Hartman: Phils have time to jump-start offense

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Hartman: Phils have time to jump-start offense

You hear it everywhere. When are the Phillies going to hit?

Philadelphians are obsessed with the clubs lack of offense -- only eight runs in four games will do that. On SportsNite Monday, we asked viewers in our poll question what their level of concern with the Phillies' offense is so far this season. There were three options to choose from, but 56 percent said they are very concerned. Twenty-three percent said moderately concerned. Add the two together and that's 79 percent of those responding to our question doubting the teams offensive direction after the opening weekend.

Sure its early, but all of our fears are unfolding after just four games. Critics said that this Phillies team minus Ryan Howard and Chase Utley would not produce enough hits and runs. So far the critics are accurate, but the sample size isnt large enough. Give it time. We need more games to figure out what this team truly needs. The trend is alarming, but we all need to show a little patience.

The last two World Series champions didnt jump out of the gate to start the season. The San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals peaked late in the season and it proved to be the perfect time. No one wins a championship in April. You can dig a deep hole with an extremely slow start, but traditionally what matters most is how you finish. The Phillies need to survive the first few months and stay competitive, provided a team in the division doesnt jump out to a double-digit lead in the NL East.

Im sure well revisit our poll question in a few weeks. If the number of concerned fans increases, then, Philadelphia, we have a problem. But right now sit back and enjoy the return of baseball.

E-mail Neil Hartman at nhartman@comcastsportsnet.com.

Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

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Best of MLB: Cubs take control in NL Central with win over Brewers

MILWAUKEE -- Pinch-hitter Tommy La Stella drew a bases-loaded walk off All-Star closer Corey Knebel with one out in the 10th inning, helping the Chicago Cubs beat the Milwaukee Brewers 5-4 on Friday night to tighten their grip on the NL Central.

The Cubs hold a five-game lead with nine days left in the regular season after winning their second straight tense game over the Brewers. Milwaukee dropped into third in the division, 5 1/2 games behind Chicago, after St. Louis beat Pittsburgh earlier Friday.

The Brewers had the tying run at first with one out in the bottom of the 10th, but Eric Sogard was called out at second trying to advance on a ball in the dirt. Shortstop Addison Russell appeared to hold the tag as Sogard's foot lifted off second for a split-second, and the call was confirmed on review (see full recap).

Ryan Goins' hidden-ball trick, grand slam lead Blue Jays over Yankees
TORONTO -- Ryan Goins successfully pulled off a hidden ball trick and hit his second career grand slam, leading the Toronto Blue Jays over Masahiro Tanaka and the Yankees 8-1 Friday night and ensuring New York had to wait at least one more day to clinch a playoff berth.

With Todd Frazier on base following a leadoff double in the third, Jose Bautista made a running catch just in front of the right field warning track on Jacoby Ellsbury's one-out drive. Goins caught Bautista's throw while standing near second base, then pretended to toss the ball to pitcher Marco Estrada while slipping in into his glove.

Goins turned his back to Frazier, who had returned to the base, and when Frazier briefly lifted his left foot off the base, Goins tagged him on the left thigh. Frazier insisted he had maintained contact with the base, but umpire Mark Carlson called him out to end the inning (see full recap).

Red Sox rally for win over Reds, extend AL East lead
CINCINNATI -- Rafael Devers hit a three-run homer Friday night, and the Boston Red Sox extended their AL East lead to four games by overcoming Scooter Gennett's fourth grand slam of the season for a 5-4 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Boston added to its lead with the help of the Yankees' 8-1 loss at Toronto. The Red Sox have won 12 of 15, keeping the Yankees at bay while moving a season-high 25 games over .500 (89-64).

Their AL Cy Young Award winner is still struggling heading into playoff time.

Rick Porcello gave up Gennett's fourth grand slam -- a Reds' season record -- in the first inning. He lasted a season-low four innings, turning a 5-4 lead over to the bullpen. Porcello has lost 17 games -- most in the majors -- after winning 22 last year along with the Cy Young (see full recap).

Cardinals rally past Pirates in 9th
PITTSBURGH -- Randal Grichuk scored after an error by Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer, capping a frantic ninth-rally that lifted the surging St. Louis Cardinals over Pittsburgh 4-3 on Friday night.

The playoff-chasing Cardinals won their fifth straight, despite trailing by a run entering the ninth.

Stephen Piscotty led off with a double to right against closer Felipe Rivero (5-3), and Jedd Gyorko followed with a pinch-hit RBI single. After Tommy Pham's single, Grichuk pinch-ran for Gyorko at third. He scored when Mercer misplayed Dexter Fowler's sharp groundball.

