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Phillies-Braves observations: Ben Lively ambushed in 1st inning of blowout loss

Phillies-Braves observations: Ben Lively ambushed in 1st inning of blowout loss

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Ben Lively's ability to deliver quality starts escaped him early on Friday night. The rookie right-hander was tagged for five first-inning runs as he and the Phillies absorbed a 7-2 beating by the Atlanta Braves at SunTrust Park.

Lively had authored a quality start — six or more innings, three or fewer earned runs — in nine of his previous 13 outings this season.

The Phillies are 26-53 on the road with two more road games remaining.

• Lively allowed a sixth run in the second inning, but did manage to get things in order in the third inning. He finished with three straight scoreless innings and pitched through the fifth, preventing the team from blowing out its bullpen in the first game of the series.

• Before the game, manager Pete Mackanin praised Lively's competitiveness and said it helped him make up for having "pretty ordinary" stuff. Lively can survive with that ordinary stuff if he keeps it out of the middle of the plate. He did not do that in this game. In particular, Kurt Suzuki hit a down-the-middle, 92-mph fastball for a two-run home run in the first inning.

• The Braves' first six hitters of the game all reached on hits.

• The Braves also sent a rookie to the mound. Lefty Sean Newcomb held the Phillies to two runs over 5 1/3 innings. Newcomb has faced the Phillies three times this season and allowed just five earned runs in 16 1/3 innings. He was a first-round pick of the Angels in 2014 — he went 15th overall, eight picks behind Aaron Nola — and was traded to Atlanta in November 2015.

• The Phillies' offense did little. The Phils did not have a hit through the first three innings. Cesar Hernandez doubled to lead off the fourth and eventually scored on a fly ball by Nick Williams. Williams also singled home a run in the sixth inning. He has 52 RBIs in 75 games. Twenty-two of his RBIs have come this month. Williams had two of the Phillies' six hits.

• Odubel Herrera went hitless against the Braves for the first time this season. He had hit safely in 13 previous games this season — 16 overall, dating to last season — at a .434 clip.

• Atlanta's Ender Inciarte led off the bottom of the first inning with a double against Lively. It was his 192nd hit of the season, third most in the majors behind Charlie Blackmon (201 entering Friday) and Jose Altuve (195 entering Friday). The Braves have not had a player reach 200 hits since Marquis Grissom had 207 in 1996. Jimmy Rollins was the Phillies' last 200-hit man. He had 212 in his MVP season of 2007. Inciarte is a former Rule 5 pick by the Phillies. In fact, he opened the season with the 2013 Phillies before being sent back to Arizona, his original team. The Phillies are typically patient with players. They were not patient enough with Inciarte. In 2013, they were still hoping to contend and did not feel they could carry Inciarte. The rebuild did not begin in earnest until after the 2014 season.

• The race for the No. 1 pick in next year's draft is going right down to the wire. The Phillies are 61-93. The San Francisco Giants entered play Friday night at 60-93. The Chicago White Sox were 61-91.

• Henderson Alvarez (0-1, 7.20) gets his second look in the rotation Saturday night. He will oppose right-hander Julio Teheran (11-12, 4.52).

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'

BOX SCORE

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.

Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford sit vs. lefty

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Tonight's lineup: Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford sit vs. lefty

With the Phillies facing lefty Alex Wood tonight, Tommy Joseph gets a rare start at first base.

It's Joseph's third start in the Phillies' last 12 games. He's become a forgotten man with the Phils' outfield fully healthy and Rhys Hoskins thriving at first base.

Pete Mackanin is using the matchup with a southpaw as a reason to get Joseph in the mix. Joseph has actually been dreadful this season against lefties, hitting just .197/.272/.410 in 135 plate appearances.

J.P. Crawford and Nick Williams have the night off.

Andrew Knapp is behind the plate to catch his second game since returning from a six-week DL stint.

1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
2. Freddy Galvis, SS
3. Odubel Herrera, CF
4. Rhys Hoskins, LF
5. Aaron Altherr, RF
6. Maikel Franco, 3B
7. Tommy Joseph, 1B
8. Andrew Knapp, C
9. Jake Thompson, P