Phillies

Ryan Howard sits; future with team in serious question

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Ryan Howard sits; future with team in serious question

Slumping Ryan Howard was not in the Phillies’ starting lineup against a left-handed pitcher for the second time in six post-all-star break games on Wednesday night, and his future with the team is in serious question.

Manager Ryne Sandberg would not use the word “platoon,” but that’s exactly what his actions suggest.

“As far as the lineup, that will be a day-to-day thing,” Sandberg said before the game.

The manager made it clear he would not let Howard’s huge contract dictate playing time.

“It's about wins and losses out here,” Sandberg said. “When the game starts, it's about winning the game and being productive and chipping in and doing the part and doing something to help win a game. If that means playing somebody else there and there's production right away -- that's trying to win a baseball game.”

Darin Ruf, recalled from Triple A on Tuesday, started at first base for the Phillies against Giants’ lefty Madison Bumgarner. Clearly, the team was prepping him to get some time at first as he played four of his last five games at Triple A at that position.

“I’m interested to see what he can do,” Sandberg said of Ruf. “I know what [Howard] can do. I've seen him for 100 games. I know what he can do. I think it's important to see what a guy like Darin Ruf can do also going forward.”

Over the first 100 games of the season, Howard, 34, has hit .224 with 15 homers, 57 RBIs and 118 strikeouts in 371 at-bats. Howard’s OPS, a dreadful .682, ranks 126th out of 162 qualifying major-league hitters. His OPS ranks 21st out of 23 qualifying major-league first basemen.

Over his last 25 games, Howard is hitting just .168 (16 for 95) with a .269 on-base percentage and a .221 slugging percentage. He has just three extra-base hits in that span, two doubles and a home run that came with the Phils ahead, 7-1, late in a game at Milwaukee.

Sandberg was careful not to disparage Howard, but he sounded very much like a man who was shopping for a first baseman. Prospect Maikel Franco could get a look later in the season.

Sandberg denied that he was looking for Howard’s replacement.

“But I think it's also important to see and gauge other players to see where they're at,” he said.

Howard is signed for at least two more years. Why would Sandberg want to gauge other players if Howard’s future with the team wasn’t in serious question?

Phillies officials have spent a lot of time discussing ways to retool their disappointing team in recent weeks. Trades are on the way and there could be several before next week’s non-waiver trade deadline.

Multiple sources say the team has also discussed moving on without Howard. The team has floated his name in trade talks but Howard is owed the remainder of $25 million for this season and $60 million over the next two seasons. No team is interested in taking on that amount of money -- or even part of it because the Phils know they’d have to eat a large portion of Howard’s salary -- for a declining player.

The logical next step is to release Howard. Sources say team officials have discussed the possibility of paying off Howard and moving on without him after the season.

If Howard were let go, he would likely hook on with another team.

At times, Howard has looked like a player who would benefit from a change of scenery. He was asked about that on Thursday and said he was not interested in moving, that he wanted to press on and try to improve with the Phillies, the team he won a World Series with in 2008 and earned the NL MVP award in 2006.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Howard said. “Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. Me personally, I think the easiest thing to do when times get hard or don’t go your way is quit. I think it really shows the kind of character you have -- and again, I’m not talking about anybody in this clubhouse, I’m just talking in general -- but when times get hard, the easiest thing to do is quit or try to give up or whatever. For me personally, you work through it. It’s a character building kind of thing and you try to work through it. And I think once you do work through it you become that much stronger.”

Other than to direct inquiries about the lineup to Sandberg, Howard did not duck any questions as he spoke to reporters for nearly 10 minutes late Wednesday afternoon.

The two-time NL home run king and three-time RBI champ said he was disappointed in his season.

“It’s been a disappointing year for me, period,” he said. “Things haven’t necessarily shaped up the way I’ve wanted them to, coming back after basically not playing for the last two years, trying to make it through a full season. There have been a lot of highs and lows. A lot of frustration. There’s frustration from the fans, frustration period. I have my own frustrations as well.

“You know, you try to stay positive. I know people are going to put a lot on either how much money I make, or what I’m doing on the field, this or that or whatever, but at the end if the day, you go out there and try, you try to do what you can. I’m really just trying to get back in the flow of things, trying new things, lowering my hands. Trying to get back into the flow of everything. It is what it is right now. You just try to continue to work. It’s all you can do.”

Howard said he used to become engulfed by expectations. Now, he simply plays the game.

“You guys have been around me long enough to know I kind of wear my heart on my sleeve and everything and I don’t carry that burden around anymore,” he said. “Sometimes you just want to please everybody and you can’t.

“You know, sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s on a baseball field, that’s if you change oil, that’s whatever you do. I’m sure everybody in here has good days and they have bad days. We’re all human and I think people forget that.”

Howard was asked if this season was the low point of his career. He refused to go there.

“This is baseball,” he said. “I know some people might misconstrue this comment, but baseball is a game. Yeah, I get paid a lot of money to play it, but it's a game. You go out and see little kids doing it, because it's a game. You have to keep things in perspective.”

And that is clearly what Howard is doing.

“I have a beautiful wife, a son, a baby on the way,” he said. “You have to take a look at life and have to look at it for what it is. I love playing baseball, and I want to be the best that I can be and compete on a regular basis.

“As far as my career is concerned, you have good years and you have off years. The year isn't over yet. You guys have seen me get on hot streaks where I've hit 10, 11 home runs in a month. If I were to go on and have a great August and September, all of the sudden you're talking about 35 home runs and over 100 RBIs, then we can go back to this conversation. Until the season is over, this team can still do some good things. We just have to pull it together and make it happen."

The question remains: Will it happen with Howard on the roster or with him gone?

The big man’s future with the team is very much in question.

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

BOX SCORE

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).