Former Pirates reliever Juan Nicasio (4-5) got the win after working the eighth and ninth. Fowler and Piscotty had two hits each.

David Freese had an RBI double for the Pirates, who have dropped eight of nine. Rivero blew a save for only the second time in 20 chances this season (see full recap).

Twins stay on track in postseason race with win over Tigers
DETROIT -- Max Kepler and Brian Dozier homered, Byron Buxton had three hits and the playoff-chasing Minnesota Twins beat the Detroit Tigers 7-3 on Friday night.

Buxton's two-run double in the fourth put the Twins ahead to stay against a Detroit team that announced before the game that manager Brad Ausmus will not be back in 2018.

Minnesota came into the night leading the race for the American League's second wild card by 2 games over Texas and the Los Angeles Angels.

Kyle Gibson (12-10) allowed three runs and five hits in seven innings for the Twins. He struck out six and walked two.

Daniel Norris (4-8) allowed five runs and seven hits in 4 2/3 innings.

Nicholas Castellanos and Ian Kinsler homered for Detroit, but the Tigers dropped to 4-18 in September (see full recap).

Ben Lively, a fighter, can't recover from disastrous 1st inning in Phillies' loss to Braves

Ben Lively, a fighter, can't recover from disastrous 1st inning in Phillies' loss to Braves

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ATLANTA — A few hours before Friday night's game against the Atlanta Braves, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin had some words of praise for his starting pitcher, Ben Lively.

"He's just very competitive," Mackanin said of the 25-year-old right-hander. "His stuff is pretty ordinary, but he's deceptive in his delivery and he locates his fastball well.

"He's the kind of guy if you ever got in a fight with him, you'd have to kill him because he never gives up."

Lively lived up to some of his manager's words Friday night, but not all of them. He didn't give up. That's for sure. On a night when he was cut early as they say in the fight business, he managed to stick around for five innings and preserve some bullpen arms.

But the location of his fastball was not crisp. The Braves' first six hitters of the game all reached base on hits (three singles, two doubles and a homer) and five of them scored.

The night ended with the Phillies absorbing a 7-2 loss (see observations).

"Bad first inning," Mackanin said. "Very poor control, command in that first inning. Then he settled down and gave us some good innings. But that first inning, he didn't hit his spots and he didn't change speeds very much. He got hurt. We were out of the game after that first inning."

Mackanin seemed irked that Lively didn't show more breaking balls in the first inning. Only two of Lively's first 15 pitches were breaking balls. He threw all fastballs to the first three hitters and gave up a double, an RBI single and an RBI double.

"I was just trying to find my fastball early in the game," Lively said. "Fifteen pitches too late. The big thing in my game is my fastball. It doesn't help when the fastball is fading toward the middle of the plate.

"Just one of those days."

Lively gave up a sixth run in the second inning and finished with three scoreless frames.

"Really, I just started establishing the inside corner," he said. "It made all my breaking stuff better."

The Phillies were never in the game, not after trailing 5-0 and 6-0. Rookie Nick Williams drove in both of the Phillies' runs with a sacrifice fly and a base hit. He has 52 RBIs in 75 games. Twenty-two of his RBIs have come this month. Williams had two of the Phillies' six hits. Cesar Hernandez walked three times and doubled.

Atlanta rookie Sean Newcomb gave up just two runs over 5 1/3 innings.

Lively joined the Phillies organization before the 2015 season. He came over from Cincinnati for Marlon Byrd. He rose to the majors earlier this season and had mostly impressed, delivering a quality start in nine of his first 13 outings before this one. He is 3-7 with a 4.35 ERA in 14 starts.

The Phillies have bodies in the starting pitching department. But a number of them — Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez, Zach Eflin — have gone down with injuries this season. All three of these pitchers will be ready to go for spring training, but none are assured opening day jobs, according to Mackanin. Lively's work this season and his good health make him a solid candidate to be in the rotation in April, but nothing is certain. The Phillies front office will surely add pitching through trades and free-agent signings in the offseason, a factor that could change the mix.

Mackanin was noncommittal when asked about the possibility of Lively being in next season's rotation.

"He's in the mix for a chance to make the team," Mackanin said. "Nobody is locked in, other than (Aaron) Nola, for me."

Lively would like to end the season by leaving a good impression on the front office. He lines up to make his final start of the season next week at home.

"I'm not happy with this one," Lively said. "The last game of the season, I have to be ready to battle and end the season on a good note."

The loss left the Phillies at 61-93. With a week to go in the season, they are still in the running to have the worst record in baseball and get the No. 1 pick in next year's draft. But they have company. The White Sox are 62-91, the Tigers 62-92 and the Giants entered Friday night's late game at 60-93.

It's a sprint to the basement.