Phillies

MLB Playoffs: Cubs hold off Nationals in Game 5 to keep title defense alive

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MLB Playoffs: Cubs hold off Nationals in Game 5 to keep title defense alive

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WASHINGTON -- The Chicago Cubs win whenever they need to, with whatever it takes, even a seven-out save by Wade Davis to preserve a shrinking lead and a "Did that really happen?" four-run inning against Washington's Max Scherzer in a thriller of a Game 5.

That wild, bat-around fifth inning Thursday night for Chicago included Addison Russell's go-ahead, two-run double, a bases-loaded hit by pitch, and a disputed dropped third strike followed by a throwing error, helping the defending World Series champion Cubs come back -- and then hold on -- to edge the Nationals 9-8.

And for the third year in a row, Chicago reached the NL Championship Series.

"Give the boys credit," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "That's one of the most incredible victories I've ever been part of. I know a lot of people are probably saying the same thing, but under the circumstances, in the other team's ballpark, after a tough loss at home, to come back and do that, give our guys all the credit in the world."

Russell drove in four runs and Davis, Chicago's seventh pitcher, turned in his longest appearance since 2012.

"I've always known he's got a lot of mettle in his soul," Ben Zobrist, who scored two runs for Chicago, said about Davis. "The guy just shows up. He's got ice in his veins."

The same could be said for all of the Cubs.

They trailed 4-1, then led 8-4 and 9-6, in a game that lasted more than 4 hours and ended after midnight on Friday.

"It was `Bizarro World,' there's no question about it," Maddon said. "But it happens. It happens this time of the year."

Catcher Willson Contreras picked off Jose Lobaton at first base to quash a Washington threat in the eighth and Davis fanned a swinging Bryce Harper for the final out.

"Just trying to stay focused and confident in the end," Davis said.

Chicago, which surpassed its total of eight runs from the first four games of the NL Division Series, advanced to face the Los Angeles Dodgers, who will start ace Clayton Kershaw at home in Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday night.

For Maddon and the Cubs, this was their fourth consecutive victory in a win-or-be-eliminated postseason game. That includes three straight to end the 2016 World Series, when Chicago trailed the Cleveland Indians 3-1 before forcing a Game 7 won by the Cubs in 10 innings.

The Nationals, meanwhile, went one-and-done yet again: This is the fourth time in the past six years that the club won the NL East and immediately lost its opening playoff series. And this is the third time in that span that Washington bowed out with a Game 5 NLDS loss at home; that also happened in 2012 against the St. Louis Cardinals and last year against the Dodgers.

This one was played exactly five years to the day after the decider against the Cardinals, which the Nationals lost 9-7 in Washington. Just like that night, the Nationals started Gio Gonzalez. Just like that night, Washington raced out to an early lead (6-0 back then). And just like that night, Gonzalez had control problems and started giving back some of the edge.

"It was a series of bad events," Nationals manager Dusty Baker said. "It really hurts, you know, to lose like that, especially after what we went through all year long, and that was tough."

Homers by Daniel Murphy and Michael A. Taylor -- whose grand slam off Davis backed Stephen Strasburg's 12-strikeout masterpiece in Washington's 5-0 victory in Game 4 at Wrigley Field on Wednesday -- gave the hosts a 4-1 lead in the second against Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks.

But Gonzalez gave back two of those runs, so it was 4-3 as two-time Cy Young Award winner Scherzer entered for the fifth. He started Game 3 of this series, pushed back because of an injured right hamstring, and hadn't come out of the bullpen since 2013 with the Detroit Tigers.

"Huge. You look out there and you see Scherzer up there and you think, `One of the best, if not the best, pitcher out there on the mound," Russell said. "You kind of have to change your game plan, your approach."

By the time Scherzer's one inning was over, the Cubs had taken a 7-4 lead, and Russell had delivered the biggest hit. Chicago scored two earned runs and two unearned runs, on the strength of three hits, one hit by pitch, one intentional walk, a catcher's interference, and one very odd play.

What could have been a potentially inning-ending strikeout turned into a run, as Javier Baez swung and missed, but the ball went under catcher Matt Wieters' glove and through his legs. When Wieters collected the ball, he threw it into right field for an error, then appeared to argue that the play should have been ruled over because Baez's follow-through carried the bat into the catcher's mask.

"This game's cruel sometimes," Scherzer said. "Just the way things can happen."

Russell made it 8-4 in the sixth on an RBI double when left fielder Jayson Werth tried to make a sliding catch but whiffed.

Werth said he lost the ball in the lights.

"It feels," he said, summing up the night for Washington, "like if it could go wrong, it did."

The lead was 9-6 when Washington got one run in the seventh on Harper's sacrifice fly, and one in the eighth on Taylor's RBI single.

But the Nationals wasted some opportunities. In the eighth, with two on and no outs, pinch-hitter Adam Lind hit into a double play. Later in that inning, again with two men aboard, Lobaton was nailed by Contreras' snap throw for the third out -- Lobaton was originally ruled safe, a call that was overturned on replay.

In the seventh, Ryan Zimmerman was up as the go-ahead run with two men on, but Davis struck him out. That was part of an 0 for 4, three-K night for the first baseman who had a resurgent season, leading the Nationals with 36 homers and 108 RBIs.

That season is over for him and his team. The Cubs, though, will play on.

"We've been through it. And in those situations, we tend to start believing we're going to get the job done," Zobrist said, "even if it doesn't look like we are."

Phillies to upgrade bullpen with impending return of Pat Neshek

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Phillies to upgrade bullpen with impending return of Pat Neshek

ORLANDO, Fla. -- On the day he was traded from the Phillies to the Colorado Rockies in July, Pat Neshek stood in front of his locker and talked about how much he liked his time in Philadelphia. He gazed into his crystal ball and envisioned himself returning to the Phillies as a free agent over the winter.

