Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Mark Leiter Jr. faces playoff-ready lineup

Phillies-Nationals thoughts: Mark Leiter Jr. faces playoff-ready lineup

Phillies (53-88) at Nationals (87-54)
7:05 p.m. on CSN; streaming live on and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies lost their third straight game Friday night in an 11-10 defeat highlighted by a key Odubel Herrera miscue in the field and a spirited comeback attempt against the Nationals' bullpen (see story). In Game 3 of the Phils' four-game set with the Nationals, Mark Leiter Jr. will take the mound Saturday against journeyman RHP Edwin Jackson. Here are some thoughts.

• The Phillies have had some embarrassing moments during this losing-filled season, but Herrera's play in the third inning may have taken the cake. He completely misplayed a ball in center field to give the Nationals an inside-the-park grand slam (see video).

It's certainly not the first inside-the-parker the Phillies have given up this season, but it was just a case in which Herrera did everything you can't do in that situation. He went in right away, hesitating before realizing that his only chance left would be to leap, and then missing the ball, which quickly rolled to the wall. It was not what the Phils need to see from their one player locked up long term.

• As for the positives from the defeat, there are a couple of pretty obvious ones. Nick Williams drilled a three-run homer as part of a four-hit night. But as usual, the steady rookie could be overlooked because Rhys Hoskins continues to mash.

Before he picked up his two hits, he took Max Scherzer on a ride with a 13-pitch at-bat before striking out. That's not something you see out of a typical player a month into his MLB career.

And then he hit his 13th home run. Oliver Perez shouldn't be facing Hoskins, but the Nationals had a six-run lead, so they stuck with their lefty specialist and paid with a three-run shot that cut their lead in half. 

• Onto tonight's pitching matchup, Leiter had the worst start of his career last time out. He was just two starts removed from seven innings of one-hit ball against the Miami Marlins and had a 3.52 ERA over his previous 46 innings before facing the Mets on Monday at Citi Field.

Lasting just 10 outs, Leiter gave up nine runs, eight earned, on nine hits as the Mets plastered him. He allowed two home runs after 13 2/3 innings of homer-less ball in his last two starts. Facing the same team 25 days earlier, he held them to one run in five innings while striking out seven. 

The 26-year-old righty threw two scoreless innings against the Nationals earlier this season but has yet to start against the division rival. 

• Jackson has been in the big leagues since 2003, when he broke in the majors as a 19-year-old starter for the Dodgers. In 15 big-league seasons, he's played for 12 different teams, including multiple stints with the Nationals. He earned an All-Star appearance in 2009 and has been traded six different times.

This season, he started with the Baltimore Orioles' Triple A affiliate and made it to the majors. After appearing out of their bullpen and allowing seven runs (four earned) in five innings, he was designated for assignment and soon picked up by the Nationals.

And surprisingly enough, he's been pretty good. In nine starts, he's pitched to a 3.29 ERA in 54 2/3 innings. He toned down his walk rate while not allowing the plethora of hits that have plagued him in recent seasons. His 1.8 homers per nine is his worst rate since his second season. He doesn't strike out too many batters, fanning 40 in his time with the Nationals.

He's coming off a lackluster outing against the Brewers. In 5 2/3 innings, the righty allowed two home runs, leading to five runs (four earned). The five runs were the most he's allowed this season.

• The Phillies are now 5-9 against the Nationals this season despite outscoring them, 73-69, in the 14 games. A lot of that is because of a 17-3 win in April, but the Phillies have also played the Nats tough. Eight of the nine losses have been by two or fewer runs. 

• On Friday, the Nationals gave a glimpse at both how they can be dangerous in the postseason and why they might be a quick out. 

How they can be dangerous is simple: The offense. With Trea Turner healthy, they now add his speed and hitting (three hits, including a double and a home run Friday) to the powerful trio of Daniel Murphy, Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon in the middle of the order. Howie Kendrick has also continued to tear the cover off the ball in Washington. It's not hard to imagine that offense breaking through against strong pitching staffs in October.

