Young Phillies end trip with valuable lesson from Stephen Strasburg in loss to Nationals

Young Phillies end trip with valuable lesson from Stephen Strasburg in loss to Nationals

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WASHINGTON — While the Washington Nationals gear up for the postseason over these final three weeks of the regular season, the Phillies remain in full development mode.
 
So maybe it was a good thing for both teams that Nationals' right-hander Stephen Strasburg was on top of his game Sunday afternoon.
 
Strasburg pitched the Nats to the National League East title in a 3-2 win over the Phillies (see observations). And while Strasburg was completely dominant in pitching eight shutout innings and striking out 10, the Phillies' young hitters got a chance to familiarize themselves with the type of elite pitching they'll one day have to beat if they want to ascend to the top of the division.

There's some value in that.
 
"You want to throw guys right into the fire and let them know what they're up against," manager Pete Mackanin said after the game.
 
"Strasburg had his best stuff today. It's good for those young guys to see him."
 
Seven of Strasburg's strikeouts came against Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and J.P. Crawford, three of the young building blocks that have recently joined the Phillies' lineup. They will be better for the experience of seeing Strasburg's high 90s fastball, his knee-buckling breaking ball and his killer changeup.
 
"He was on today," Crawford said. "He mixed it up and commanded it. He's not afraid to throw his off-speed stuff 2-2 or 3-2. Props to him. He shut us down."
 
Strasburg is on a terrific roll. He has not allowed a run in his last four starts, running his scoreless innings streak to 34, a Montreal/Washington franchise record.
 
Despite Strasburg's excellence, the Phillies were in this game. In fact, the loss was their 35th by one run, tying a team record. Overall, the Phillies have 89 losses with 19 games to play.
 
The Phils were in this game because rookie right-hander Ben Lively continued to impress with his competitiveness, willingness to attack hitters and ability to command his fastball. He became the only Phillies pitcher not named Aaron Nola to pitch into the eighth inning this season. He finished with eight innings of three-run ball. He walked one and struck out seven.
 
"He pitched extremely well," Mackanin said. "That was our first complete game of the year. It was nice not to have to go to the bullpen."
 
Pitching against a red-hot Strasburg, Lively could afford no mistakes. He made just a couple in allowing two runs in the sixth inning and another in the bottom of the eighth inning. Trea Turner tripled and scored the Nats' first run in the sixth. He then homered in the eighth to give the Nats a 3-0 lead.
 
"Two bad pitches and that was the ballgame," Lively said. "The first slider I hung all day was in that last inning. I'd rather get my teeth kicked in than lose a game like that."
 
Lively, 25, has a 3.86 ERA in 12 starts. He has pitched at least six innings and allowed three or fewer earned runs in nine of those starts. He does a lot of it with command, deception and competitiveness as he does not possess a fastball that lights up radar guns. He has put himself in line to bid for a starting spot next spring.
 
"I hope so," he said. "I've been pitching my ass off. I always pitch my ass off. That's how I always am and nothing is going to change."
 
Lively has a fan in Mackanin.
 
"There's always the discussion about what's more important, velocity, deception, movement, location," Mackanin said. "A lot of people will say velocity but that's not the case for me. Location, movement and deception are just as important if not more important, and if you locate with lesser stuff you can be just as successful. We've seen many pitchers in the majors who are like that."
 
The Nationals will be a tough team to reckon with in the postseason. With Max Scherzer (2.32), Gio Gonzalez (2.50) and Strasburg (2.64), they have the second-, third- and fourth-best ERAs in the NL, and the July acquisitions of Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle have bolstered the bullpen. Of course, they still need to get Bryce Harper healthy and there's optimism they will.
 
Madson was called on to protect a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning Sunday. He sputtered a little and allowed three hits and two runs (his first in 13 innings with the Nats) before closing the door on the Phils. Williams drove in the Phillies' two runs in that inning with a base hit.
 
The Phillies finished the 11-game road trip with five wins and six losses, and Williams had 15 RBIs on the trip, giving him 45 in his first 64 big-league games. For a developing team, that was a positive. Lively's recent work has been a positive, too.

Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

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Best of MLB: D-backs clinch top wild card spot with walk-off win over Marlins

PHOENIX -- J.D. Martinez lined a two-out RBI single to deep left field with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, and the Arizona Diamondbacks beat the Miami Marlins 3-2 on Sunday to clinch the top wild card in the National League.

The Diamondbacks, who won only 69 games a year ago but are 90-66 this season, were assured a playoff berth in the fourth inning after St. Louis and Milwaukee lost. The comeback victory ensured Arizona will host the NL wild-card game Oct. 4.

Fernando Rodney (5-4) pitched a perfect inning for the win.

A throwing error by Justin Nicolino (2-3) on Kristopher Negron's sacrifice bunt helped load the bases with no outs in the ninth (see full recap).

Cubs close in on NL Central title behind Quintana's 3-hit shoutout
MILWAUKEE -- Jose Quintana pitched a three-hitter for his second big league shutout, and the Chicago Cubs beat Milwaukee 5-0 Sunday to close in on a second straight NL Central title and damage the Brewers' playoff hopes.

Coming off its first World Series title since 1908, Chicago (87-68) won three of four in the weekend series and opened a 5-game lead over the second-place Brewers (82-73) with seven games remaining. Milwaukee began the day one game behind Colorado for the NL's second wild card.

Quintana (7-3 with Cubs, 11-11 overall) struck out 10 and walked one in his second complete game in 182 starts. He threw 116 pitches, his most since Sept. 7 last year.

He did not allow any extra-base hits and retired his final 11 batters after walking Domingo Santana in the sixth (see full recap).

