Phillies

Best of MLB: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez each homer twice in Yankees' win over Rangers

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Best of MLB: Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez each homer twice in Yankees' win over Rangers

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Aaron Judge became the second major league rookie with a 40-homer season, going deep twice as the AL wild card-leading New York Yankees got a series clinching 16-7 win over the Texas Rangers on Sunday.

Gary Sanchez also hit two solo homers for the Yankees, giving him 30 this season and 50 in his 161 games since his 2015 debut.

With Judge's AL-best 40th homer in the fourth, the 25-year-old joined Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees to hit 40 homers at age 25 or younger. Judge added No. 41 two innings later, a drive that would have gone 463 feet unimpeded, according to MLB's Statcast.

Mark McGwire hit a league-high 49 homers as a rookie for Oakland in 1987 (see full recap).

Brewers complete sweep of Cubs, move within 2 games of NL Central lead
CHICAGO -- Travis Shaw hit a two-run homer to back Zach Davies, and the Milwaukee Brewers beat the Chicago Cubs 3-1 Sunday to complete a three-game sweep and close within two games of the NL Central leaders.

Chicago entered the series with a five-game division lead, a season high, but the defending World Series champions totaled three runs in the series. Milwaukee is tied for second in the NL Central with St. Louis.

Davies (17-8) allowed one run and seven hits in seven innings, Anthony Swarzak pitched a hitless eighth and Corey Knebel finished for his 34th save in 39 chances.

Kyle Hendricks (6-5) gave up three runs and four hits in six innings (see full recap).

Rockies rout Dodgers, whose skid reaches 10 games
LOS ANGELES -- The NL West-leading Los Angeles Dodgers lost their 10th straight game for their worst skid in 25 years, routed by Mark Reynolds and the Colorado Rockies 8-1 Sunday.

Reynolds hit a grand slam, Nolan Arenado and Trevor also homered, and Tyler Chatwood pitched five scoreless innings. The Rockies remained three games ahead of St. Louis and Milwaukee for the second NL wild-card spot.

Los Angeles still owns the best record in the majors at 92-51, but even that's becoming tenuous. Washington beat the Phillies on Sunday to cut LA's lead to four games.

The Dodgers have dropped nine in a row at Chavez Ravine for the first time in 30 years. Overall, Los Angeles has lost 15 of 16, including its longest drought since losing 10 straight in 1992.

Rich Hill (9-8) gave up two runs and four hits in five innings. Chatwood (7-12) allowed five hits and struck out five (see full recap).

Wacha's 8 shutout innings, Molina's 5 RBIs power Cardinals past Pirates
ST. LOUIS -- Yadier Molina hit a three-run homer and tied a career high with five RBIs, Michael Wacha pitched eight strong innings and the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-0 on Sunday.

St. Louis, which has won three in a row and seven of eight, moved 2 1/2 games behind Chicago in the NL Central. The Cardinals are also 2 1/2 behind Colorado for the second NL wild card.

Randal Grichuk added a solo homer for St. Louis, which moved to a season-high seven games over .500.

Pittsburgh dropped its fifth in a row and slumped to 10 games under .500 for the first time since the end the of 2011 season.

Molina pushed the lead to 4-0 with his drive off Ivan Nova (11-13) in the fourth inning. He had an RBI single in the first and a sacrifice fly in the seventh.

Wacha (12-7) allowed five hits while striking out seven and did not walk a better in getting his third win in three starts (see full recap).

Time for Phillies to worry more about Braves than Nationals

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Time for Phillies to worry more about Braves than Nationals

All season, the expectation has been that the Nationals would eventually overtake the Braves for the NL East lead. Yet here we are 45 percent of the way in and the Braves are still picking up clutch hits, getting outs in the eighth and ninth innings and maintaining a 3½-game division lead. They've been eight or more games over .500 every day since May 12.

The Braves have outscored their opponents by 73 runs — 28 more than the Nationals and 65 more than the Phillies.

As for the Phils, it's a longshot but not infeasible to still be in contention three months from now. They'd first need to continue to hold their own during this rough portion of the schedule and then take advantage of the 12-game run to the All-Star break vs. the Marlins, Mets, Orioles and Pirates (lost 20 of 30).

The most realistic playoff path for the Phillies is the second wild card, but both the Braves and Nats will be worth focusing on because they'll be in both races. And the Braves, because of how they've played in the first half and when they play the Phillies in the second, are a more dangerous team than anticipated.

Clutch hitting

The Braves have been remarkably clutch all season. They've hit an NL-best .286 with runners in scoring position with an .880 OPS that is 38 points higher than any team in baseball.

The Nationals' offense has been just average. It should get better as recently-activated Daniel Murphy and Adam Eaton get some games under their belts, but with Bryce Harper not having nearly the season he had a year ago and 2017 surprise Ryan Zimmerman spending most of this season on the DL, it's just not the same team. 

Harper is still walking and hitting for power, but he's batting .209 a year after batting .319 and his OPS has dropped by 198 points.

Crooked numbers

Ready for a stat that sticks out as the difference between the Phils and Braves?

The Phillies this season have scored three runs or more in an inning 35 times. That represents about 5 percent of their innings.

