Phillies

World Series: Astros start fast, top Dodgers for 2-1 lead

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World Series: Astros start fast, top Dodgers for 2-1 lead

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HOUSTON — A perfect fit in their own place, the Houston Astros are halfway home.

George Springer and the Astros broke out the bats early this time and kept up their big run at Minute Maid Park in October, beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-3 Friday night for a 2-1 lead in the World Series.

The ballpark was booming from the start, with cheers, chants and a train whistle echoing beneath the closed roof. Deep in the heart of football country, a sellout crowd stood much of the evening. And with every Houston batter getting a hit or walk, fans enjoyed the Friday Night Sights.

"The energy in the building is second to none," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "It's loud. They're loud from the very beginning."

Yuli Gurriel homered to begin a four-run burst in the second inning that sent Yu Darvish to the shortest start of his career. Astros curveballer Lance McCullers Jr. wobbled, but protected the lead into the sixth.

Brad Peacock rose to the occasion with 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief to put the Astros two wins from their first championship.

Coming off a dramatic rally to win Game 2 at Dodger Stadium, the Astros improved to 7-0 at home this postseason. Jose Altuve & Co. have dominated, too, outscoring the Red Sox, Yankees and Dodgers 36-10 in that span.

"We're very comfortable here," Hinch said.

Springer lined a leadoff double in the first and the Astros went on to win a home game for the first time in the World Series. They were swept by the White Sox in 2005, and this win left them two victories from a most elusive championship.

Game 4 will be Saturday night when Charlie Morton starts for Houston. Left-hander Alex Wood pitches for the Dodgers, facing a lineup that has put at least one runner on in 14 straight innings.

"Obviously, this crowd is into it. Very educated, very enthusiastic," Dodgers manager Dave Robert said. "They've got some confidence over there, that team."

McCullers left in the sixth as Los Angeles scored twice to cut into a 5-1 deficit. Peacock followed, and shouldered the load for a shaky bullpen by posting his first save in 11 years of pro ball. The right-hander was nearly perfect, walking one and striking out four.

"It was awesome," said Peacock, who made 21 starts and 13 relief appearances during the regular season. "I've never experienced anything like that in my life."

Coupled with four shutout innings from McCullers to finish off the Yankees in Game 7 of the AL Championship Series, the unconventional Astros became the first team to have two saves of three-plus innings in one postseason.

On a night when a lot went right for Houston, also credit third base coach Gary Pettis, who's been having quite a postseason. He boldly sent Josh Reddick careening home on a wild throw by reliever Tony Watson for a two-out run in the fifth.

The Astros rode the momentum of a thrilling victory Wednesday night in Los Angeles, where Marwin Gonzalez hit a tying homer in the ninth on an 0-2 pitch from star closer Kenley Jansen, and Houston went deep three times in extra innings before hanging on to win 7-6 in 11.

Dodgers rookie Cody Bellinger almost won that game with a drive that was caught on the warning track in the ninth. He fanned all four times up in Game 3, leaving him 0 for 11 with seven strikeouts in the Series.

"I think he's just in that funk right now where he's chasing balls out of the strike zone," Roberts said.

This game wasn't nearly as dramatic, not that the home crowd minded.

Fans were revved up from the start when injured Houston Texas defensive end J.J. Watt -- who has raised more than $37 million for relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey -- wobbled out to the mound on crutches to throw the first ball.

Soon, it was time for the Houston hitters to take over.

Gurriel homered into the Crawford Boxes in left to begin the second -- he became the 13th hitter already to homer in this Series. Reddick followed with a double and Evan Gattis, the designated hitter with the game in an American League park, drew a walk.

Gonzalez launched a drive off the wall in left and wound up with an RBI single when Gattis held at second, seeing if the ball would be caught. Brian McCann singled home another run with one of his three hits, and Alex Bregman's sacrifice fly made it 4-0.

When Altuve doubled, Darvish was done after 1 2/3 innings. He threw 49 pitches and the Astros swung and missed only once.

Darvish had done well at Minute Maid, going 4-1. That included a 2013 start when he was one out from a perfect game for the Rangers before Gonzalez singled.

"The fastball command wasn't there, and the slider was backing up. So he just really didn't have the feel and couldn't get any type of rhythm going," Roberts said.

Last month, Darvish and several Dodgers players wore Houston Strong T-shirts to raise money for hurricane relief. The four-time All-Star who previously played in Texas also contributed to the relief efforts.

