

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).