Phillies-Braves: 5 things you need to know

phillies-at-braves-day.png

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.

Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

social_phillies_tonights_lineup_v2.jpg

Tonight's lineup: Herrera leads off as Hernandez sits

With eight games left in the Phillies' season, Pete Mackanin is still playing to win.

After dropping the series opener in Atlanta, 7-2, Friday, Mackanin made several changes to his lineup for Game 2 tonight. His first change is at the top of the order, as Cesar Hernandez sits and Odubel Herrera moves up to the leadoff spot.

The decision to rest Hernandez appears based on his poor career numbers against Atlanta's starter, Julio Teheran. Hernandez is 3-28 against Teheran, while Herrera is 5-23. Teheran is 1-2 this season against the Phillies. He won his previous start against them on Aug. 30, allowing just one run and striking out eight in 6 2/3 innings pitched. 

Herrera has no hits and six strikeouts in his last 12 at-bats. He's also been chasing a lot of pitches outside of the strike zone and has only one walk since Sept. 9. At .281, his batting average is the lowest it has been since Aug. 6.  

J.P. Crawford, who has looked smooth at third base, shifts to second base to accommodate the change. Maikel Franco slots back in at third.

Mackanin's final change is swapping catcher Jorge Alfaro for Cameron Rupp. With the Phillies getting an extended look at Alfaro, Rupp's playing time has recently decreased. This is his first start since Sept. 17 against Oakland.

In his second start for the Phillies, Henderson Alvarez won't have to do much to better Ben Lively's outing Friday night. Lively conceded six hits and five runs before recording an out. Alvarez's start Sunday, when he allowed four runs in five innings, was his first major league game in the past 28 months. An All-Star in 2014, Alvarez's career was derailed by injuries. 

Below is Saturday's lineup:

1. Odubel Herrera, CF
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Nick Williams, RF
4. Rhys Hoskins, 1B
5. Aaron Altherr, LF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. J.P. Crawford, 2B
8. Cameron Rupp, C
9. Henderson Alvarez, P

And the Braves' lineup:

1. Ender Inciarte, CF
2. Ozzie Albies, 2B
3. Nick Markakis, RF
4. Tyler Flowers, C
5. Matt Adams, 1B
6. Dansby Swanson, SS
7. Rio Ruiz, 3B
8. Jace Peterson, LF
9. Julio Teheran, P

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

usa-chicago-cubs.jpg
USA Today Images

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).