On Thursday, Darvish kidded that maybe his goodwill would lead to good luck.

"Since I made that donation, maybe I can use a ball that doesn't have much pop in it," he said through a translator.

Nope, didn't quite work out that way.

Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

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Phillies' 2020 World Series odds are pretty surprising

Most of the baseball world agrees that the Phillies are improved with the additions of No. 2 starter Zack Wheeler, shortstop Didi Gregorius, and the new contingent of manager Joe Girardi, pitching coach Bryan Price and hitting coach Joe Dillon.

The question is how much improved?

The Phils won 81 games last season, a year after winning 80. Both years, they totally collapsed in September. Both years, a good number of players were simply playing out the string, though the effort level was more questionable in 2018 than in 2019.

Even though the Phillies were quiet this offseason after their two big signings, and even though the NL East is still a beast, they should still exceed 81 wins. If they don't, there's a serious problem. If they don't, the GM probably won't be here to try to rectify things next offseason.

The over/under win totals are out and the Phillies' number is 85.5 at FanDuel and 84.5 at DraftKings.

I'd go over at 84.5. Think about how many injuries the Phillies suffered last season. Think about the talent gap between Wheeler and every Phillies starting pitcher behind Aaron Nola last season. The impact of Girardi, Price and Dillon won't be all that quantifiable, but it is realistic that this revamped coaching staff can conjure a few more wins out of the 2020 Phillies, whether it's in-game decision-making or better instructions given to young players who underperformed last season.

At DraftKings, the Mets' over/under is a game better than the Phillies' at 85.5. The Braves are at 90.5 and the Nationals 88.5. The Marlins are at 64.5, higher than only one team, the Tigers.

Much more surprising are the Phillies' World Series odds. They have the sixth-shortest odds to win it all. Seriously. They're +1800. Here is the Top 10:

Yankees: 3.5/1
Dodgers: 5/1
Astros: 6/1
Braves: 11/1
Nationals: 14/1
Phillies: 18/1
Mets: 20/1
Twins: 20/1
Red Sox: 22/1
Cubs: 22/1

Apparently, the expectation is that the NL Central will be bringing up the rear in 2020. Really, the only NL Central team that improved was the Reds. The Cardinals lost Marcell Ozuna, the Brewers lost Yasmani Grandal and the Cubs didn't spend money on a single major-league free agent.

Four of the top seven teams being NL East teams just shows you how much of a battle these next seven months will be for the Phils.

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Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Phillies prospects Spencer Howard and Alec Bohm make Baseball America's Top 100 list

Baseball America’s always interesting Top 100 Prospects list landed this week and the Phillies are represented with two players in the top half.

Starting pitcher Spencer Howard ranks 27th on the list and third baseman Alec Bohm 28th. Both players are projected to open the coming season at Triple A and get to the majors at some point in 2020. Both have been invited to major-league spring training camp, which begins in less than three weeks in Clearwater. See the complete list of Phillies’ in-house non-roster invites here.

Howard, a 23-year-old right-hander, was the Phillies’ second-round draft pick in 2017. We profiled him here.

In its story on the Top 100 prospects, Baseball America offered this take on Howard: Triple-digit fastball, swing-and-miss curveball and the ability to work the edges of the strike zone, Howard flashes front-end potential.

Bohm, 23, was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. He hit .305 with 21 homers, 80 RBIs and a .896 OPS at three levels, including Double A in 2019. We profiled him here.

Baseball America offered this take on Bohm: Even with questions about whether he’ll have to move to first base, Bohm has the feel to hit and plus power to hit in the middle of the Phillies’ order, and soon.

Shortstop Wander Franco of the Tampa Bay Rays was ranked No. 1 on Baseball America’s list for the second year in a row. The Rays placed eight players on the list. Because of a loaded farm system, the Rays were unable to protect left-hander Cristopher Sanchez on their 40-man roster and the Phillies traded for him in November. Read about Sanchez here.

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed seven players on the list and the Minnesota Twins and San Diego Padres had six each.

The Miami Marlins led National League East teams with five players in the Top 100, including former Phillies pitching prospect Sixto Sanchez, who was traded for J.T. Realmuto a year ago. Sanchez ranks 16th on the list and is projected to arrive in the majors sometime in 2020.

The Atlanta Braves placed four players on the list and the Washington Nationals and New York Mets joined the Phillies with two players.

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