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

BOX SCORE

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."

Analyzing the roads ahead for Phillies and Braves

Analyzing the roads ahead for Phillies and Braves

Exactly a month from today, the Phillies and Braves will meet for the first time since May 23.

The Phillies have 27 games between now and then; the Braves have 29.

The Phils missed a golden chance to pick up ground in the NL East race this weekend by losing the final two games of the Mets series while the Braves were swept at home in a four-game series against the Rockies.

As a result, the Phillies are a half-game back in the division with the regular season 75 percent complete. The wild-card picture is crowded, with the Phillies currently tied with the Rockies and Brewers.

What's been going on with the Braves?

Prior to being swept by the Rockies, the Braves had gone nearly three weeks without losing two in a row. They've been carried lately by rookie Ronald Acuña Jr., who on Sunday did not reach base to begin the game. It was notable because he had reached base to lead off nine games in a row, the longest streak in 18 years.

The Braves have some challenging series ahead but will be a threat down to the final days of the season because of their dynamic top-of-the-order and the consistently solid, clutch production from Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis. Whether or not you believe in "clutch," the icy, contained, contact-heavy approach Freeman and Markakis have in pressure situations sets them up for more success than most with runners in scoring position.

In the rotation, lefty Sean Newcomb has allowed five-plus runs in four of his last eight starts. Kevin Gausman has been a valuable addition so far, allowing two runs in six innings, one in eight and three in five since the trade from Baltimore.

The Braves' bullpen has been shaky. With closer Arodys Vizcaino on the DL, second-year lefty A.J. Minter has been closing games. He had an ugly meltdown Saturday night with two outs, nobody on and the Braves ahead 3-0. He's blown two of his last six games.

The upcoming schedules

The Braves have just one off day between Aug. 20 and Sept. 13. 

They begin a seven-game road trip tonight — three in Pittsburgh, four in Miami. 

The Pirates have faded from contention but are a pesky team that makes a lot of contact and has a very good bullpen combination with Felipe Vazquez and Keone Kela. These should be low-scoring games.

The Braves are 7-1 against the Marlins since the All-Star break. Miami can't be relied on for much spoiling at this juncture.

Following that for the Braves is a nine-game homestand against the Rays (2), Cubs (1), Pirates (3) and Red Sox (3).

Hopefully, the Red Sox still care about wins and losses two weeks from now. Their lead is so big. 

After that comes a real test for the Braves, a late-season, seven-game West Coast road trip to Arizona and San Francisco. The Diamondbacks are in the thick of the race and the Giants are on the periphery but still far from a doormat. 

The Phillies, meanwhile, have just one series left all season outside the Eastern Time Zone.

After that West Coast trip, the Braves have three with the Nationals, three with the Cardinals, then come the Phillies.

Just to review, the Braves' schedule leading up to Phillies series:

• 3 at Pirates
• 4 at Marlins
• 2 vs. Rays
• 1 vs. Cubs
• 3 vs. Pirates
• 3 vs. Red Sox
• 4 at Diamondbacks
• 3 at Giants
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Cardinals

And the Phillies' schedule leading up to that point:

• 3 at Nationals
• 3 at Blue Jays
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Cubs
• 3 at Marlins
• 3 at Mets
• 3 vs. Nationals
• 3 vs. Marlins
• 3 vs. Mets

More on the Phillies

Krukcast: Memories from Little League

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Krukcast: Memories from Little League

On this edition of Krukcast, Gregg Murphy and John Kruk share memories of Little League Baseball. Kruk on what it was like covering the Little League World Series. Also, the guys discuss what they hope today's kids experience playing in Little League.

1:00 - Kruk was a dominant Little Leaguer.
5:00 - What made Little League so enjoyable.
9:00 - Lessons Kruk learned growing up in Little League.
14:00 - Covering the LLWS.

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