Phillies

Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

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Best of MLB: Indians pick up 27th win in last 28 games

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- It's time for the 2017 Cleveland Indians to be introduced to the one and only 1884 Providence Grays.

They share some unlikely history, the two teams, which played a mere 141 years apart, are the only two clubs to have ever won 27 out of 28 games.

The Indians joined the Grays on Thursday when Francisco Lindor's three-run homer led Cleveland to a 4-1 victory and three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Angels.

The Grays ended up winning 28 of 29, leaving the Indians one game shy of matching the record (see full recap).

Cubs rally in 9th, beat Brewers to open big series
MILWAUKEE -- Javier Baez grounded a tying single with two outs in the ninth inning, Kris Bryant hit a two-run homer in the 10th and the Chicago Cubs widened their NL Central lead over Milwaukee, beating the Brewers 5-3 Thursday night.

The Cubs now are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Brewers after winning the opener of a four-game series.

Milwaukee was in position to win it in the bottom of the ninth, loading the bases with one out. But Wade Davis (4-1) struck out Domingo Santana and then, after falling behind 3-1 in the count to Orlando Arcia, came back to retire him on an easy comebacker on a full-count pitch.

The Cubs trailed 3-2 when Ian Happ led off the ninth by hitting a grounder that first baseman Neil Walker fielded wide of the bag. Reliever Jeremy Jeffress covered first and Happ was called safe in a close play, a ruling upheld on replay (see full recap).

Twins rout Tigers, lead AL wild card by 2½ games
DETROIT -- With a postseason berth tantalizingly close, the Minnesota Twins snapped out of their mini-slump in emphatic fashion.

Joe Mauer and Jorge Polanco had three hits each, and the Twins extended their lead for the American League's second wild card by beating the Detroit Tigers 12-1 on Thursday night. Minnesota is 2 games ahead of the Angels in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Los Angeles lost earlier in the day to Cleveland .

The Twins had lost five of six coming into the night, including a three-game sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees, but they routed a depleted Detroit team that is 4-17 in September after trading Justin Verlander and Justin Upton.

"As a whole in this season, it's been pretty impressive," Minnesota manager Paul Molitor said. "Staying away from the long losing streaks, coming back from some tough losses and some tough stretches and getting back to playing winning baseball, for the most part,” (see full recap).

Fowler delivers again as Cardinals beat Reds
CINCINNATI -- The St. Louis Cardinals rinsed the bad taste of being swept by the Chicago Cubs the best way they could -- sweeping the Cincinnati Reds.

Dexter Fowler delivered again, hitting two doubles and a single as St. Louis overcame Scott Schebler's two home runs to beat the Reds 8-5 Thursday night.

The Cardinals began the day 2 games behind Colorado for the second NL wild-card spot and five games behind the Central-leading Cubs.

Fowler drove in two runs. He went 7 for 13 with two home runs and six RBIs in the three-game series (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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