Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know


Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

Phillies at Braves
12:10 p.m. on NBC 10

How 'bout those Phillies? They're still seven games under .500 at 31-38, but after winning the series in Atlanta behind two well-pitched games Monday and Tuesday, the Phils are just 4½ games behind the Braves and Marlins and five back of the first-place Nationals.

The Phils now go for the sweep this afternoon. Here are five things to know ahead of Wednesday's matinee game:

1. Rare road sweep?
The Phillies have not swept a series on the road since April 26-28, 2013 at Citi Field against the Mets. That was 33 road series ago.

If the Phils win Wednesday it would also be their second sweep in their last three series overall.

2. Hernandez on the hill
Roberto Hernandez (2-5, 4.26) is the one Phillies starter who hasn't been able to go deep into games all season. But who knows, maybe the fine work from the starting staff will be contagious.

Since Sunday, A.J. Burnett, Cole Hamels and Kyle Kendrick have combined to pitch 22 innings and allow five runs. Now it's Hernandez's turn.

Hernandez has averaged 5.5 innings in his 12 starts and has not finished six innings since May 23 against the Dodgers.

He faced the Braves on April 14 and allowed just two runs over six innings despite walking six.

3. Harang is hittable
Aaron Harang has been reborn this year in Atlanta, but he's still hittable on a game-by-game basis and should not alone prevent the Phillies from sweeping.

Harang (5-5, 3.20) has made 12 quality starts in 14 tries and held his opponents to a .245 batting average.

None of his stuff is overpowering, but he has thrown six different pitches this season: a four-seam fastball and sinker at 90 mph, a slider, curveball, cutter and changeup. The slider is his off-speed pitch of choice. The opposition is 20 for 90 this season against it.

Current Phillies have hit .303 against Harang. Chase Utley is 10 for 22 (.455) with four doubles, a homer and three walks. Jimmy Rollins is 11 for 39 (.282). Marlon Byrd is 5 for 13 with a homer. Ryan Howard is 6 for 21 (.286) with three bombs of his own.

4. Braves basher
Howard homered in each of the first two games of the series to give him 13 on the year and 46 in his career against the Braves.

Those 46 home runs and 126 RBIs against the Braves have come in 143 games, nearly a full major-league season. Howard is also a .291 hitter against Atlanta.

He's now on pace for 31 homers and 106 RBIs.

Ten of Howard's 13 home runs have been either two- or three-run jacks.

5. Divisional matters
The Phillies head to St. Louis for four games after wrapping up the series in Atlanta, but after that they play 15 straight against NL East opponents.

Of the Phils' final 26 games before the All-Star break, 18 are against either the Braves, Marlins or Nationals, the three teams ahead of them in the division.

Which means this: As poorly as the Phillies have played for 70 games, all they'll need to do to be in good shape at the season's unofficial midpoint is play well for the next three weeks.

If the Phillies can win 12 of those 18 games against divisional foes, there's a good chance they'll be within three games of first place at the break.

'Next year' arrives: Lovable Losers Cubs, Indians begin World Series

'Next year' arrives: Lovable Losers Cubs, Indians begin World Series

CLEVELAND — The last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, Dewey led Truman in the polls. The Chicago Cubs' last title was 13 days after the first Ford Model T car was completed.

Lovable losers known for decades of defeat meet in this year's championship, a combined 174 seasons of futility facing off starting Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

Cleveland's last title was in 1948, when 16 teams from the East Coast to St. Louis competed in a just-integrated sport. The Cubs are trying to win for the first time since 1908 , a dead ball-era matchup at a time home runs were rarities along with telephones.

No player is alive from the last championship Cubs or even the last to make a Series appearance -- Tuesday marks the 25,948th day since the Cubs' Game 7 loss to Detroit in 1945. One player remains from the 1948 Indians, 95-year-old Eddie Robinson.

"It seems like it's just forever," Robinson said Monday from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. "When we got home from Boston, there was a monumental parade. It just looked like everybody in Cleveland came out on Euclid Avenue."

