Phillies-Nationals observations: Hiccup in 6th inning leads to loss

Phillies-Nationals observations: Hiccup in 6th inning leads to loss


WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals moved closer to clinching the National League East when they rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to beat the Phillies, 4-3, on Thursday night.

Starter Aaron Nola gave up seven hits and three runs (one was unearned) over 5 1/3 innings and did not get a decision.

The Nats (86-54) scored three times in the sixth to take the lead.

The Phillies are 53-87, worst in the majors.

• Washington centerfielder Michael A. Taylor made the play of the game when he leaped at the wall to steal at least extra bases and maybe a homer away from Andres Blanco leading off the seventh. The play came with the Nats up, 4-3.

• Former Phillie Ryan Madson, now 37, pitched a scoreless eighth inning for Washington and struck out two. He came over from Oakland in a deadline deal and has pitched extremely well for the Nats, racking up 12 scoreless innings. He has allowed six hits and a walk while registering 17 strikeouts. He's still hitting 97 mph on the radar gun (see story). The Nats also got closer Sean Doolittle in that trade. He notched his 16th save in as many chances for Washington.

• It's all about the future and with that the Phillies' starting lineup featured four prospects who opened the season at Triple A — Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams, J.P Crawford and Jorge Alfaro. Nola was the pitcher and Odubel Herrera the centerfielder. All of these players project to be part of the team's core moving forward. At 25, Herrera is the oldest of the group. 

Two more potential pieces of the future were in the spotlight on Thursday as the team announced the Paul Owens Award winners for 2017. Second baseman Scott Kingery, 23, won the award as top position player in the Phils' minor-league system and right-handed pitcher Tom Eshelman, 23, was the top pitcher (see story). Eshelman, a control artist who came to the Phillies from Houston in the Ken Giles trade, went 13-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 23 starts at Double A and Triple A this season. He had a 0.973 WHIP, struck out 102 and walked just 18 in 150 innings. Kingery, a second baseman, hit .304 with 29 doubles, eight triples, 26 homers and a .889 OPS between Double A and Triple A. 

Both players project to get to Philadelphia sometime next season. Don't bank on Kingery arriving on opening day, however. His potential free agency could be delayed until after the 2024 season if he spends about a month in the minors and that makes good baseball sense, especially for a rebuilding team. He'd be eligible for free agency after the 2023 season if he spent a full season in the majors next year. With Kingery coming, the Phillies are expected to listen to offers for Cesar Hernandez this winter.

• Crawford played his third straight game at third base in place of Maikel Franco. Manager Pete Mackanin said Franco would return to the starting lineup Friday night with Crawford moving to either shortstop or second base.

• Crawford flied out four times in four at-bats. He is 1 for 11 in three games. 

• A day after Mackanin said he wanted to see more of Alfaro, the rookie was behind the plate, paired with Nola for the first time. Nola had previously worked with Cameron Rupp 16 times and Andrew Knapp seven times. Pairing him with Alfaro was noteworthy and made sense; Alfaro is out of minor-league options and will be on the roster next season, possibly as the No. 1 catcher, so he needs to get reps with Nola. Alfaro smacked a solo homer, but also was charged with a passed ball. His defense is a work in progress.

• Adam Morgan was charged with one run in the sixth and took the loss. He gave up the go-ahead hit, a two-run single, on an 0-2 pitch to leadoff man Trea Turner. Morgan has pitched brilliantly lately and his fastball is up to 97 mph. He's got stuff now. So why give Turner a pitch over the plate on 0-2? Why not try to get him to chase out of the zone?

• The Phils played some tremendous defense on the left side of the infield in the fifth inning with shortstop Freddy Galvis going deep in the hole to make a play and Crawford making a nice pick to start an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play to get Nola out of trouble.

• The Phillies' first two runs came on homers by Alfaro and Tommy Joseph. Joseph's homer snapped an 0-for-14 skid.

• Some health news on three pitchers: Vince Velasquez had surgery Tuesday to address a circulation problem in his hand. He will be ready for spring training. Jerad Eickhoff, shut down for the season with nerve irritation in his right hand, has checked out fine in visits to two doctors. He will probably do some throwing in Clearwater in October. Zach Eflin, out with a shoulder impingement, is throwing in Clearwater. The Phils have not ruled him out to start another game before the season is over. Meanwhile, outfielder Aaron Altherr passed his base-running test. He could get some at-bats before the series ends. He is recovering from a hamstring strain.

