Phillies-Braves 5 things: Doubleheader on tap at Citizens Bank Park

Phillies-Braves 5 things: Doubleheader on tap at Citizens Bank Park

Phillies (49-81) vs. Braves (57-72)
Game 1: 12:05 p.m. on NBC10; Game 2 follows on CSN; stream both on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

The Phillies continued their dominance over the Braves on Monday, winning 6-1 to improve to 12-2 vs. Atlanta on the season.

The Phils, despite owning the majors' worst record, have the majors' best record against any division opponent with that 12-2 mark.

Because of Tuesday's rainout, the Phillies and Braves play a doubleheader Wednesday. In Game 1, Jerad Eickhoff opposes Braves right-hander R.A. Dickey, while Game 2 pits Mark Leiter Jr. against Atlanta righty Julio Teheran.

1. What is it about this matchup?
There are several reasons behind the Phillies' pounding of the Braves this season. Odubel Herrera and Aaron Altherr, both on the DL with hamstring injuries, have had monster years against them. 

The Phillies have also pitched extremely well — they have a 3.12 ERA against the Braves, and that includes a 14-1 loss back in early June. Remove that game and the Phillies have a 2.36 ERA against the Braves in 2017.

Why is that? Well, Freddie Freeman missed four of the games. Matt Kemp missed five. And really, aside from Freeman, nobody in Atlanta's lineup takes pitches or works counts. The Braves have a lot of free swingers who have simply gotten themselves out early in counts against the Phillies.

Catcher Cameron Rupp said last night that he "wishes we played them every night." That probably won't sit well in the Braves' clubhouse, but it's not like they're in denial about how the season series has gone. 

2. New challenge for Hoskins
With an RBI double last night, Rhys Hoskins became only the second player in the majors this season with an extra-base hit and an RBI in six straight games. Giancarlo Stanton is the other.

Since 1950, the only two Phillies with longer streaks were Bobby Abreu in 2005 and Chase Utley in 2008.

But Wednesday brings a new challenge for Hoskins: the knuckleballer Dickey.

There are few knucklers in today's game so Hoskins has never seen someone like Dickey, who throws his knuckleball with more velocity than most. 

Dickey (8-8, 4.06) has shut down the Phillies twice this season, allowing one earned run in 14 innings with 16 strikeouts. Against all other teams, he has a 4.40 ERA.

The Phillies newest to the majors have not fared well against Dickey. Combined, Phillies rookies this season and second-year player Tommy Joseph are 1 for 15 off Dickey with five strikeouts.

3. Leiter chasing an opportunity
With all the uncertainty in the Phillies' starting rotation moving forward, Leiter has a chance to pitch his way toward a spot on the staff over these final five weeks.

Leiter is coming off an extremely impressive start vs. the Marlins — seven one-hit, shutout innings. 

Leiter has made 21 appearances this season, five as a starter and 16 as a reliever. In the five starts, he's 2-2 with a 3.18 ERA and 1.13 WHIP.

Leiter does not possess exceptional stuff, but he has a wide array of pitches (fastball, splitter, sinker, curveball, slider, cutter) and is unafraid on the mound. He doesn't nibble. So far, it's worked out more than it hasn't.

Right now, the only two pitchers assured roles in the Phillies' rotation next season are Aaron Nola and Eickhoff. The Phillies will have to add some stability in the offseason in the form of veteran arms, but one or two from the group of Leiter, Vince Velasquez, Nick Pivetta, Ben Lively and Zach Eflin could earn a job out of spring training.

4. Outfield plans
Herrera and Altherr could be activated Friday when rosters expand, according to CSN Phillies insider Jim Salisbury.

If/when that occurs, it will create a crowded outfield picture. Herrera and Nick Williams are obviously everyday guys, but the Phils will probably be cautious with Altherr, who has suffered multiple hamstring injuries this season. The likely result would be either Altherr or Tommy Joseph sitting on a given night.

5. This and that
• Hat tip to CSN producer Dan Roche for this stat: With 9.10 strikeouts per nine innings, Nola is first in Phillies history among starting pitchers with at least 300 innings. 

What's especially surprising about that stat is that Nola struck out 7.6 batters per nine innings in the minor leagues. He was not billed as a big strikeout guy but has missed more bats than ever before at the game's highest level.