One team's fans will let loose with the celebration of a lifetime. But while history weighs on the supporters, Cubs manager Joe Maddon focuses his players with a now-centered battle cry of "Win the Inning!"

"Air conditioning is popular right now. So is color TV," he said. "You've just got to change with the times."

Both teams worked out under cloudy skies Monday as the new 59-by-221-foot scoreboard behind the left-field seats -- the largest in the major leagues -- trumpeted the Sisyphean matchup. While the Cubs play in Wrigley Field, the 102-year-old brick-and-ivy jewel on Chicago's North Side, the Indians are in a 22-year-old throwback-style ballpark originally called Jacobs Field.

Led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs led the major leagues with 103 wins during the regular season, then beat San Francisco and Los Angeles in the playoffs. But since the playoffs expanded in 1995, only four teams with the best regular-season record won the title: the 1998 and 2009 New York Yankees, and the 2007 and 2013 Boston Red Sox.

"I promise you, our guys are going to be in the present tense," Maddon said. "I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what's happened before us or not happened before us. But, you know, you go in that room right now, they're very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lore."

Jon Lester, 7-1 in his career against Cleveland, starts for the Cubs and Corey Kluber opens for the Indians. Lester is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three postseason starts this year and 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in a trio of Series outings. He learned to prepare from watching Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett in Boston.

"They prepared the same way for this start as they would for a regular start during the season," he said.

Kluber pitched shutout ball twice in the playoffs before allowing two runs in five innings in Game 4 at Toronto. His father, Jim, was born in Cleveland and rooted for the Indians growing up in suburban Highland Heights.

"I think every parent is excited if their kid has a chance to play in the World Series," said the 30-year-old right-hander, who could win his second AL Cy Young Award in three years.

Both teams were dealing with injuries that caused changes in planning.

Chicago included outfielder Kyle Schwarber, out since tearing knee ligaments on April 7. He played a pair of games in the Arizona Fall League, going 1 for 6 with a double and two walks.

"Reports are good," Maddon said. "He's swinging the bat well. He's running really well."

Cleveland, juggling all year because of health mishaps, put on pitcher Danny Salazar, who could start Game 4. The All-Star right-hander has not pitched since Sept. 9 because of forearm tightness but threw a simulated game Sunday.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was dealing with a sprained left ankle, hurt when he jumped and shortstop Francisco Lindor accidentally stepped on his foot while celebrating the last out of the ALCS.

"He might not be 100 percent, but I don't think it's going to get in the way," Francona said.

Cleveland fell three outs short of the 1997 title when Jose Mesa blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 at Florida and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez led to the Marlins' winning run in the 11th.

The Series starts just after a ceremony across the street when LeBron James and the Cavaliers receive championship rings before their opener celebrating this year's NBA title, the first for Cleveland's big league teams since the NFL's Browns in 1964.

"It's a pretty neat set of circumstances," said Indians reliever Andrew Miller, the ALCS MVP. "Obviously the fans wish they had won quite a bit previously, but I think the Cubs are even going to overshadow us in that history."

While Chicago has many famous fans, among them actor Bill Murray and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Cleveland is rooted on by Tom Hanks and Drew Carey. And the Indians' losing history received nationwide attention in the 1989 film "Major League," featuring Charlie Sheen as Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn.

Maddon prepared for the Series while watching some baseball movies, "42" -- "we had to beat the Dodgers before I could watch it" -- and "Field of Dreams."

"I'm that guy," he said. "I cry easily, so the connection to the past is very important, very important."

Once ridiculed in Philly, Terry Francona is 4 wins from Cooperstown

Once ridiculed in Philly, Terry Francona is 4 wins from Cooperstown

If Terry Francona wins four ballgames over these next nine days, he is going to Cooperstown.

And not as a visitor.

Francona sits at the helm of a Cleveland Indians team that has so far rolled through the postseason, winning eight of nine games as it opens play Tuesday night against the Chicago Cubs in a World Series that is filled with compelling storylines.

Of course, the biggest storyline is the “Lovable Loser” angle.

