Best of MLB: Nationals sweep Braves behind Strasburg, Zimmerman

Best of MLB: Nationals sweep Braves behind Strasburg, Zimmerman

ATLANTA -- Ryan Zimmerman hit a two-run homer, Stephen Strasburg struck out 10 and the Washington Nationals completed a three-game sweep with a 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Thursday night.

A night after had 14 runs on 20 hits, the Nationals couldn't solve R.A. Dickey's knuckleball until Zimmerman homered in the sixth to erase a 2-1 deficit.

Strasburg (2-0) allowed two runs, six hits and two walks in seven innings, winning his first start at SunTrust Park after going 4-3 with a 4.37 ERA in 10 outings at Turner Field. Strasburg improved to 72-8 when the Nationals score at least three runs.

Shawn Kelley had an eventful ninth before earning his second save in three tries. He retired the first two batters before Kurt Suzuki singled and pinch-hitter Tyler Flowers walked. Ender Inciarte followed with a game-ending flyout (see full recap).

Sale's 13 Ks, Betts' 2B in 10th lead Red Sox over Jays 4-1
TORONTO -- Chris Sale struck out 13 over eight shutout innings, Mookie Betts hit a three-run double in the 10th and the Boston Red Sox beat the struggling Toronto Blue Jays 4-1 on Thursday.

At 3-12, Toronto is off to the worst start in team history and has lost its first five series for the first time.

Sandy Leon drew a one-out walk from Jason Grilli (0-2) in the 10th, and Brock Holt singled to stop an 0-for-12 slide. Andrew Benintendi walked with two outs, and Betts pulled a 2-0 fastball down the left-field line.

Mitch Moreland hit a two-out double in the ninth off Roberto Osuna and scored on Xander Bogaerts' single, but Kendrys Morales homered against Craig Kimbrel (1-0) leading off the bottom half, the eighth time Morales has tied a game or given his team a lead with a homer from the ninth inning on (see full recap).

Brewers hit 3 HRS, beat the Cardinals 7-5
MILWAUKEE -- Jett Bandy, Eric Thames and Travis Shaw each hit home runs to help the Milwaukee Brewers beat the St. Louis Cardinals 7-5 on Thursday night.

Bandy hit a two-run homer in the sixth and Thames put Milwaukee ahead with a two-run shot off Carlos Martinez (0-3) in the fifth. Shaw's three-run blast in the first made it 12 consecutive games going yard for the Brewers, who lead the majors with 32 home runs.

Zach Davies (1-2) allowed four runs on eight hits in 5 1-3 innings. He walked two and struck out five, but needed Thames' NL-leading eighth home run and seventh in the last eight games for his first win in four starts.

Jacob Barnes pitched the ninth for his first save of the season.

Matt Carpenter hit a solo home run in the top of the fifth and Kolten Wong, whose career-high seven triples led the Cardinals in 2016, hit his first of the season in the top of the second with the bases loaded (see full recap).

Orioles' Hardy singles in 10th for 2-1 win over Reds
CINCINNATI -- J.J. Hardy singled home the tiebreaking run in the 10th inning on Thursday night, and the Baltimore Orioles held on for a 2-1 victory and an interleague series win over the Cincinnati Reds.

Hardy fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches before driving in Mark Trumbo from second base with his single off Blake Wood (0-2). The Orioles took two of three in the series, leaving them 8-4 in interleague play against the Reds.

Three Orioles pitchers limited the Reds to two hits for the second night in a row. Cincinnati managed only two singles in a 2-0 loss on Wednesday night.

Darren O'Day (1-1) fanned two of the three batters he faced in the ninth. Brad Brach retired the side in the 10th for his second straight save, filling in while closer Zach Britton recovers from a sore forearm (see full recap).

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).

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

Despite series finale loss to Dodgers, Phillies show they can 'compete with the best teams in the league'

BOX SCORE

In the end, things reverted to form: The Dodgers won and the Phillies lost.

The Dodgers are headed to the playoffs, the Phillies to who-knows-where.

Los Angeles scored twice in the seventh inning Thursday afternoon to beat the Phils, 5-4, and salvage the finale of a four-game series (see observations).

The Dodgers, the majors’ best team at 97-56, lowered their magic number to one for clinching a fifth straight NL West championship. The Phils, baseball’s second-worst team at 61-92, were left with a lovely parting gift: hope.

“I think it’s a good lesson,” J.P. Crawford, the rookie shortstop-turned-third baseman, said of the series as a whole. “It showed us, or showed me, we can compete with the best teams in the league. Just can’t wait to see what next year has in store for us.”

Crawford, the 16th overall pick in 2013, drew three walks in four plate appearances and fielded eight chances flawlessly, at least four of which could be described as moderately difficult.

In addition, Mark Leiter Jr. pitched six strong innings, Rhys Hoskins did another Rhys Hoskins thing — i.e., hit a two-run double in the fifth — and Nick Williams launched a two-run homer.

So it was that the Phillies finished the homestand with a 7-3 record. They have won eight of their last 12, and are 32-34 since the All-Star break, after going 29-58 beforehand.

There are those who question how much it means for an also-ran to excel in September, when the pressure is off. It would appear that Phillies manager Pete Mackanin is not among those people. He mentioned in particular how valuable it is for his young relievers to face teams in the thick of the race.

“To get this kind of experience is worth a lot,” he said. “It’s a big part of this year.”

One of those relievers, Ricardo Pinto, faltered Thursday, allowing those two seventh-inning runs to take the loss. But Leiter, who had pitched to a 9.39 ERA in three previous September starts, allowed just one earned run on five hits over his six innings of work. He struck out three and walked one.

So it’s one for his résumé going forward. And he said a strong finish to the season — the Phils have nine games left — is “important for everybody.”

“I don't know if it's more important for us than other teams,” he said, “but you want to finish strong and start strong. Those are the goals. That's baseball. You're going to have some ups and downs, and to take a series is a good thing.”

Crawford, called up from Triple A Lehigh Valley on Sept. 5, hit .200 without a walk in his first six major-league games. In his last nine, he is slashing .296/.474/.481, with 10 walks and seven strikeouts in 38 plate appearances.

“Just a matter of getting my feet settled down,” he said, “and just being comfortable in the box.”

“It’s good to see,” Mackanin said. “He was advertised as someone who controls the strike zone and he’s proven that he can do that. Walk’s as good as a hit — the old saying. He keeps innings alive and he doesn’t expand the strike zone, he makes the pitcher get him out and he’ll take a walk, which is important.”

Speaking generally about such an approach (and not about Crawford in particular), Mackanin had only one small reservation.

“One of the problems with a guy who walks too often is you’d like him to be a little more aggressive at times,” he said, “but in general it’s good to see.”

Crawford made his eighth start at third base, and while he doesn’t possess the power bat normally required of someone who plays the position, he certainly looks like he can hold his own with the glove.

“There’s not really much transition,” he said. “I’m just going over there, reacting, catching the ball, throwing the ball.”

If nothing else, he gives the Phillies a possible alternative to Maikel Franco, who has struggled all year.

And if nothing else, the team as a whole has shown there is some reason for hope.