Rockies beat Padres to open 2-game lead for last wild card
SAN DIEGO -- Gerardo Parra hit a tiebreaking single in a two-run third inning, Pat Valaika and Charlie Blackmon hit consecutive home runs in the ninth and the Colorado Rockies beat the San Diego Padres 8-4 Sunday to open a two-game lead over Milwaukee for the second NL wild card heading into the final week of the regular season.

St. Louis trails the Rockies by 2 games. Seeking its first postseason appearance since 2009, Colorado opens a six-game homestand Monday, playing Miami and then the Los Angeles Dodgers. At 41-40, the Rockies tied their record for road wins, set in 2009.

German Marquez (11-7) allowed two runs, five hits and three walks in five innings. He had been 0-2 in six starts since beating Milwaukee on Aug. 18. Colorado starters have a 2.52 ERA in their last nine games (see full recap).

Twins top Tigers for 4-game sweep, close on wild card
DETROIT -- Jorge Polanco and Eduardo Escobar homered, and Minnesota beat the Detroit Tigers 10-4 on Sunday to complete a four-game sweep that moved the Twins closer to securing a wild-card berth in the playoffs.

Polanco hit a solo homer in the first off Buck Farmer (4-5), and Escobar welcomed Victor Alcantara with a three-run drive in the sixth.

Minnesota (82-74) began the day 4 games ahead of Kansas City, Texas and the Los Angeles Angels for the second AL wild card. The Twins outscored the Tigers 39-12 in the sweep.

Detroit has lost seven straight and 14 of 16. At 62-94, the Tigers will finish with their worst record since going 43-119 in 2003 (see full recap).

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

Nick Pivetta continues build toward strong finish in Phillies' win over Braves

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ATLANTA — The Phillies and Atlanta Braves are both rebuilding teams that have looked to acquire as much pitching as possible over the last few seasons.

The Phillies added Nick Pivetta in the trade that sent Jonathan Papelbon to Washington two years ago. The Braves picked up Luiz Gohara from Seattle back in January.

If both pitchers continue to develop, there's a chance they could face each other in a National League division race someday. 

On Sunday, they squared off in a battle of teams playing out the string, but the intensity of the matchup was good. That can happen in the penultimate weekend of the season. After all, impressions can be made right up until the final pitch of the season. Players are always auditioning, especially rookies hoping to win spots next season.

Pivetta, 24, made a very nice showing. He out-pitched Gohara in helping the Phillies salvage one game of the three-game series against the Braves with a 2-0 win (see observations).

Maikel Franco and Aaron Altherr keyed a just-enough Phillies' offense with a solo homer and an RBI double and the bullpen triumvirate of Edubray Ramos, Adam Morgan and Hector Neris combined for three scoreless innings to seal the shutout.

Pivetta pitched six shutout innings, walked one and struck out four. He gave up five hits. It's been an up-and-down season for the rookie right-hander. There's been a lot of on-the-job training and a few bruisings. He is 7-10 with a 6.26 ERA in 25 starts. He has allowed just two runs in 12 innings over his last two starts, so he's finishing the season on a high note.

"The key to his outing today was that he was throwing all his pitches for strikes," manager Pete Mackanin said. "His breaking ball and his changeup, he really did a good job with them, throwing them ahead in the count and behind in the count, so that was key.

"This is the place to learn. You can have a lot of success in the minor leagues but when you get up here it's a different animal. The best place to learn is at the big-league level and take your lumps and learn from them. Now, if you have too many guys like that you don’t win a lot of games, so you can afford to have one or maybe two guys in the rotation that are feeling their way through it, but not more than that."

Forced to the majors by injuries in the rotation early in the season, Pivetta has often talked about the learning experience his first year in the majors has been.

He was happy to talk about getting a victory Sunday.

"It's been nice," he said. "I've settled down a little the last two starts. Today, I just tried to do the right things — get ahead of hitters. And the guys played great defense behind me.

"Even when I had runners on base, I was able to attack the hitters the way I wanted and I didn't put too much pressure on myself."

That's not always easy for a rookie pitcher in a close game. Pivetta's ability to stay cool and pitch around baserunners in the fifth and sixth innings was a sign of his improvement. He will have one more start before the season ends and is looking to build on two good ones and go into the offseason with a healthy dose of confidence. He will be a candidate for a spot in the rotation next spring.

Sunday's victory left the Phillies at 62-94. They need to win one of their final six games to avoid 100 losses. That once seemed to be a certainty, but they have played well since the All-Star break, recording a 33-36 record since then. They were 29-58 before the break.

Young players such as Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins have come up from the minors and given the Phils a lift in recent weeks. The bullpen has also improved with Ramos, Morgan, Neris and Luis Garcia (before Saturday night) pitching well. Morgan pitched a scoreless eighth inning Sunday. He has allowed just two runs over his last 24 innings. That covers 18 appearances since Aug. 2. Neris is 18 for 18 in save opportunities since June 28.

The only run that the Phils scored against Gohara came in the fifth when Franco smacked a first-pitch changeup into the left-field seats for his 21st homer. The pitch was on the middle-half of the plate, Franco's happy zone.

Franco is hitting .308 with three homers and seven RBIs since J.P. Crawford came up and applied a little competitive heat.

Franco said that's coincidence, that he's focused only on what he needs to do to get better.

"I think when those young guys come up it always creates an energy spurt in everybody," Mackanin said. "For whatever reason, if Maikel is having a good September, I hope it carries through for five or six months next year. One month does not a good year make. Hopefully, he'll have a better approach and he's going to be more successful."