Both clubs long ago became punch lines for their failures. The Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908 and their shortcomings have been blamed on everything from the curse of a billy goat to black cats to too many day games at Wrigley Field to Steve Bartman. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. They were so notoriously synonymous with losing that Hollywood made a couple of movies about them. Well, sort of.

With four more wins, one of these teams will shed the Lovable Loser tag forever.

And if it’s Francona’s Indians, he will forever be honored with a spot in the Baseball Hall of Fame. You can bank on it. That’s where managers who win three World Series end up.

Time flies.

It was 20 years ago this week that the Phillies hired Francona for his first big-league managerial job. He was 37 at the time. He’d managed at the Double A level with the Chicago White Sox and been on the Detroit Tigers’ big-league coaching staff. Loaded with personality, smarts and the experience that came with growing up in baseball family (his dad played 15 seasons in the majors), being the best college player in the nation at the University of Arizona, and, probably most important, having been humbled by the ups and downs of 10 injury-riddled years as a big-league player, Francona was considered an excellent managerial prospect when the Phillies hired him. But he never deluded himself. He knew he got the job because the Phillies were rebuilding, because they were going to be young and bad for a while and he had the personality and youthful resilience to deal with it all. “If the Phillies were ready to win, they would have hired Jim Leyland or somebody like that,” he used to say.

Francona took over a 95-loss team in Philadelphia. He managed the club for four years, never had a winning season and was jeered out of town with slashed tires after the club lost 97 games in 2000.

Was Terry Francona a great manager in Philadelphia? Nope. Few people are great out of the gate in any line of work. But Francona had little chance to succeed in those Phillies years. There wasn’t close to enough talent on the field. The club was going through a sloooooow rebuild and the organizational focus in those years was probably more about getting a new stadium than putting a winning team on the field.

Francona was committed to becoming a successful manager when he left Philadelphia. That’s why he didn’t want to take a year off after he was fired. He wanted to stay in the game, stay in sight. He took a job in the Indians’ front office, then a year later was back in uniform, first as a coach with the Texas Rangers, then as a coach with the Oakland A’s.

In the fall of 2003, Francona interviewed for managerial jobs in Baltimore and in Boston. At the time, reporters in Baltimore asked him about the possibility of getting a second chance to manage.

“It would be like getting a mulligan,” Francona said.

The answer infuriated some in Philadelphia.

It shouldn’t have.

Francona’s use of the word ‘mulligan’ showed self-awareness, humility and accountability. It showed that he knew he had hooked his first chance into the woods, that he had made mistakes, that he’d learned from them and was ready to tee it up again. Francona’s use of the word mulligan showed how human he was and that is a priceless quality in the art of leading a group of men through the ups and downs of seven months of baseball and getting them to lay it all out for you night after night. Joe Torre had that quality. Charlie Manuel had it. Joe Maddon, the man Francona beat out for the Boston job and now squares off against in the World Series, has it. Francona has it. Just look at the way he kept the Indians believing after injuries wounded their starting pitching.

Of course, all of these aforementioned managers have or had talented players. That ultimately is how you win. Just ask Torre, who was dismissed as a loser until George Steinbrenner gave him some talent. Torre led it beautifully and ended up in the Hall of Fame.

Francona got his second chance to manage in Boston in 2004 and quickly led a talented group of players to a curse-busting title, that franchise’s first World Series championship in 86 years.

He won another in 2007.

He has managed 12 seasons since leaving Philadelphia and the growth experience that it provided. He has won 90 or more games in eight of those seasons. Yeah, he has had good players. But he’s led them well. And he’s done it particularly well this month, maneuvering his bullpen pieces like a master chess champion.

The World Series is upon us and it should be a good one as baseball’s two Lovable Loser franchises vie to end decades of frustration.

And 20 years after his managerial odyssey began with many losses and much ridicule in Philadelphia, Terry Francona, already a big winner in his career, has a chance to punch his ticket to the ultimate winner’s circle, the Hall of Fame, with four more victories and another World Series title.