The Braves have scored three runs or more in an inning 74 times, which represents 12 percent of their innings.

The Phils have had trouble all year stringing hits together and capitalizing on big opportunities. They stranded the bases loaded with one out twice in the Cardinals series, once with Rhys Hoskins and Odubel Herrera, once with Scott Kingery and Nick Williams. The first missed opportunity prevented the Phils from breaking open a two-run lead in a game they wound up losing, the second kept the game tied.

Starting pitching

The Nationals have the best starting pitcher in baseball in Max Scherzer, but with Stephen Strasburg injured they no longer have a big rotation advantage on the rest of the division. Strasburg was placed on the DL on June 10 with right shoulder inflammation and hasn't yet resumed throwing.

The best active 1-2 punch in the division is either Scherzer and Gio Gonzalez or Aaron Nola and Jake Arrieta.

The Braves' rotation, though, has been surprisingly good this season, mostly because of Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb. 

Foltynewicz also hit the DL last week but could return as soon as Sunday. A hard thrower whose command has now matched his stuff, Foltynewicz has a 2.16 ERA with 94 strikeouts in 79 innings and has been the breakout pitcher in the National League in 2018.

The lefty Newcomb, a 2014 first-round pick acquired in the Andrelton Simmons trade, is 8-2 with a 2.70 ERA and .204 opponents' batting average.

On pace ...

The over/under win totals set in Vegas before the season had the Braves at 74.5 wins, the Phillies at 75.5 and the Nationals at 92.5.

As of Thursday, the Braves are on pace to finish 95-67. 

The Phillies and Nationals are each on pace to go 89-73.

Since MLB instituted the two-wild-card format, no team has made the playoffs with fewer than 87 wins.

The season series

The Phillies face the Nationals in D.C. this weekend and will miss Scherzer, Strasburg and Gonzalez. That's huge, especially with another four-game series the following weekend.

The Phillies have faced the Nationals just three times all season so 16 games remain. After the two upcoming series, the Phils draw the Nationals for two series in August and one in September.

As for the Braves, the Phillies won't get a chance to improve upon their 5-7 head-to-head record until the end of September. The teams meet for a four-game series Sept. 20-23 in Atlanta and then again the final series of the season Sept. 28-30 at Citizens Bank Park. Seven of the final 11 games are the Phillies vs. Braves.

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Odubel Herrera is making good on his 'bet on me' prophesy

Odubel Herrera is making good on his 'bet on me' prophesy

Odubel Herrera wasn’t messing around when he said, “Bet on me,” as he showed signs of breaking out of a lengthy slump last week.

Since Herrera uttered those words, the Phillies are 4-2 and Herrera has delivered 11 hits, including five homers, and seven RBIs. He had his fourth multi-hit game in the span Wednesday and provided the big blow — a booming, go-ahead homer off the scoreboard in right in the seventh inning — to key a 4-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Herrera's bat is ablaze and if you did bet on him — as he urged — you’re cashing checks.

“When I told you that you should bet on me, I meant it, because I knew that I was getting close to being my regular self and I'm going to keep working to stay positive and stay doing what I'm doing,” Herrera said.

The slump took Herrera from an NL-best .361 batting average on May 17 to .283 in 23 games.

Wednesday’s single-double-homer performance left him at .299 and had people comparing him to Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers.

Starting pitcher Jake Arrieta compared Herrera to Vladimir Guerrero for the way he can square up any pitch.

Manager Gabe Kapler used Ichiro Suzuki as a comp.

“They’re different style hitters, but not that different, though,” Kapler said. “It doesn’t matter where the baseball is. They have unique bat-to-ball skills.”

Herrera’s eyes lit up when he heard Kapler’s Ichiro comp.

“It's amazing to hear that because Ichiro is a legend,” Herrera said. “To be compared to someone like him is an honor. It's great.”

Herrera is not a legend, but he's colorful and his confidence is well established.

“I’m coming,” he said with a laugh. “I’m coming.”

Herrera pounded a go-ahead homer to right off Sam Tuivailala in the seventh, a half-inning after the Cardinals had tied the game on Yadier Molina’s two-run homer against Arrieta. The bullpen made the lead stand up (see game recap).

Herrera crushed the ball. It left the park in the blink of an eye at 109 mph and was projected to travel 422 feet.

“Fresh,” said Herrera, describing the feel of the ball impacting his bat.

As Herrera’s ball climbed out of the yard, Kapler made eye contact with Scott Kingery in the dugout.

“We were standing on the steps, and we just kind of looked at each other in awe,” Kapler said. “It was one of those, ‘Wow!’ moments. He’s so hot, but he’s such an incredible athlete. What he’s doing, I don’t remember seeing. It’s really special. It’s really elite barrel accuracy. I really don’t know how to describe it. He just knows how to find the barrel, knows how to find the sweet spot and it’s really impressive.”

How did it turn for Herrera?

“I kept working in the cage and now things are working out for me,” he said. “I don’t think it’s an adjustment. I’m just making good contact again and trying not to think about it too much.”

Herrera has heated up just in time for one of the Phillies' most important series of the season. After Thursday's off day, they will play at NL East rival Washington on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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