• Rupp's towering home run last night was his 14th of the season and 30th since the start of 2016. Yasmani Grandal (45) and Willson Contreras (33) are the only National League catchers with more over that span.

• Adam Morgan in August: 13⅓ innings, 10 hits, 1 run, 2 walks, 19 strikeouts. He looks like a changed man with a better fastball and a different grip on his slider. Perhaps he's finally carving out a role as a reliable lefty reliever. The Phils could sure use one.

Henderson Alvarez solid as audition with Phillies continues in loss to Braves

Henderson Alvarez solid as audition with Phillies continues in loss to Braves

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — It had been three years to the day since Henderson Alvarez had notched a pitching victory in the major leagues. Back on Sept. 23, 2014, while pitching for the Miami Marlins in a season in which he made the National League All-Star team, he beat the Phillies with 7 2/3 shutout innings.
 
A shoulder injury limited Alvarez to just four starts the next season. He did not pitch in 2016 and was forced to show his wares in the Independent Atlantic League before latching on with the Phillies in late August.
 
The Phils were looking for some pitching depth to get through the season, but Alvarez didn't care about the reason. He was happy for the audition in Triple A and the call to the majors this month.
 
Alvarez's long road back from surgery put him on the mound at SunTrust Park, the new home of the Atlanta Braves, on Saturday night, exactly three years after his last big-league win. It would have been pretty sweet for the 27-year-old right-hander to come out of the assignment with a win — and he was in line to get it before the bullpen let a late lead get away in a 4-2 loss to the Braves (see observations).
 
"It is what it is," Alvarez said, shrugging after the game. "That's the way baseball is sometimes. You have to make every single out. There are things you cannot control. You just go out there and try your best."
 
Alvarez pitched five shutout innings and left with a 2-0 lead thanks to an RBI double by Rhys Hoskins and another run that scored on a passed ball.
 
"He pitched through five innings, got through it and didn't give up a run," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His ball had some movement and he changed speeds."
 
The bullpen could not hold the lead. Newcomer Kevin Siegrist gave up a solo homer to Rio Ruiz in the sixth inning on a 1-2 breaking ball that registered 69 mph on the radar gun. Two innings later, Luis Garcia was tagged for three runs as the Braves tied the game and took the lead.
 
Up and down the roster, the Phillies are in audition mode. Siegrist, a waiver claim from St. Louis, is looking to stick with the club as a lefty out of the bullpen. Ditto for Adam Morgan, who has been sensational over the last couple of months. He racked up another scoreless inning in this game and has allowed just two runs in his last 23 innings, dating to Aug. 2. Garcia has been auditioning toward the back of the bullpen and performed well. He had not allowed an earned run in his last 12 1/3 innings before this outing.
 
Garcia allowed three hits and three runs. Dansby Swanson singled home the tying run after Garcia fell behind in the count and had to pump fastballs with a man on second, and pinch-hitter Johan Camargo broke the tie with a two-out, two-run double to right-center.
 
"When you're pitching in a clutch situation, you can't fall behind hitters," Mackanin said. "You’ve got to get ahead. I think he threw five consecutive fastballs to Swanson. He tried to get a strike and couldn't do it. And you have to do it to be successful. You cannot get behind the hitters.
 
"It all comes down to getting clutch hits, making clutch plays and making clutch pitches. We're looking to win a World Series. You've got to be clutch."
 
The Phillies could have used a clutch hit or two to pad their early lead. In one big situation, they had the bases loaded against Braves starter Julio Teheran with two outs in the seventh and Odubel Herrera grounded out to second base on Teheran's last pitch of the night.
 
Herrera is hitless in the first two games of the series after hitting in each of the first 13 games (at a .434 clip) between the two teams this season.
 
It's not clear where Alvarez fits into the Phillies' future — or even if he does. He could make one more start over the final week of the season or he could finish in the bullpen. It does not seem likely the Phillies would keep him on the 40-man roster all winter, but it's not difficult to envision the club trying to bring him back on a minor-league deal where he could provide organizational depth and continue to get stronger post-surgery. Several teams will probably have interest in doing that.
 
Whatever happens, Alvarez had to feel good about his work Saturday night. Though he did not get his win, it was a step in the right direction on the comeback trail.
 
"It's been a roller-coaster," he said. "I just have to keep working hard."