But their pitching staff is a question mark. Sure, they won despite Scherzer having an off outing. But Scherzer being off is something they can't afford next month. It's part of how they lost Game 5 of the NLDS last year. And the bullpen behind him simply can't be trusted. Perez won't be facing powerful righties like Hoskins, but they don't have a fearsome back end. Shawn Kelley, who they hoped would be a high-leverage option this season, allowed three runs without getting an out Friday and now has a 7.99 ERA.

• You'll notice that I didn't mention Bryce Harper in their bevy of offensive threats. His return from injury could decide the Nats' fate and whether they can finally win a postseason series. His presence further extends that lineup and he's the type of talent that can win you a series by himself. If he doesn't come back, the Nationals may not have the offense to outslug the similarly stout Cubs. 

• Back to the Phillies, Freddy Galvis not starting on Friday shouldn't necessarily be a surprise but it is an important statement. With his lineup card, Pete Mackanin announced that the team would be prioritizing J.P. Crawford's development. As they should. They need to see Crawford man short in the big leagues so they can determine their plans at the position moving forward (see story).

That doesn't mean Galvis should be shoved off the position, but the team needs to see Crawford in action, plain and simple. This month isn't about wins and losses and the team needs to instead look towards development.

• Triple A Lehigh Valley lost, 4-2, in Game 2 of its five-game playoff series with Scranton Wilkes-Barre, the Yankees' affiliate. The teams are tied 1-1 through two games.

Scott Kingery went 1 for 4 with a walk while Brock Stassi 1 for 3 with an RBI and a walk. Dylan Cozens was 0 for 4 with three strikeouts. Coming in as a reliever, Mark Appel threw a scoreless inning despite walking three batters.

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Javier Baez snaps out of funk to help Cubs avoid sweep

CHICAGO -- Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (see full recap).

Tanaka, Yankees blank Astros to take ALCS lead
NEW YORK -- Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans (see full recap).

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

USA Today Images

MLB Playoffs: Yankees storm back for win over Astros to even ALCS

NEW YORK -- Aaron Judge ignited a rousing rally with a home run, then doubled during a four-run eighth inning to spur the New York Yankees over the Houston Astros 6-4 Tuesday night and level the AL Championship Series 2-2.

The Yankees trailed 4-0 against starter Lance McCullers Jr. until Judge homered leading off the seventh. He tied it with a line drive that nearly left the park in the eighth and scored on Gary Sanchez's go-ahead two-run double off loser Ken Giles.

The Yankees have rallied from a second straight 0-2 series deficit -- they beat Cleveland in the Division Series by winning three in a row to take that best-of-five matchup.

Aroldis Chapman struck out two in a perfect ninth, and New York improved to 5-0 at home in the playoffs.

Masahiro Tanaka pitches for New York against Dallas Keuchel in Game 5 Wednesday and rematch of the opener, won by the Astros 2-1 (see full recap).

Dodgers on brink of World Series after shutout
CHICAGO -- Yu Darvish pitched sparkling ball into the seventh inning, Chris Taylor homered again and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Chicago Cubs 6-1 on Tuesday night to open a commanding 3-0 lead in the NL Championship Series.

Andre Ethier also went deep and Taylor added an RBI triple in the fifth as Los Angeles set a franchise record with its sixth consecutive playoff win. Yasiel Puig had two more hits in another entertaining performance that included an impressive bat flip -- on a long foul ball in the first inning.

Looking for a four-game sweep and their 22nd NL pennant, the Dodgers will send Alex Wood to the mound Wednesday night at Wrigley Field with a chance to reach the World Series for the first time since their last championship in 1988. Jake Arrieta, eligible for free agency after the season, pitches for the Cubs in what could be his final start with the team.

Los Angeles was eliminated by Chicago in the NLCS last year, but this is a different group of Dodgers. The lineup is patient and pesky and the pitching staff is much deeper, especially since Darvish was acquired in a trade with Texas in the final minutes before the July 31 deadline (see full recap).