• Herrera has a 20-game hitting streak, longest in the majors this season.

• Jake Thompson (1-1, 4.50) pitches against Washington ace Max Scherzer (13-5, 2.19) on Friday night. It will be a tough assignment for the Phillies. Scherzer is second in the majors in ERA and strikeouts (232). Clayton Kershaw has the best ERA at 1.95 and Chris Sale leads in strikeouts with 270. Scherzer is 8-1 with a 2.34 ERA in 13 career starts against the Phillies. He has struck out 101 and walked just 16 in 88 1/3 innings.

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.

Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles


Dusty Baker fired by Nationals after 2 NL East titles

WASHINGTON -- Dusty Baker's time as the manager of the Washington Nationals is over after two seasons, two NL East titles and zero playoff series victories.

The Nationals announced Friday that they would not be bringing Baker back. His two-year deal with the club is expiring.

The contracts for the members of Baker's coaching staff also are finished. The team said it will work with its new manager to fill those positions.

The moves come the week after Washington was eliminated from its NL Division Series against the Chicago Cubs with a 9-8 loss at home in Game 5. The Nationals also were bounced from the postseason in the NLDS round in 2016 -- also with a Game 5 loss at home by one run, that time against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

This outcome, essentially, is what Baker was worried about as far back as spring training in February, when he made clear his desire for a new contract, knowing his was up after 2017.

Before the series against the Cubs began, Baker was asked about his possible future in Washington.

"I've given some thought to some things, but we were told that we were waiting until after the season to make a determination," he said at the time. "There's a good chance I'll be back."

He expected negotiations to pick up after the season ended (see full story).

Turner, Taylor repay Dodgers' patience by sharing NLCS MVP
CHICAGO -- Justin Turner and Chris Taylor shared MVP honors in the NL Championship Series, repaying a Dodgers organization willing to roll the dice on players whose big league careers were stalled.

In Turner's case, it was then-bench coach Tim Wallach who rediscovered him playing in a Cal State-Fullerton alumni baseball game four years ago, after his career appeared all but over.

In Taylor's case, it was Los Angeles' willingness to gamble that an offseason of grueling workouts would enable the young utilityman to rebuild his swing in a matter of months.

The co-MVPs turned up in the interview room together after the Dodgers eliminated the reigning World Series champion Chicago Cubs 11-1 in Game 5. They were champagne-soaked with hats turned backward, a pair of goggles still perched on Turner's head. Fittingly, they doused each other with praise.

"He's a dynamic player and a table setter," said Turner, who hit .333 for the series, with two home runs and seven RBIs. "When he goes, we usually go as a team."

"I talk to him as much as I can. He's one of the reasons I decided to make the changes I did," said Taylor, who finished at .316 with two homers and three RBIs. Both men also walked five times, as many as the entire Cubs roster (see full story).

Rare Jackie Robinson rookie jersey up for auction
NEW YORK -- A rare jersey from Jackie Robinson's historic rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers 70 years ago could be available for someone with a few spare millions.

The jersey, part of a Heroes of Sports offering by Heritage Auctions, has been certified by Mears, one of the top memorabilia authentication companies. It is accompanied by a letter from Robinson's widow, Rachel, saying it is the one brought home by the Hall of Famer at the end of the 1947 season, when he became the first black player in the majors and earned Rookie of the Year honors.

"This is the only one known from the `47 season, the only one that survived," Chris Ivy, Heritage's director of sports auctions, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It stayed in his closet for five decades plus until it was eventually sold to a private collector in the early 2000s."

The online auction opened Friday and closes at 11 p.m. on Nov. 19. The entire collection is from one owner and can be viewed on Heritage's website. Other items available for bidding include Babe Ruth's pants from the Hall of Fame induction in 1939, Keith Hernandez's 1978 Gold Glove award, a Wilt Chamberlain jersey from 1966, Bill Vukovich's Indianapolis 500 trophy from 1953 and Muhammad Ali's shoes from his fight against Ken Norton in 1973.

Ivy said the Robinson jersey has been valued at more than $3 million. He wouldn't be surprised to see it exceed that.

"It's tough to estimate a piece like this -- it's a one of a kind," he said. "As far as collectibles a rookie (jersey) is always sought after, something that's significant."