Lee blanks Marlins as Phillies pull to within game of .500

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Lee blanks Marlins as Phillies pull to within game of .500

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MIAMI -- For all the frustration (completely justified, by the way) caused by the offense and all the worry spawned by a recent spate of injuries, the Phillies have won seven of their last 10 ballgames to pull within a game of .500.

They got to that mark for the first time since April 15 with a Cliff Lee-led, 3-0 win over the Miami Marlins on Wednesday night (see Instant Replay).

“If you’re going to win the division you’re going to have to get past .500,” Lee said after firing the 12th shutout of his career. “Obviously we aren’t there yet, but we have to get past that to get where we want to go.

“Right now, we’re playing good, well-rounded baseball.”

Over the last couple of weeks, the aging Phillies have lost Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz and Mike Adams to the disabled list. Chase Utley, who has missed two straight games with a rib cage injury, could be next (see story).

And yet, the Phillies are winning. It hasn’t been all that pretty given the sporadic offense, but they’re keeping their noses above water.

“That just says we’ve got guys that can fill these holes,” Lee said. “The Halladay thing, I feel like he was hurt for a while and just tried to grind through it and we finally decided to do something about it. That was tough, but you can’t go out there and pitch when you’re not all the way there. The Chase thing was kind of a surprise. Hopefully that’s not a major deal and he’s back to help us out. Chooch same thing.

“Fortunately, we have [Erik] Kratz and [Humberto] Quintero and Freddy [Galvis] and [Jonathan] Pettibone and [Tyler] Cloyd and guys like that who can come in and fill those holes and give us a chance.”

The Phillies received excellent starting pitching in the three-game series against the Marlins.

Cole Hamels, Cloyd and Lee combined to pitch 22 innings and allow just four runs while walking four and striking out 20 against the weakest offensive team in the NL. Lee’s shutout was the ninth sustained by the Marlins this season.

Of course, the Phils only won two of the games in Miami because the offense flopped again behind Hamels. It came alive Tuesday and Wednesday with a combined 27 hits.

“As good as our starting pitching has been, we only need a few runs,” Delmon Young said. “If our pitching wasn’t what it has been, we’d really have a bad record.”

Young was a big contributor in Miami. He hit long home runs on Tuesday and Wednesday nights and played well in in right field. (His arm provided a big double play behind Lee.) Young also legged out an infield hit in the sixth inning Wednesday night that started a two-out, two-run rally that featured a long triple by Domonic Brown, who is up to 24 RBIs, one shy of the team lead shared by Ryan Howard and Utley.

Sixty at-bats into his time with the Phillies, Young is hitting .233. Two games ago, he was hitting .192.

He’s moving in the right direction.

“I’ve always thought Delmon would hit,” manager Charlie Manuel said. “I’ve been saying that. When we got him, our people thought he’d help us. We always thought he was an RBI guy.”

Lee, who is 9-2 with a 1.09 ERA in his last 12 starts against the NL East, is on a terrific roll. He has allowed just four runs in 31 innings over his last four starts.

Lee allowed just three hits (all singles) Wednesday night. He walked two and hit a batter. He did his best pitching in the second inning when he loaded the bases and got out of it with a 5-2-3 double play and a pop out.

“I was just trying to get a ground ball and a double play,” Lee said. “I was willing to sacrifice a run for two outs. Fortunately the ball was hit to third where we could get the out at home. That was huge.”

The Marlins didn’t do much against Lee the rest of the way.

“The last three innings I felt as good as I’ve felt in a long time,” Lee said. “I felt like I could put the ball right where I wanted.”

The Phillies are off on Thursday. They open a three-game series against the Nationals in Washington on Friday night.  

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'

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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.