Back on Track: Phils Top Astros, Climb to Three Back

Back on Track: Phils Top Astros, Climb to Three Back

After stumbling in the series opener against the lowly Houston Astros, last night the Phillies regained the form that saw them win their previous seven games. Whether the Phils are playoff-bound or not, the Astros are a team that will lose 100 games this season, so the blown-lead loss on Thursday was disappointing to say the least. We knew they weren't going to win out though, so the more important question was how they would respond. Fortunately, it didn't take long for them to get back on track. 
On Friday night, the Phillies' bats lit up the scoreboard before starter Cole Hamels even stepped into the diamond. Jimmy Rollins hit his fifth leadoff homer of the season (20th overall, 42nd career leadoff), and three more visiting runs would score before the top half of the inning was over. The Astros would hang a few runs on Hamels and the bullpen, but 16 hits powered the Phillies to a 12-6 win. 
Perhaps just as importantly, they got some help from the teams they trail in the wild card standings. 
After Jimmy slugged No. 20 on the season, Juan Pierre drew a walk and stole his 35th base of the season. Yep, 35 bags for the 35-year-old. It was a key swipe too, because Chase Utley slashed a single to center, and Pierre wheeled all the way in. The recipe turned out well enough the first time, so the Phils immediately used it again, with Utley stealing second. Ryan Howard followed it up with a ground rule double up the right field line, scoring Chase. Chooch and Dom Brown couldn't get Howard home from second, but John Mayberry Jr made the score 4-0 with a single that brought the big man in. 
Errors allowed the Astros to earn a respectable run total, with three of their six coming of the unearned variety, starting with a throwing error in the first by Rollins. Still, despite three costly throwing gaffes, the other two coming in the eighth and ninth innings, the Phils were able to outpace the Astros with some big swings. They finished the night 7-for-15 with runners in scoring position; Howard, Utley, and Mayberry each had a pair of hits with RISP, combining for eight RBI. Mayberry also scored from second on a Kevin Frandsen single after Mayberry doubled in the fourth. In the fifth, he made the Astros pay for walking Brown ahead of him to load the bases, singling in Utley and Chooch. Brown would get his pitch in the seventh though, sending a 407-footer to right with Ruiz on base after a walk. 
After Rollins and Pierre each got aboard with singles in the eighth, Utley and Howard combined to drive in three runs and put the lead at an unreachable distance despite the errors (and a Justin De Fratus wild pitch) that would allow the Astros to scratch out two more runs before the night was done. 
NotesDarin Ruf pinch hit for De Fratus in the top of the ninth, popping out to third. 
Hamels went seven innings, allowing four runs (three earned, two on HRs) while striking out eight and walking one.
Six Astros pitchers combined to throw 201 pitches (Phillies threw 139), walking five batters and striking out eight. 
Game 3 at Minute Maid Park will feature Kyle Kendrick vs lefty Dallas Keuchel, who carries a 5.35 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, and just one win against seven losses.   
Wild Card WatchThe Cubs handed the Pirates their seventh straight loss, and the Bucs are now tied with the Phils at three games back. The Mets pitched in too, pulling the Brewers a half game off the pace with a 7-3 win over Milwaukee, and the NL West-leading Giants beat the Diamondbacks on the power of a Hunter Pence grand slam. 
The Cardinals and Dodgers are closest in the battle for the final wild card slot, and they squared off in the second of a four-game set on Friday. After winning the opener, the Cards lost last night. They currently hold a one-game lead over LA. 
It's still a crowded pack, but just three games separate the Phils from the second wild card slot.  

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 76, Seton Hall 46

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: No. 1 Villanova 76, Seton Hall 46

BOX SCORE

VILLANOVA, Pa. — Back at No. 1, Villanova looked every bit like the best team in the country.

The Wildcats — who earlier in the day regained their top spot in the rankings after a week at No. 3 — demolished Seton Hall, 76-46, in a Big East matchup Monday night at the Pavilion.

The win was the fourth straight for Villanova (18-1, 6-1), the 1,700th in program history, and the 47th straight at the Pavilion, setting an all-time record. The previous mark of 46 was established between January 2007 and 2011. 

Leading by 13 at halftime, Villanova put its foot on the gas to start the second half, jumping out to a 53-26 advantage on a Kris Jenkins three-pointer followed by a baseline slam from Donte DiVincenzo.

The hot-shooting Wildcats continued to pour it on from there, with Jenkins hitting a couple of more tough threes to put Villanova up by a whopping 65-31 margin with 10:33 left.

Seton Hall (12-6, 2-4) closed a three-game road trip with losses in all three games.

Big men on campus
Jenkins led the way with 16 points on 4-for-6 shooting from behind the arc. He joined Jalen Brunson (13 points), Josh Hart (11 points), Eric Paschall (10 points) and DiVincenzo (10 points) in double figures.

All seven of the players in head coach Jay Wright’s seven-man rotation finished with at least eight points as Darryl Reynolds had eight points and nine rebounds and Mikal Bridges had eight points and seven rebounds.

Desi Rodriguez was the only Seton Hall player to hit double figures with 15 points.

By the numbers
• Villanova shot 47.4 percent from the field and 46.2 percent (12 for 26) from three-point range, while Seton Hall shot 29.1 and 25 percent.

• The Wildcats had nine steals and scored 27 points off 16 Seton Hall turnovers. 

• Villanova only missed one of its 11 free throw attempts.

First half
Seton Hall led 5-4 before Villanova went on a 13-0 run to take control, capped by a fantastic one-handed putback slam from Reynolds. 

The Wildcats extended their lead to 25-7 as Seton Hall struggled to make anything. Consecutive threes from Rodriguez gave the Pirates a glimmer of life late in the first half, but the Wildcats still took a comfortable 36-23 lead into halftime.

Hall trouble
The Pirates have more victories over Villanova than any Big East team since the new version of the league was launched in 2013, beating the Wildcats three times. One of those wins was in last year’s Big East Tournament title game at Madison Square Garden, Villanova’s final loss in 2015-16 before its magical run to the national title.

Seton Hall has had far less success at the Pavilion, however, with their last win there coming all the way back in 1994. 

Simmons in the house
Sixers rookie Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft, was on hand to see the No. 1 team in the country. He sat courtside and took photos with fans at halftime. 

Up next
Villanova returns to action Saturday afternoon vs. Providence at the Wells Fargo Center.

Seton Hall goes home to welcome St. John’s on Sunday. 

Dario Saric: Joel Embiid 'has changed the sport in Philly,' deserves to be All-Star

Dario Saric: Joel Embiid 'has changed the sport in Philly,' deserves to be All-Star

Even Dario Saric is getting in on the Joel Embiid All-Star Game craze.

After the Sixers' 113-104 win over the Bucks Monday, Saric made the case for Embiid in a postgame interview with CSN's Molly Sullivan. 

"Joel, for sure, he deserves to be in All-Star Game ... he's the guy who changed the sport in Philly," Saric said.

"And if we get Ben [Simmons] to him, we got good couples for so many years."

Saric definitely trusts The Process.

"He deserve everything ... he's maybe the best big man in the league."

We'll find out if the fans like him as much as Saric does Monday at midnight when fan voting ends. 

Catch the full interview above for more.