Phillies

Ryno wants Howard, team in shape, prepared

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Ryno wants Howard, team in shape, prepared

MIAMI -- Listen to Ryne Sandberg talk often enough and you’ll learn what’s important to him.

Play the game the right way.

Prepare.

Be in shape.

The new Phillies manager intends to touch on all of these topics in a team meeting sometime before the season ends Sunday in Atlanta.

“I envision having a full team talk with the guys, preparing them for the offseason, expectations and letting them know how important spring training will be,” Sandberg said Monday, the day after the Phillies removed his interim label and gave him a three-year contract.

“Be in shape and ready to go right away.”

Sandberg would like to see Ryan Howard come to camp in better shape next spring. Howard has had a difficult time getting into tip-top condition the last two seasons because of injuries to his left leg. Howard dealt with lingering effects of a torn Achilles tendon in 2012 and a cartilage tear in his knee this season. Both required surgery.

Howard is currently working out in the Florida instructional league and team officials say he has gotten into better shape. Sandberg plans to touch base with Howard soon.

“You talk about a player that has his injuries behind him and will be healthy next year,” Sandberg said. “Maybe, in some ways, he'll be disappointed in this season. It all adds up to a year where he'll be ready to go. It all starts right now with the games in Florida along with his workout program the whole winter.

“Him being healthy will allow him to get into baseball shape. I look for him to come back and be a big guy right in the middle of the lineup.

“I know I'll have a conversation with him about continuing to have a good work ethic and get the training he needs this winter.

“He has a knack of driving in runs. Cutting down on strikeouts would be a priority. All of that could come with a better in-shape player, a better frame of mind, and a healthy player.”

Sandberg wants Howard to utilize all team resources, such as hitting coaches and video of opposing pitchers.

“From what I’ve gathered, I think he can be better prepared to face somebody to start a baseball game,” Sandberg said.

In addition to physical shape, Sandberg wants his players in fundamental shape. He will stress fundamentals in spring training and carry that into the season with 15-minute review sessions before batting practice at home. The Phillies, at Sandberg’s behest, began doing this in April when Charlie Manuel was still manager. One day, the middle infielders might get extra work, the next day outfielders might work on cutoffs, the next day pitchers might do fielding drills. There will also be baserunning drills.

“I think it’s all for the players’ benefit to get better, and I think ultimately that’s what you see,” Sandberg said. “It’s a team strategy and this is how we’re going to do it. You can have a nice session in 12 to 15 minutes and then they go stretch. It’s not a big time thing. And I think, I’ve noticed this year, they come out and they have fun with it. I hear them talking. Whether it’s with the infield, the pitchers … I think they like it.

“I’m just trying to help them get better, help the team get better. I think it’s hand-in-hand.”

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

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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

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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).