Best of MLB: Bruce Maxwell 1st player to kneel during anthem; Yanks clinch playoff berth

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Associated Press

Best of MLB: Bruce Maxwell 1st player to kneel during anthem; Yanks clinch playoff berth

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland Athletics has become the first major league baseball player to kneel during the national anthem.

Maxwell dropped to a knee just outside Oakland's dugout on Saturday before a game against the Texas Rangers, adopting a protest started by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in response to police treatment of blacks. Maxwell's teammates stood in a line next to him. Teammate Mark Canha, who is white, put his right hand on one of Maxwell's shoulders.

The Athletics released a statement on Twitter shortly after the anthem, saying they "respect and support all of our players' constitutional rights and freedom of expression" and "pride ourselves on being inclusive."

Major League Baseball also issued a statement, saying it has "a longstanding tradition of honoring our nation prior to the start of our games" but that "we also respect that each of our players is an individual with his own background, perspectives and opinions (See full story).

Yankees clinch postseason berth by beating Blue Jays 
TORONTO -- One year into a rebuild, the New York Yankees are back in the playoffs.

Greg Bird, among the new generation of Baby Bombers, hit a three-run homer that led New York over the Toronto Blue Jays 5-1 on Saturday to clinch no worse than a wild card.

"I feel like our motto in the offseason was: `We're going to surprise people,'" Bird said. "Obviously, we had a good spring, but we knew that wasn't the real deal. We came out and played our game the whole year, and I feel like we showed people."

Sonny Gray (10-11), among New York's midseason reinforcements, allowed one run and four hits in six innings as the Yankees won for the 11th time in 14 games and at 86-68 matched their season high of 18 games over .500.

"I didn't know exactly what we were going to be this year, but when I saw the way these kids were playing in spring training and the depth of our talent, it got me really excited and I thought it was possible," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.

Chase Headley reached base three times to help the Yankees reach the postseason for the 53rd time in franchise history. The Los Angeles Dodgers are second with 31. 

Lindor's 33rd homer leads Indians over Mariners 
SEATTLE -- Now that he's set a Cleveland record for home runs by a middle infielder, Francisco Lindor would rather remember 2017 for a far bigger accomplishment.

Lindor led off the game with his 33rd home run, and the Indians routed the Seattle Mariners 11-4 Saturday for their 28th victory in 30 games.

"It's cool. Something that'll be there for a long time," Lindor said, "but I'm just focusing on trying to win. When you focus on winning, those things happen."

Carlos Carrasco (17-6) matched teammate Cory Kluber and Boston's Chris Sale for the most wins in the AL, allowing one run and six hits in 5 2/3 innings. Yan Gomes homered twice and had four RBIs, and Jose Ramirez homered and drove in four runs.

Cleveland, which set the AL record with a 22-game winning streak this month, matched the 1884 Providence Grays for the best big league record over a 30-game span at 28-2. The Indians (97-58) lead Houston (95-59) for AL home-field advantage in the playoffs.

Lindor, a 23-year-old shortstop, homered on the eighth pitch from Andrew Moore (1-5) and surpassed the 32 home runs hit by second baseman Joe Gordon in 1948, the last year Cleveland won the World Series. 

Red Sox move closer to AL East title with 5-0 win over Reds
CINCINNATI --  The Red Sox took another step toward a division title, putting up another shutout that ended with a feel-good moment for their manager.

Mitch Moreland ended his long slump with a three-run homer, Eduardo Rodriguez pitched three-hit ball into the eighth inning, and Boston beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-0 on Saturday.

Boston has won 13 of 16, holding a four-game lead over the Yankees with eight to play. The Red Sox are trying to win back-to-back AL East titles for the first time since divisional realignment in 1969. They've got their best record of the season at 90-64, reaching 90 wins for the second year in a row.

It ended with a ninth inning that was unlike anything manager John Farrell has experienced. His son, Luke, relieved for the Reds, giving them a special moment in a competitive situation.

"It was somewhat surreal," he said. "Very proud. You're standing there looking through a netting in the dugout and you think you're maybe watching him throw back in Little League, in high school. To see it happen on a major league mound - a special day, a special inning."

The reliever walked two in a scoreless inning and glanced back at the Boston dugout, momentarily removing his cap, as he headed for the Reds dugout.