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.

Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

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Gabe Kapler names Jim Gott Phillies' bullpen coach

Gabe Kapler on Friday added to his coaching staff by naming Jim Gott the Phillies' bullpen coach.

Gott was the minor-league pitching coordinator for the Angels the last five seasons and the pitching coach for the Arizona League Angels the three years prior to that role.

He played for the Blue Jays, Giants, Pirates and Dodgers over 14 major-league seasons as a starter and reliever. Gott, now 58 years old, compiled a 3.87 ERA while making 96 starts and converting 91 saves.

Kapler and the Phillies still need to name a pitching coach and first-base coach. Last week, they named Dusty Wathan third-base coach and hired John Mallee as hitting coach, while retaining Rick Kranitz, who was the assistant pitching coach last season (see story). He could fill the main pitching coach vacancy, although his role is currently to be determined.

In 2017, Bob McClure served the Phillies as pitching coach and Mickey Morandini was first-base coach.

MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

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MLB Notes: Astros' Jose Altuve, Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton claim MVP awards

Houston Astros dynamo Jose Altuve has won the American League MVP award, towering over New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge by a wide margin.

The 5-foot-6 Altuve drew 27 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Altuve batted a major league-best .346. He hit 24 home runs with 81 RBIs, scored 112 times, stole 32 bases and showed a sharp glove at second base.

The 6-foot-7 Judge won the AL Rookie of the Year award Monday. He set a rookie record with 52 home runs.

Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Indians finished third. The award was announced Thursday.

Altuve helped lead the Astros to their first World Series championship. Voting for these honors was completed before the postseason began.

Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton won the NL MVP award, barely edging Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds.

In the closest MVP vote since 1979, Stanton became only the sixth player to win from a losing team. Stanton led the big leagues with 59 home runs and 132 RBIs (see full story).

MLB: Manfred says pace changes will happen with or without union
Major League Baseball will change rules to speed games next year with or without an agreement with the players' association.

Management proposed last offseason to institute a 20-second pitch clock, allow one trip to the mound by a catcher per pitcher each inning and raise the bottom of the strike zone from just beneath the kneecap to its pre-1996 level at the top of the kneecap. The union didn't agree, and clubs have the right to impose those changes unilaterally for 2018.

Players and MLB have held initial bargaining since summer, and MLB chief legal officer Dan Halem said this week he would like an agreement by mid-January.

"My preferred path is a negotiated agreement with the players, but if we can't get an agreement we are going to have rule changes in 2018 one way or the other," baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after a quarterly owners' meeting.

Nine-inning games averaged a record 3 hours, 5 minutes during the regular season and 3:29 during the postseason.

There are ongoing talks for a new posting system with Japan to replace the deal that expired Nov. 1, one that would allow star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani to leave the Pacific League's Nippon Ham Fighters to sign with a big league team (see full story).

Mariners: Team makes trade, raises available money for Japan's Otani​
The Seattle Mariners have gained more flexibility if they want to try to sign star Japanese pitcher/outfielder Shohei Otani.

They acquired an additional $500,000 for their international signing bonus pool from the Chicago White Sox in a trade for Brazilian right-hander Thyago Vieira.

Otani, a 23-year-old right-hander, would be limited to a minor league contract with a signing bonus under Major League Baseball's new collective bargaining agreement. The trade announced Thursday increases the Mariners' available money for a signing bonus to $1,557,500. Seattle has spent $3,942,500 on bonuses in the signing year that started July 2 from a pool that rose to $5.5 million with the trade.

The 24-year-old Vieira made his major league debut with a scoreless inning against Baltimore on Aug. 14, his only big league appearance. He was 2-3 with two saves and a 3.72 ERA in 29 games this year for Double-A Arkansas and 0-1 with two saves and a 4.58 ERA in 12 games for Triple-A Tacoma.

Chicago is restricted to a maximum $300,000 signing bonus because it exceeded its pool in a previous year under the old labor contract.