Phillies

Phillies swept yet again and Hector Neris just isn't the same guy

Phillies swept yet again and Hector Neris just isn't the same guy

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"This is not a happy Father's Day!" a Phillies fan in the Hall of Fame club bellowed after Hector Neris allowed the tying run to score in the ninth inning.

It was a hot and steamy Sunday in South Philadelphia, it took the Phillies and Diamondbacks four hours to play nine innings, and it was yet another disappointing blown lead. So it would be tough to find anyone who disagreed with that fan.

Neris, who's been so much more hittable this season than he was last, entered with a one-run lead and walked the first batter he faced in the ninth: light-hitting, all-glove shortstop Nick Ahmed. Two singles later, the game was tied.

Last season's closer, Jeanmar Gomez, took the loss by allowing a home run in the 10th to Rey Fuentes, the first of his career.

But it was Neris' work that sent these fans home unhappy yet again after a 5-4 loss (see Instant Replay). The Phillies are 22-46 and no National League team has started worse through 68 games since the 2013 Marlins, who lost 100.

"His splitter is hot and cold," manager Pete Mackanin said. "For every two good ones he throws, he throws two bad ones. It's hard to figure out what he's doing."

The disappearing splitter was the pitch that made Neris so effective last season. His opponents hit .158 against it with 69 strikeouts in 2016. 

Entering Sunday's game, the opposition had hit .227 against his splitter this season, and Neris had thrown it for a ball about five percent more often.

"I'm throwing the same, I never change anything," Neris said.

The results, though, have been anything but the same. In 30 appearances, Neris has a 3.68 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. Through 30 appearances last season as a setup man, he had a 2.27 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP. 

"That closer role is tough," Mackanin said. "It's a different role and some guys are good at it and some aren't. I think Neris has a chance to be a closer but he needs to shore up a few things."

Bullpen meltdowns have plagued the Phillies all season. Gomez failed as the closer, Joaquin Benoit was yanked after his first blown save, and Neris himself has had several missteps. The Phils' most consistent reliever has been Pat Neshek, who's allowed just two runs in 27 innings for a 0.76 ERA. But Neshek, who will likely be here for about a month longer before being traded, feels most comfortable in a setup role.

The result has been a whole lot of frustration for the Phillies, their manager and fans. The Phils continue to lose close games. They've played 27 one-run games — four more than any team in the majors — and are 10-17 in them.

When you're losing so often, your closer doesn't have many opportunities. That's been the case lately for Neris, who has just three saves in the Phillies' last 46 games.

Is rust causing his inconsistency?

"There's a fine line between using a guy too little and too much," Mackanin said. "Last year, he pitched an awful lot and that could be a factor in why he has not been consistent because the opportunities haven't been there. But still, you can't walk that leadoff batter, you've got to go right at him."

"You know, I wait for my opportunity to pitch," Neris said. "It's hard sometimes, three days sitting and then go pitch."

The blown save cost Ben Lively his second big-league win. Lively allowed three runs and two homers in the first inning but rebounded to put up five zeroes the rest of the way. Four starts into his career, he has four quality starts and is 1-1 with a 3.33 ERA. On Sunday, he struck out six after whiffing just five total in his first three starts.

Mackanin again applauded Lively's aggressiveness and toughness on the mound. Lively doesn't have the best stuff on the staff but he's been its most consistent strike-thrower the last month.

That was one positive on Father's Day. So was the Phillies' game plan against D-backs lefty Robbie Ray, who had allowed one run in his last 37 innings entering Sunday. The Phils scored four runs and put 12 men on base against him in 5⅓ innings. Aaron Altherr and Maikel Franco each homered, and the Phillies had a man on base in every inning against him.

"We hit the ball pretty well off one of the better pitchers in the league, Ray," Mackanin said.

But they still lost for the 11th time in 12 games and the 37th time in 48 games. It's hard for any team to come up short this frequently and even harder for the wheels to fall off this quickly in a season.

Get ready for another Philly team to have the first pick in the draft.

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

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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).