The image in Neshek's crystal ball is about to come to life. The Phillies are on the verge of re-signing the 37-year-old right-hander, multiple sources said on Monday, the first day of baseball's winter meetings. When the deal is wrapped up in the next few days, it will be worth $16.25 million for two years with a club option for a third.

"We've been talking with the agents of a bunch of relief pitchers and we're on the goal line with one," said Phillies general manager Matt Klentak, who initially acquired Neshek in a trade with Houston 14 months ago then watched the pitcher deliver four outstanding months that landed him on the National League All-Star team.

There is not a no-trade clause in Neshek's new deal, so the Phillies could peddle him once again if they are not in contention. The Phillies got three prospects for Neshek in July — infielder Jose Gomez and right-handed pitchers J.D. Hammer and Alejandro Requena. Hammer was recently named to the Arizona Fall League's All-Prospect team.

Neshek pitched in 43 games (40 1/3 innings) for the Phillies in 2017 and gave up just five runs while walking five and striking out 45. In Colorado, Neshek continued to shine. He finished the season with a 1.59 ERA in 71 games. Overall, he pitched 62 1/3 innings and gave up just 11 earned runs while walking six and striking out 69.

Neshek is expected to help set up for Hector Neris and complement Luis Garcia, Adam Morgan, Edubray Ramos and Hoby Milner, all relatively young relievers who showed breakthrough signs in 2017. The Phillies could continue to add to their bullpen before the winter is complete. Sources say they have shown interest in free-agent lefty Jake McGee.

"I think we’re open-minded to bringing in multiple bullpen reinforcements," Klentak said. "One of the goals leading into next season is to improve our run prevention. Obviously, there are a lot of ways we can do that. One way — and this is sort of the simple narrative — is to address our starting pitching. We will continue to explore ways to improve our starting pitching, but I also think we need to be prepared to improve our run prevention in other areas. Improving our bullpen is one way to do that.

"I think if we can run out a bullpen of seven or eight guys that are all high-leverage type arms, then we can start matching up in the fifth or sixth inning. If there are days when our young starters throw 100 pitches to get us through five or six innings, we shouldn't be in a position where that’s taxing our bullpen because we have the ability to carry an eighth bullpen member next year. We shouldn’t be in a position where we lose our competitiveness in the sixth inning because we should have a deep bullpen where we start throwing really good players out there early in the game. If it turns out that’s the best way for us to improve our run prevention, then that’s the way to do."

The Phillies will continue to look for starting pitching at these winter meetings and beyond. They are open to trading Freddy Galvis or Cesar Hernandez and would look to get starting pitching in a deal for one of them. The Angels, according to sources, covet Hernandez as both a second baseman and leadoff man, but the Phillies' asking price is high.

Also on Day 1 of the winter meetings ...

The Phillies lost outfielder Cameron Perkins and infielder Engelb Vielma on waivers to Seattle and Pittsburgh, respectively. With two openings on the 40-man roster, the Phils can add a player in Thursday's Rule 5 draft. They have the third overall pick.

"I would expect that we would take advantage of the third pick in some form or fashion," Klentak said. "Whether we draft a player and retain that player or draft a player and make a trade, I’ll think we’ll look to do something with it. That was a big part of why we put the two guys on waivers that we did. It was just to free us up to be able to participate on Thursday."

Phillies shouldn't trade top prospects for Manny Machado

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Phillies shouldn't trade top prospects for Manny Machado

The Phillies have been connected to Manny Machado for a while and will continue to be with the Orioles superstar entering the final year of his contract.

As Jim Salisbury pointed out Sunday, the Phillies have the depth to try to swing a deal for Machado at some point over the next year. 

Could it happen sooner rather than later?

Orioles beat writer Roch Kubatko of MASN reported Monday that the Orioles "covet" Phillies top pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez and also like Scott Kingery.

The Phillies are very high on both prospects. Sanchez is a potential future ace, and Kingery is a potential opening day infielder for the Phillies in 2018. It would seem highly unlikely the Phils would trade one or both for Machado, even if they knew Machado would re-sign here. Why not just wait it out and try to sign Machado next winter when you wouldn't have to give up Sanchez or Kingery?

It would make a lot of sense for Baltimore to trade Machado over the next eight months. The O's have next to no chance of re-signing him so getting something in return is the way to go. As Kubatko points out, if Machado is traded, his new team would have a 72-hour window to sign him to an extension.

Another name mentioned in the report is Freddy Galvis, who is also a free agent after 2018. Obviously, Galvis is not netting you Machado, but it's a more reasonable starting point for a player who is effectively on a one-year deal.

Could a package involving two of Galvis, Maikel Franco and Cesar Hernandez entice the O's? It's not an equivalent to Machado from a talent standpoint, but a player with theoretical upside like Franco might move the needle a bit, especially if Baltimore would also be adding a few other consistent pieces.

The Phillies have a lot of young depth, both in the minors and at the major-league level — players who could be appealing to another team but who probably wouldn't be sorely missed here. One of Andrew Knapp or Cameron Rupp would be expendable. So too, obviously, would be a couple middle infielders. Tom Eshelman has had impressive minor-league results, but will he succeed at the major-league level? Roman Quinn has enough upside to attract other clubs, but enough injury questions to get the Phillies thinking. Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Tommy Joseph ... all of these players could be used as sweeteners in the right trade.

The news will be fast and furious coming out of the winter meetings this week in Orlando, always one of the most exciting times on the baseball calendar.